A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted. — Captain James T. Kirk
One of the best ways to find more time in your day is to skip meetings that aren’t effective.
Can you skip them all?
But you can selectively avoid some of the worst meetings on your calendar and reclaim valuable time.
I’m going to show you how.
Why most meetings waste a lot of time
While meetings can be productive, too often they are not. They start late, run long, and fill up the allotted time with more hot air than substance.
Too often, people come unprepared. The agenda isn’t clear. Outcomes aren’t determined.
So, decisions don’t get made, any progress is small, and because of all that, guess what — we need more meetings!
It feels like a trap. Or maybe a recurring nightmare.
And, although 9 out of 10 people would agree, we continue to hold these meetings. To feel they are necessary.
No matter how bad meetings get, they are a big part of corporate culture that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
Why it’s hard to skip meetings
Even knowing that so many meetings are wasting valuable time, we can’t get out of them.
You feel an obligation. After all, you are part of the corporate culture and the corporate culture is rife with meetings.
You want to have a voice in things. If meetings are where the action is, then no matter how inefficient they may be, it’s important to be there.
You need to maintain appearances. Actively disengaging will be frowned upon by many. That’s no way to build up your sphere of influence.
For these and other reasons, the gravitational pull of meetings can be too much to resist.
The best ways to eliminate wasteful meetings
The key to reclaiming your time is to get ahead of things on the meeting front.
First, start scheduling some meetings with yourself. Block of times in your calendar where you plan to work independently.
Rather than squeezing in time where you can, which may end up being off hours, you should block out some prime time for yourself.
There are a lot of reasons why this is a good idea. One of those reasons is that people can’t easily book your time if you’re not available.
Now, look at the upcoming meetings already in your calendar.
Can you send someone else in your place? If you’re a leader, you need to protect your time a little differently. Don’t be afraid to use that lever.
Does there really have to be a meeting? Is it possible to resolve this with a call or email or some other way. Any alternative is probably more efficient.
Do YOU have to be at the meeting? Many times too many people are at the meeting.
If others from your team are going, you might be able to skip. If the agenda doesn’t address something of concern, you might be able to skip. If there is going to be a series of meetings, you probably don’t have to be at all of them.
If you don’t have to be there, skip it.
Is there a clear purpose to the meeting? If you can’t skip the meeting, you might want to make sure it’s going to be as productive as possible. In this case, you can do a little homework by reaching out to the organizer and clarifying goals. Often times, this prompts them to think more about the meeting, which hopefully helps to improve their planning.
Are people prepared for the meeting? Again, if you can’t skip, you can at least help to prod things along. Most people aren’t well prepared for meetings. You might be able to sniff this out and help hand hold some information sharing ahead of time. Your efforts pay huge dividends.
Should you simply say no? Sometimes, it’s ok to just say no. You feel that you don’t need to be at this particular meeting. If you reach out to the organizer ahead of time, you can probably work this out much more easily than you imagine. Everybody’s busy and wants to be efficient. If you approach this conversation professionally and in that spirit, you might be surprised at the results.
Can you make an excuse? I think many times you have a valid excuse but might be reluctant to use it because of the overwhelming obligation we all feel to go to meetings. If you need the time for something else, take it.
Can you arrive late or leave early? This is another approach that works well if you coordinate with the meeting organizer. All of a sudden, the agenda will shift in your favor. Let’s talk about XYZ up front because Susan has to leave early. It’s like magic! You participate in the agenda item important to you and then you bail out.
Why you shouldn’t feel bad about these strategies
Here’s the thing. You are trying to be efficient with your time. That’s nothing to apologize for.
In fact, your actions might just be the sort of thing that inspires others to re-think their own meeting strategies a bit.
And, who knows, maybe if enough people start protecting their valuable time from wasteful meetings, the culture will start to shift a bit.
What you don’t want to do is sacrifice your health and wellbeing by squeezing work in around wasteful events.
If you are staying late to get work done. Or coming in early. Or working on weekends. Because your day is filled with useless meetings, then you are making a grave mistake.
You are sacrificing your personal time and you are adding lots of stress to yourself.
That doesn’t help anyone. It’s better to be a little bolder about protecting your time from time-wasting meetings.
Like most professionals, you are likely trying to do too much with too little time. And while many productivity hacks can help, there might be no bigger problem in your time management strategy than useless meetings.
Meetings can be a huge waste of time. And too often, they are riddled with the common problems of starting late, running over, having unclear agendas, and not accomplishing much.
You can reclaim a lot of time from these sinkholes.
And while meetings might be a big part of corporate culture and you have many good reasons to put up with poor meetings, there are some simple and effective strategies for skipping them.
Blocking off your calendar can help avoid some meetings. You can simply say no to some. Or send a delegate.
For the meetings that you must attend, you can work with the organizer and other participants in advance to sharpen things up on the agenda and preparation.
And you can always skip part of the meeting. By simply coming late or leaving early, you can have a much more efficient meeting experience.
Be thoughtful about all of your time, but most importantly your meeting time.