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Calendar Jailbreak: 4 Strategies to Spend Less Time in Meetings

Meetings aren’t all bad. They can be where some of the most important work happens. Meetings enhance collaboration. They create synergy. They allow you to access the knowledge and ideas of everyone in the room simultaneously. You can solve problems, align around upcoming priorities, and mobilize your team to act on your vision.

But too much of a good thing is a bad thing. One of the most common complaints of our BusinessAccelerator® coaching clients is that they spend too much time in meetings. These meetings keep them working in the business instead of working on the business.

When you feel held captive by your calendar, it’s time to reevaluate. You can make your calendar work for you by adopting these four strategies.

Strategy 1: Choose Another Channel

We’ve all seen the mugs that say, “I survived another meeting that should have been an email.” These mugs are evidence of a culture that defaults to meetings. Every time there’s a question, a problem, or new information, another meeting appears on the calendar.

Meetings aren’t the only possible method for communication—or even the best one. Different channels have been specifically designed to suit different needs. Synchronous chats, file sharing, mail apps, video options, phone calls, and even voice memos could be more effective or efficient than meetings. 

What situations merit a meeting? As the leader, it’s your job to determine the answer for your team and communicate your expectations. It might mean adopting new software or modeling new norms for your team. Approach it like an experiment, and make sure your team understands how the changes will benefit them and the company.

Strategy 2: Limit the Guest List

Meetings aren’t free. Every person at your company has an hourly rate, even if they aren’t hourly employees. (You can find this hourly rate by dividing a person’s salary by the approximate number of hours they spend working each year.) It’s simple math: meetings with more people are more expensive.

The guest list of your meeting deserves a second look. Do you really need the executive and the director and the executive assistant? Do you really need all teams represented? Who needs to actively give input, and who can be informed of decisions after the fact?

Some meetings truly involve each person present. But if you can, shorten the guest list to improve the meeting’s profitability. 

Strategy 3: Shorten the Meeting

Most companies default to half-hour or hour-long meetings. These defaults leave no room to grab a snack, refill coffee, use the bathroom, or travel to a different meeting location. More importantly, they’re often too long.

If the purpose of a meeting can be achieved in fifteen minutes, it should be scheduled for fifteen minutes. If a meeting should take forty-five minutes, there’s no reason to meet for an hour. It’s faulty to assume you’ll end early if you can, because work expands to the time allocated to it. It’s Parkinson’s Law.

But the reverse is also true. Work contracts to the time allocated to it. Creating a constraint keeps the meeting focused. It forces participants to come prepared. Consider your recurring meetings. What would shortening them make possible?

At the very least, try shortening 30-minute meetings to 25 minutes, and hour-long meetings to 50 minutes. This change will build in time for breaks and improve the likelihood of getting started on time.

Strategy 4: Reduce the Frequency

Recurring meetings can be dangerous, because they become habits. We rarely reevaluate them. We attend because we always have and probably always will. But recurring meetings should be regularly reevaluated. Especially when it comes to their frequency.

Does your team need to meet every week, or could you try every other week? Do you need a finance update every two weeks, or could you meet just once a month? Does the task force need to meet once a month, or could they meet once a quarter?

Less frequent meetings give your team back their time. And often, you can rely on another channel to bridge the gaps between meetings. A Slack update or shared document might be sufficient to keep everyone on the same page.

When your team members attend meetings unnecessary to their work, your company wastes time and money. Releasing them to complete other high-leverage work expands the possibilities. Start by finding a different default. Think twice about who’s invited. Keep it as short as you can. And only meet as often as you need. 

These simple changes will make your meetings more profitable. How much time can you add back to your calendar?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we use and believe will add value to our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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