An inconvenient truth that affects us all
Why you are not paid for meetings
You should be critical of yourselves in which sessions you attend
One of the best features Google released in gSuite at the end of 2021 for Google Calendar is called Time Insights. At a glance, I realized an uncomfortable truth: I spend far too much time in meetings and far too little time actually creating something new for my business.
The number of meetings says nothing about the quality of one’s own work
We would probably all sign that we are not happy with the way our professional schedule looks: We feel like we are running from one appointment to the next and would like to have more time. I would also argue that the corona pandemic has further exacerbated the situation. Meetings are now scheduled one right after the other, as we no longer have to search for physical meeting rooms, but can conveniently jump from one video call to the next. The result at the end of the day is that we are completely exhausted and feel like our head is bursting. Wouldn’t it be much nicer at the end of the day to be able to say, “I really created something important today”?
I have noticed that many people mistakenly think that a high number of meetings automatically means being a hard and busy worker. This is wrong! Unless your job is to plan or facilitate meetings full-time, focus time is essential to your work. I’m sure your job description didn’t say that your main job was to attend meetings. But let’s be honest with ourselves: Doesn’t it feel somehow sublime to be able to say in response to an appointment invitation, “I’m really sorry, but my busy schedule won’t allow that!” ??
“We surveyed 182 senior managers in a range of industries: 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work. 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient. 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking. 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.” (Harvard Business Review)
We must not forget the harsh consequences that this high number of meetings has for a company: Employees complain that they have no time to work and need more support in the form of new employees. After a short training period, the process starts all over again and the new employee also complains about too many meetings and too little time. As a result, work is outsourced to external service providers. As a result, the know-how no longer lies within the own company, as one is only busy managing external employees.
Similarly, there is a danger for a company that mere participation in meetings becomes an end in itself. For low performers, this is a good opportunity to use their own time visibly for everyone. At the end of the day, however, nothing (too little) was achieved.
Classic meetings do not stand for creativity and innovative strength
I was startled by the comment of a colleague when we talked about the possibilities of reducing the number of meetings. He said that it was the duty of the management to issue a guideline that blindingly keeps times in the calendars of employees free of meeting bookings. So the responsibility for one’s own time management is simply delegated to the management — we can’t make it that easy for ourselves! No one but us can better assess when an exchange was meaningful and when it was not.
We should always ask ourselves, what added value did this meeting really have for the company, the attendees and our work?
Meetings affect how people collaborate and how they get their own work done. In an increasingly connected world, how we want to collaborate is critical — it’s the foundation of our work culture. “If the alternative to more meetings is more autocratic decision-making, less input from all levels throughout the organization, and fewer opportunities to ensure alignment and communication by personal interaction, then […]“ everybody would agree that more meetings are necessary.
We are working in a more and more decentralized environment, but our way to handle meetings comes from a centralized point of view. This is no longer productive. Let me explain this: In a classical meeting, it is necessary that everybody is available at the same time and that everybody needs the same information. This is not the normal case. So we have to think about how a completely new meeting structure could look like. Some startups like asynchly or grapevine are doing this by recordings meetings, splitting, transcribing them automatically and connect the files you want to work on. Decisions and tasks are (AI-) tracked and everyone can work on the meeting when it suits them best.
Unfortunately, the way we plan and conduct meetings today is no longer meaningful enough and don't support the way of working nowadays:
- The meeting is not moderated and discussions are held that have nothing to do with the actual topic.
- The meeting is not prepared in the form of a clear task to be completed.
- Timekeeping and follow-up of the content no longer takes place.
Today’s meetings, which are so common, are therefore no longer a creative means, but are purely rounds of speeches and voting. With today’s possibilities for giving feedback on presentations and other content asynchronous, far too little consideration is given to this, or in some cases it is not used at all.
It is everyone’s duty to be responsible with the time of others. Time is the most valuable commodity, and that is exactly how we should treat it — both our own time and the time of others.
What can be done better
Much has been written about how to make meetings more meaningful. The most important thing is to dare to cancel invitations. I was incredibly pleased (and surprised) the first time a colleague asked me if it would be okay to use a short slot of my focus time. But she would promise to keep the meeting short and prepared. So there was a consciousness to use the time as much as possible with concrete content. It speaks for and not against you if you block out focus time to work.
Enclosed are a few of my tips that have helped me improve my personal time insights:
- Make your calendar completely public. Be transparent and confident in showing others what you are doing in your working time.
- Set Focus Time Blockers and point out to colleagues that these focused working hours are important to you and do not stand for a blocker that can easily be overbooked.
- Formulate meeting invitations differently: Don’t say, “Who is interested in attending the meeting?” Instead, say “Who would attend on behalf of the team and share the most important key takeaways?” By phrasing it differently, you avoid building pressure. Even if someone is invited as an option, they are likely to attend anyway because of the guilty conscience.
- Avoid optional invitations. Either someone can really add value to the meeting or not. Otherwise, it is your job to inform potential stakeholders with the takeaways.
- In your calendar software, change the default function of how long new meetings are scheduled. Not per se 1std, but rather 15–30 min.
- When it comes to creative work, session uses workshops instead of frontal meetings (this usually requires deeper preparation).
- Actively give feedback if you felt a meeting was not meaningful enough.
- Use the functions like in gSuite or Microsfot 365 to give direct feedback on presentations, tables or documents. Then you probably won’t need any more coordination meetings.
If you are interested in more quantitative insights about time losses in meetings, check out this summary.
What are your experiences? How do you deal with the issue, and what are your tips?