While some meetings are essential to increase collaboration and boost engagement, they can also reduce productivity and cause fatigue. With the business landscape having shifted to embrace remote and hybrid work models, there is an increasing need to restructure meetings to be brief, targeted, and goal-oriented.
Meeting fatigue has become a worldwide issue, escalated by video conferencing tools such as Zoom, making it easy to host meetings from anywhere, and leading to an increase in unnecessary or poorly run meetings.
Common complaints about meetings
1. They’re unproductive
A reported 70% of all meetings prevent employees from completing their tasks. Meetings disrupt the natural workflow, shift the focus away from the task at hand, and distract from deep work.
Additionally, meetings can often be unproductive due to the lack of clear information being shared or actionable outcomes. Without a clear agenda or purpose, team members may find themselves aimlessly discussing an issue without making progress. This issue can be compounded by office politics or personal agendas taking precedence over the discussion, further preventing any real progress.
2. They're too long
The average meeting lasts around 52 minutes, but many meetings run over this time. Allowing this to happen can lead to employees becoming tired or distracted, which can impact the quality of the discussion. Additionally, research has shown that our attention span declines after just 20 minutes, after which employees are less likely to engage in the discussion and more likely to zone out.
3. They aren’t necessary
Sometimes, recurring meetings are convened because it is “the way things have always been done.” For example, weekly team meetings may be held even though there is no new information to share.
This can be a waste of time and resources and frustrating for employees who feel like their time could be better spent.
Auditing your meeting habits
With all this in mind, before you send out, or accept, more calendar invites, conduct a meeting audit and assess the time you spend in meetings, their effectiveness, and the impact they have on your regular work. This will help you design meeting strategies that work for you.
How many meetings do you have during the week?
How much time is spent in meetings?
How would I grade the quality of the meetings I attend?
Improving your meeting habits
1. Cut meeting time
HBR research shows that setting a strict 30-minute time limit on a meeting kicks everyone into high gear. Setting a time limit (and sticking to it) ensures people come prepared, everyone arrives on time, and maintains focus. Preparing the agenda beforehand ensures the inclusion of all talking points and guides the meeting.
2. Limit the number of participants
When team members feel included, they can better contribute to the meeting outcomes without fear of being ostracized, discriminated against, or disappearing into the background. In the same breath, a meeting isn’t an ego parade, and inviting unnecessary attendees is only a waste of time.
When deciding who to invite, consider the following aspects.
Are they a decision-maker?
Can they contribute vital expertise?
Is it easier to update individuals via email or Slack?
Does the outcome of the meeting impact the individual?
3. Cut the number of meetings
One study by Professor Steven Rogelberg of the University of North Carolina concluded that 50% of meetings are unnecessary and that employers lose $37 billion yearly on unnecessary meetings. Cutting unnecessary meetings saves time and money, and here’s how to approach the challenge.
4. Make unnecessary meetings challenging to schedule
If you want to promote a minimalist schedule and cut the number of meetings, then you need to make unnecessary meetings difficult to plan — and here are a few ways to do so.
Block time in your calendar when you need to focus
Protect your time and your team’s time by blocking your productive hours in your calendar. It’s easy to assume that a gap in the calendar is free time to be filled with a meeting, but this is not always the case.
Make sure you reserve your best hours for important tasks by blocking the hours in your calendar.
Feel free to decline meeting invites
At first, it may seem as though declining a meeting is rude. However, politely refusing a meeting request demonstrates responsibility as you allocate your time where it is most needed.
Saying no allows you to prioritize your time.
Feel free to leave a meeting once you are not needed
An estimated 15% of hour-long meetings consist of wasted time. Leaving a meeting once you’ve served your purpose saves individual time in a big way.
Once again, an agenda plays a significant role in highlighting the purpose of each attendee, helping to group discussion points so that people can leave after offering their contributions.
Ask for detailed meeting agendas
A clear meeting agenda is a perfect indication of whether or not you should accept a meeting request. The agenda indicates the purpose of the meeting, specific talking points, and other invited attendees. Assessing whether your presence is needed or not is easier with this knowledge.
Schedule meeting-free days
Reserving a day (or two) weekly for no meetings can boost productivity and encourage full focus without interruptions.