Too many meetings? The good, the bad, and the unnecessary

Anisha Kaul
May 25, 2021
6
Minutes

Ever had days filled with too many meetings? Those days where it seems like you can’t get anything done despite having a full schedule? You show up for work, and then jump around from meeting to meeting. In between meetings, you don’t have nearly enough time to get into a groove, find your focus, or achieve deep work, which means there’s no time for problem solving, critical thinking, or creativity.


Having too many meetings is a real issue, and when meetings are poorly scheduled or run ineffectively, they can create a huge disturbance in workplace productivity and wellness. 


In this post, we’ll dig into meeting culture, including how to know if you’re attending too many meetings and how to run an effective meeting that provides value to everyone involved.


Where did ‘too many meetings’ come from?


Meetings are a necessary part of any workplace, but why do they have such a negative connotation? If they are supposed to be a productive form of communication, why are meetings often dreaded, and why does it feel like nothing is accomplished?


People and businesses get into habits, and meetings are a symptom of that. When you don’t take the time to assess your processes, you can fall into a pattern of doing the same thing over and over again simply because that’s what you’re used to. Each meeting scheduled should have a clear purpose and provide value to everyone involved.


If you feel like the meetings you attend lack purpose, don’t have a clear goal or agenda, and they conclude without any action items, it could be that you’re overloaded with too many meetings. It could also mean you need to reassess the way you run meetings to ensure each one is valuable and serves a specific purpose.


Meetings are essential to effective communication in the workplace

Meetings are often necessary and shouldn’t be looked at as evil. If you find yourself feeling like you have too many meetings scheduled, it’s likely symptomatic of a bad meeting culture. It’s not the meetings that are the problem, but how and why they are being scheduled.


Simply removing the meetings from your calendar won’t solve the root issue, and it will hinder effective communication in the workplace.


For example, one on one meetings between managers and their direct reports are extremely valuable. They provide the opportunity to share constructive feedback, and they build rapport between team members. All hands meetings are also incredibly valuable when run effectively. These meetings can actually prevent unnecessary meetings from showing up on your calendar if efforts are focused and specific goals are met during the meeting.


How to tell if you’re having too many meetings


Keep in mind, every industry and workplace will be different. The benchmark of too many meetings varies greatly by the function of your role and the number of people who report to you. 


If you need to complete creative work or tasks that require your utmost focus, even a single meeting can throw off an entire afternoon. On the other hand, sales roles, managers, CEOs, and business owners are quite used to having days filled with meetings. That’s where they get much of their work done, and going from one meeting to another won’t throw off their focus or hinder the workday.


So, how do you know if you have too many meetings, and how do you determine if those meetings are running effectively? There’s no clear number of meetings that indicates too many, but there are a few common signs to look out for. 

#1 — You don’t have enough time to get your work done ⏳ 

Meetings are another type of work, but they shouldn’t become so intrusive that you don’t have time in your day to accomplish anything else. If you find you have multiple days where meetings interfere with you getting to your tasks, you may have too many meetings on your plate.


Assess your meetings to make sure each one requires your attendance and that each is providing value to yourself or the team. You may not have the authority to cancel or reduce these meetings, but you can batch them in a more convenient schedule that leaves room for productive bursts of work. For example, moving all meetings to after lunch each day or setting aside one day a week that you are unavailable for any meetings.

#2 — You don’t know the purpose or goals of your meetings 📝 

Meetings always, always, always need to have a purpose. Every meeting you set or attend should have clear goals and objectives, so everyone involved knows what to expect and what you need to achieve in that time frame. 


Without a set purpose or goal, it’s a social session, which is great for team building, but not so great for running an effective meeting. If you find you are attending meetings or notice you're scheduling meetings that don’t have a clear purpose, they may not be necessary. Assess recurring meetings to ensure they continue to have a clear purpose and that everyone attending understands their role.

#3 — You’re invited to meetings you don’t need to attend ❌ 

two people looking at calendar that have too many meetings

The meeting must have a purpose, and it’s important you have a purpose for being there. If you are invited to a meeting, you should have a clear understanding of your role and what’s required of you. If you find you are attending meetings where you are not needed or don’t have any role, these may be contaminating your schedule.


If you don’t think you are gaining or providing value, ask if you are actually needed for the meeting. Ensure you go into this question with a clear idea of what you will be able to accomplish if you aren’t in attendance. 

#4 — No communication or decisions happen asynchronously 💻 

Asynchronous communication is any communication that doesn’t require people to be in the same physical space or communicating at exactly the same time. It includes email, Slack messages, text messages, and voicemails. This type of communication allows people to work in the ways that best suit each individual, and it prevents constant interruptions from hindering productivity.


Communication doesn’t require everyone to be in the same room at the same time. You could be having too many meetings if you only wait to make decisions when the whole team is available to be there in person. Save the important decision making for meetings, but otherwise, learn how to effectively communicate asynchronously to reduce interruptions and lengthy, ineffective meetings.

#5 — Recurring meetings continue without adding value 📉

Ditch the idea that regularly scheduled meetings are always necessary. A recurring meeting is only needed if you are getting value out of the meeting every time. Weekly, biweekly, or monthly meetings are only useful if there are goals behind the meetings that are consistently met. 


As soon as the meeting becomes redundant and stops bringing value to the team, it should be assessed. It could be that your weekly meeting is only needed once every two weeks to achieve the same effect.


Meetings can turn into a habit that you adhere to week after week because that’s what you’ve always done. Meetings take up a huge amount of time, especially ones that involve the full team. Continually assess your processes to ensure any recurring meeting is providing value to everyone involved.


How to implement effective meeting management

Clearing your calendar isn’t the solution to having too many meetings. The real issue is your meetings aren’t working for you, and that needs to change. You need to thoroughly assess your meetings to make sure they are effective and serving a purpose. Every meeting should have a clear goal, agenda, and time frame.

Before the meeting

  • Set clear meeting goals and ensure everyone understands their role.

  • Make sure everyone invited to the meeting needs to be there.

  • Don’t set recurring meetings and forget about them. Continually assess to make sure they are still needed and are providing value.

  • Coordinate schedules to accommodate those invited. 

  • If possible, schedule all meetings in either the morning or afternoon to make sure there’s room for focused, uninterrupted work as well.

  • Plan a meeting agenda and share it with everyone involved.

  • Review your previous meeting notes and the upcoming meeting agenda.

During the meeting

  • Reiterate the meeting’s purpose and goals.

  • Let participants know how they can best contribute, ask questions, or provide feedback during the meeting.

  • Be present and actively listen.

  • Watch your nonverbal communication. Keep your posture attentive, and don’t look at your watch, clock, or phone.

  • Keep your phone and all other devices on silent.

  • Ensure someone is recording or keeping track of what is discussed.

  • Have someone keep an eye on the clock to ensure your meeting doesn’t run overtime.

  • Leave the meeting with clear objectives and action items.


📚 Meeting Management: A Guide to Better Discussions

After the meeting

  • Add any details you might need to your meeting notes. Don’t only rely on your memory between one meeting and the next. You might have a clear idea of what happened immediately following the meeting, but that memory will fade as time goes on.

  • Put meeting objectives into action. What goals do you need to meet between now and your next scheduled meeting?

  • After a one on one, consider and reflect on any feedback you received. How can you take action on what you learned?


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