The phrase meeting-free culture is frequently spoken in the same sentence as other empty, feckless phrases like its brother work-life balance, its sister flexible work arrangement, and its estranged creepy uncle synergistically aligned. These words are meaningful only after evidence surfaces as to the way a company operates, not how it wants to operate. A company can’t be meeting-free unless it doesn’t have meetings. And, creating a meeting-free culture is easy! Simply,
Decline all the meetings!
Alas, we can’t.
If your job is to manage others or to convince people to sign contracts, you must take meetings. If your job is to make things or complete tasks, you must take meetings to decide what you’re working on.
So if the meeting-free culture is a dream, what is our reality? As Paul Graham wrote, makers and managers have different schedules. Makers need continuous periods of uninterrupted concentration whereas managers move from conversation to conversation. Instead of trying to eliminate meetings completely, why don’t we try a different strategy that allows us to manage our meetings more efficiently for our work styles.
Here are ten work hacks I’ve experimented with over the past year that have allowed for a more managed-meeting schedule:
- No meetings after lunch
Manage when your meetings occur. With one of my teams, we agreed to no meetings after lunch. Each team member blocked off her calendar every day going forward. All of the recurring afternoon meetings were moved to the morning and external colleagues were notified of our initiative. This guaranteed separate meeting and focus portions of the day.
2. No meetings without defined goals
What is the goal? If you receive a meeting invite and do not know the context, there’s a good chance the meeting doesn’t have to happen at all. Always request an agenda, regardless of length, so you have context of the meeting. Each agenda should answer one question: what do we need to achieve during this meeting to call it a success? If you don’t know, you should ask.
3. Email first. If email doesn’t suffice, agree to the meeting
Sometimes people set up meetings because of habit. If you see an agenda that you think can be resolved over email, respond to the invite. You’d be surprised how many meetings get cancelled via email. But if there’s a lot of confusion or back and forth emails, a meeting might be more efficient.
4. 20 minute meetings
Don’t accept the 30 minute default the calendar software gives you. Why does every meeting have to be in 30 minute increments? How many times have we been in meetings that ended early and then dragged on because they were scheduled for too long a period of time? Take back your time and question whether the meeting length can be shortened.
5. Don’t make it too easy to set up meetings
This idea is counterintuitive at first but hear me out: if it’s cumbersome to set up meetings, you’ll end up with less meetings. Imagine a situation where every meeting has to be cleared by a meeting czar. This extra step would be just annoying enough to make people question whether a meeting is warranted in the first place. If it’s important enough to make it through the meeting czar, it’s more likely to be an important meeting.
6. Ban impromptu meeting requests
You’ve seen these people in the wild. They roam around when a meeting happens to end early. They’ll tap you on the shoulder and ask if you have a minute to chat. But, don’t be fooled. In their vernacular, “a minute” means “lots and lots of your time.” Don’t allow these types of meeting requests, unless they are emergencies.
7. Phone conference calls need video
They’re all like that. It’s terrible. If you can’t get a video conference, don’t hold the meeting.
8. Decline meetings
Do you really have to attend that meeting? Are you essential to it? Is your life going to change if you don’t attend? Unless you need to attend, don’t. No FoMO. Also, a meeting should not be held unless the correct people are attending. How many times have we be in meetings where we realized that we couldn’t make a decision because key people were not there? Decline these meetings.
9. Emergencies only
Set your schedule so you are always ready to take a meeting in the event of an emergency. If people trust that you are available in moments of crisis, they will trust you more when you say you cannot attend meetings due to your work schedule demanding more time to focus. But when it comes to a high alert, make yourself available.
10. Think of your direct reports
You, as a leader, need to set an example. If you schedule meetings because it helps you complete your work, make sure you are not harming your direct reports’ schedules. If you don’t understand the schedules that work best for your employees, you need to learn what works best for them. At a minimum, read about the differences between makers and managers. You might be harming your employees’ productivity at the expense of your own scheduling preferences. If you’re unsure, don’t schedule the meeting.