Too many meetings at work? Here’s 8 ways to cut down in 2024.

Too many meetings
Photo by @wocintechchat on Unsplash

Meetings, meetings, meetings. They’re endless and affect your work and your productivity. Here’s how to free up your time for the work you want to do instead.

We all know meetings are a time suck, they get in the way of the work you need and want to do, and often don’t achieve anything. On top of interruptions and all your other work, going to meetings means you may need to work evenings or at the weekends to get everything done, or push work into next month.

According to Atlassian, the average worker spends about 31 hours sitting in unproductive meetings every month. And half of all meetings are considered to be wasted time, meanwhile employees aren’t even engaged during these meetings — 91% are daydreaming, and 73% are doing other work.

Here are 8 radical suggestions for what you as a manager can do about it to get some time back:

  • Do not go to meetings – delegate someone else to go instead
  • Halve the time you spend
  • 20 / 50 minute meetings
  • Create a rule for when you’ll be available to attend
  • Buffer time
  • Big rocks first
  • Overcome the urgency effect
  • Meeting free Mondays

Read on below for details of how to do each of these.

1. Do not go to meetings – delegate someone else to go instead

It is funny how we often accept the way things are without question. One manager we know at first claimed this was impossible and that she had to go to every meeting. Only to discover when she experimented by sending members from her team in her place, they thanked her for the opportunity and she got four hours back. Not only that, other attendees of the meeting were really impressed by her colleagues’ contribution, their estimation of the whole team and their manager went up. Test the unspoken rules: often they are not as fixed as you think they are.

2. Halve it

If you cannot avoid attending a meeting can you halve its length? Or, if you meet every other week, would that be enough? Or, could you only attend every other one and use the minutes to keep up to date?

3. 20 / 50 minute meetings

Most meetings are 30 minutes or one hour simply because that is the default calendar setting. The 20/50 meeting rule suggests changing the default length to 20 minutes or 50 minutes whenever you can. At the very least that’ll give you 10 minutes to reflect, recover, refresh before jumping into the next task.

4. Create a rule for when you’ll be available to attend

Struggling to find time to do focused work because of all the meetings scheduled by other people, another manager created a rule: “I do not attend meetings before 10am.” She always got in at 8am anyway, so by doing this she got two hours a day of uninterrupted time.

5. Buffer time

Buffer time means leaving a gap between meetings and tasks, and/or scheduling unallocated time in your week.
One senior executive we know scheduled a weekly two-hour meeting with ‘Clive’ in her calendar. Only her assistant knew that Clive was her cat. Not everyone needs to know that your meeting is ‘with yourself’. Not everyone understands that time to think and plan and get your priorities straight is valuable. You do.

6. Big rocks first

Ever tried fitting both sand and pebbles into a glass jar? What you discover is that if you put the sand in first, you can’t get all the pebbles in. But if you put the pebbles in first, all the sand fits around them. What this means: schedule your ‘big rock’ priority tasks first: force other tasks and even meetings to fit around them, not the other way around.

Too many meetings

Overcome the need for too many meetings. Photo by @wocintechchat on Unsplash

7. Overcome the urgency effect

Research shows that even if you are not rushed and you just feel you have not got enough time, you will prioritise lower impact activities like answering email, or filing. By telling yourself, “I have all the time I need” – as a mantra – actually helps you get to the more important work.
Next time you feel under time pressure, overcome the Urgency Effect by taking a breath and telling yourself, “I have all the time I need,” and make a good choice over which work to do.

8. Meeting free Mondays

It’s not just you that has these issues. Your colleagues and your team do too. So talk to the others and make a collective agreement about meetings – for example that you won’t have any meetings on one day of the week, or that you won’t schedule work during lunch times. Change the culture, help everyone feel better and do better work.

Try these strategies for cutting down on meetings and see how you get on.

These tips and strategies come from our new Working Smarter programme – if you can find the time and the headspace to do it, it is a brilliant way to change your mindset and learn practical ways to be more productive.

If you’d like to make work better try the manager programme first for yourself, and if you think it’s good, buy the team version with or without clinics for your organisation. Contact us for more details.

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