Meetings are our bane. Or, should I say, a necessary frustration? And while work-from-home life has changed many things about how we manage our day-to-day productivity, meetings seem only to have shifted from in-office tête-à-têtes to Zoom calls. By Zoom's own numbers, daily meeting participants skyrocketed from around 10 million a day in late 2019 to some 300 million in mid-2020.

Here's the persistent problem: We're in meeting overload. And there are countless reasons. As Harvard Business Review uncovered recently, most are tied to psychological and behavioral quirks: Our egocentric impulses demand attention, we see urgency in issues when there is none, or we simply can't get people to focus on issues long enough outside of a meeting to communicate their thoughts coherently.

In fact, this last reason is why an overabundance of meetings is constant--caused by too much communication on too many channels. We're Slacking, emailing, texting, pinging, calling all day and with all the noise, we're uncertain what's actually going on.

Clearly, this is not sustainable. So I crafted what I call the cross-examination rule, or "X Rule" for short, that allows me to determine the need for me to attend or hold a given meeting.

Here's how it works. 

Someone puts a meeting on my calendar. I ask two questions:

  1. Will I have anything to contribute?
  2. Will I have anything to gain that I can't gather via meeting notes or recording?

If the answer to both is no, I politely decline and let the meeting organizer know I'll review the notes/recording after the fact and follow up with any questions.

I'm considering putting a meeting on someone else's calendar. I ask three questions:

  1. Can I send a non-critical email or message instead of holding a meeting?
  2. If not, why is a meeting important? (This reasoning goes in the meeting invite. If there's not a good reason, I scrap the meeting until I have one.)
  3. If a meeting is deemed necessary, will each attendee have something to contribute that will be critical to my work? If not, I cut them from the list.

As I noted in a previous article about Steve Jobs's take on meetings, I try to keep the invite lists to no more than five, and I allot five minutes per person. If we hit the end of the meeting without resolution or agenda completion, I follow up with notes on what remains to be discussed and decide, as needed, on a follow-up meeting.

With this in place, I've managed to cut an average of 10 hours of meetings from my schedule every week. Even better, I've repurposed this time as focus work time, which has allowed me to ramp up production and complete projects ahead of schedule.

The moral? You're in control of your own schedule. Make your work hours count--starting with a smart approach to meetings.