"Too many meetings" and "Too much time wasted in unproductive meetings." When a company struggles with low employee engagement, you will invariably find one of these complaints near the top of the list.
These look like complaints about meetings, but really, these are statements about feeling disrespected.
When someone says they're in too many meetings, they're saying that the people calling these meetings aren't paying attention to all the other important work on their plate. The employee goes to more meetings than their workload allows, forcing them to steal time from breaks, vacations, and families so they can do the work they must complete to get their paycheck.
When someone complains about wasting time in *unproductive* meetings, they're saying that the meeting leader didn't respect the team enough to plan a productive meeting. A rushed leader may claim that they just didn't have time to pull together a plan for the meeting, which makes it worse because now it's very clear that the leader's time is precious but it's acceptable to waste everyone else's.
High-performing organizations run the right meetings with the right people at the right time. They respect the time employees invest in meetings and make sure it's put to productive use.
Starting and ending on time matters, as does sharing the time within the meeting fairly. Perhaps more importantly, considerate leaders work to schedule meetings that minimize disruption to other work and avoid inconveniencing unnecessary attendees.
Here are five ways to build respect into how you schedule meetings.
1. Schedule meetings at natural transition times to minimize task switching time.
Effective scheduling improves focus during meetings, reduces task-switching costs, and increases productive focus time for other work. Task switching is the time it takes to turn your attention from one task to another and get re-focused. The task-switching time penalty can drain anywhere from an extra 10 to 50 minutes from the day.
Meetings held the first thing in the morning, right before a midday break, and at the end of the day align with times when work is already naturally disrupted. This creates just one, rather than two, task-switching interruptions for each meeting.
2. Schedule meetings with adequate time to prepare.
To keep the time in the meeting productive and focused, everyone will need to come prepared. They'll need time to review the agenda, read any reports, and consider the questions they'll ask.
Meetings scheduled at least two days in advance give people time to come prepared.
3. Leave time between meetings for transitions.
Productive meetings start on time, which becomes impossible when people lack the time needed to leave one meeting and get to the next.
On days with multiple meetings, scheduling meetings to end at least 10 minutes before the start of the next meeting ensures people have time to gracefully transition. This is enough time to make a quick trip to the restroom and return a few urgent messages, which makes a huge difference in everyone's ability to focus.
4. Block full or half days as "No Meetings" time.
High-performing individuals regularly block time for the work they want to do. Known as time-blocking, you can multiply this benefit across the whole group with designated meeting-free focus time.
This lets everyone know that they can count on having several consecutive hours to get individual work done each week, making it easier to plan, reducing anxiety, and increasing productivity. This is especially key for knowledge workers who need large blocks of uninterrupted time to do their best work and "get in the flow."
For example, our team leaves both Tuesday and Friday free from meetings.
5. Make meetings optional.
Finally, the simplest way to respect everyone's time is to respect their judgment about how to best use that time. If your team feels there are too many meetings, let them know they can opt out of any meeting they find unnecessary to their work.
And, if they feel that a meeting isn't productive, embrace "the law of two feet." This makes it okay to quietly leave a meeting when you realize it isn't a good use of your time.
If your organization struggles to keep unproductive meetings off the calendar, implementing just a few of these tips as policies will send a powerful message of respect. When you work to schedule meetings that respect everyone's time, you'll benefit by having more engaged and loyal employees who will put that time to work for you.