What an interesting six months it’s been
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve worked from home for more than 100 days in a row.
And during this time, videoconferences have sometimes wreaked havoc on my sanity. Does that sound familiar?
Here’s what I did about it and how you can control your own meeting madness.
All with a meeting manifesto.
When the shelter-in-place order came down in March, my workdays were immediately filled with hours of videoconferences.
During the first month, all those videoconferences took their physical and mental tolls on me. By the end of a meeting-filled day, I was racked with anxiety (over all the work I didn’t get done) and guilt (over all the work I didn’t get done) and completely exhausted.
I could barely talk. My head ached.
I was suffering from videoconference fatigue. (Yes, that’s a real thing.)
The breaking point
The breaking point came one Friday morning when I opened my laptop to see eight meetings on my schedule. For one day.
Something had to give.
A meeting manifesto was born
I decided to create an official declaration of how I would manage my meetings from then on — to lessen anxiety, to make room for heads-down work, and to take back control of my workday.
I call it a meeting manifesto.
Here’s a screenshot of it:
My meeting manifesto, point by point
- Attend a maximum of four hours of meetings per day. Your maximum may be different from mine. I just figured that I wouldn’t spend more than half my workday in meetings. I even post the maximum right on my calendar so everyone can see it! (See screenshot below.)
- Decline or reschedule meetings that put me over the four-hour limit. Every morning before my workday starts, I prune my calendar. Here are some questions I ask myself:
- Do I need to attend every design critique? (No.)
- Can I easily reschedule a 1:1 if it puts me over the four-hour limit? (Yes.)
- If there are no agenda items for a particular meeting, can we cancel it? (Yes.)
- If a meeting will be documented or recorded, can I skip attending and read/watch it later? (Sometimes.)
You get the idea: be ruthless about the meetings you must absolutely attend, and decline/reschedule the rest.
- Auto-decline all Wednesday meetings. At Dropbox, Wednesday is designated as No Meeting Wednesday, so I mark it with an eight-hour “out of office” block. Anyone who adds a meeting on that day will receive an auto-decline message.
- Convert all 1:1s to 25 minutes. I like a short and sweet meeting. It forces you (and the other attendee) to keep the conversation focused!
- Leave one-hour meetings 10 minutes early. That’s my golden rule these days: for every one-hour meeting, I need a 10-minute break — to grab water, take a bathroom break, jot down tasks from the meeting, or prepare for the next meeting.
- Leave 30-minute meetings five minutes early. See point above.
- Use the “Speedy meetings” Google Calendar setting. If your company uses Google Calendar, you can set meetings to end early by default. In your calendar, click the gear icon, choose Settings, then scroll down to the Event settings section.
- Post a goodbye message in videoconference chat before leaving a meeting early. I always try to be transparent and polite. I’ll post something like “Sorry can’t stay, gotta prepare for my next meeting, thanks!” before leaving a videoconference.
How to create your own meeting manifesto
Every person’s calendar is different, and the way each person deals with their calendar is different. To create a meeting manifesto that works for you, follow these steps:
- Do a meeting audit, delete, and shuffle. Take a look at the last two weeks of your work calendar. Which one-hour meetings can you reduce to 30 minutes? Which meetings can you skip every other week? Can you reschedule 1:1s to other days?
- Add some DNS blocks. DNS stands for do not schedule. How many hours of heads-down time do you need per day to feel productive? Add some DNS blocks to your calendar to stake your claim.
- Write down your guidelines. Your meeting audit should naturally lead you to some meeting guidelines — write them down in a document. Use my manifesto as a starting point if you like!
- Communicate your guidelines. Share your guidelines with your team — via email, Slack, and any other normal avenues of communication that your company uses.
- Commit to the guidelines every day. This is the hardest step. The meeting manifesto isn’t a “set it and forget it” sort of thing; you have to stay vigilant! That includes pruning your calendar every morning, asking people to reschedule/shorten/cancel meetings, and helping to keep meetings focused and ending on time. I regularly speak up toward the end of a meeting: “We’re almost at time. Anyone have any final thoughts before we’re done?”
Some final words
So how has my meeting manifesto been working?
Things are definitely better! I no longer have days when I’m ready to pass out from exhaustion. My stress level is down.
Steer your career
As you can imagine, I’m not the only one suffering through a flood of videoconferences. I’ve shared my manifesto with coworkers and encouraged them to take control of their own calendars.
Why not become a meeting maverick for your company? Help everyone learn ways to better manage their time.
It’s not only good for you; it’s good for your career.
By getting a handle on your day and sharing your technique with others, you’re demonstrating leadership and impact across your team. Be sure to add it to your annual self-review!
Meeting culture can’t be changed in solitude. Take the first step, and ask others to follow. ■
What are your tips for wrangling a meeting-heavy day? Share them in a comment below!