stop attending so many meetings

If you’re like many people, you sometimes feel like you spend more time sitting in meetings than you spend doing actual work. If meetings are swallowing up all your time and leaving you without much room for the job you’ve been hired to do, it’s time to take steps to take back your calendar. Here’s how.

1. Start critically evaluating every meeting invitation you get. There’s something about a meeting invite that seems to compel people to accept – even if the items being discussed at the meeting are much lower priorities than the work you would otherwise be spending that time on. Instead of continuing to fall into that trap, ask yourself this about every meeting invitation you receive: “Is this the best way I could be spending that time, relative to the other priorities on my plate?” If the answer is no, consider declining or at least pushing for a shorter meeting time. You can say things like this:

  • “I’d love to attend, but I’m swamped this week with X and Y. Can you move forward without me? If not, maybe we can schedule it later on this month.” (Much of the time when you say this, the person will find a way to move forward without you.)
  • “My biggest priorities right now are X and Y. Could I get notes from the meeting afterwards rather than attending?”
  • “My biggest priorities right now are X and Y. Could I send you some quick notes on this topic and bow out of the meeting itself?”
  • “I think we can cover this in 30 minutes rather than an hour. Okay if we plan on that?”

2. If you think bowing out of meetings won’t go well, talk with your boss ahead of time. Say something like this: “I need more time to focus on X, Y, and Z, and I’m spending 15 hours in meetings every week — almost two full work days. So unless you object, I’m going to excuse myself from meetings if it starts to seem like the discussion isn’t essential to me.”

3. Make sure that you’re not contributing to the problem. Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself: Is this something that could be just as easily conveyed in a memo or email? Is this a discussion that requires back-and-forth or just information-sharing (which could be done without a meeting)?  Who really needs to be there? Should it be optional or mandatory?

4. Work to change your office’s meeting culture. You’re probably not the only person in your office spending too much time in meetings, and your colleagues might welcome an effort to change this. You might suggest:

  • Using meetings only when group discussion is required, not simply for updates that could be communicated another way.
  • Always requiring a meeting agenda, as well as clear starting and ending times.
  • Requiring clear statements about what outcomes the meeting is designed to achieve. (If someone isn’t sure, they should cancel the meeting until they know.)

{ 99 comments… read them below }

  1. ThursdaysGeek*

    “And we’ll keep having meetings until we find out why nothing is getting done around here!” (That was the attitude at a place I once worked.)

    1. Liz*

      One of mine insisted on having a meeting to discuss how we could have fewer meetings. Surprise: it did not turn out well.

      1. the_scientist*

        This sounds sadly familiar.

        I am responsible for organizing meetings in my current location and it is the WORST. Nobody wants to be in these meetings; they are disorganized and take far too long (and I don’t have the clout to suggest changes). Attendees insist on the material being sent out a week in advance and then during the meeting complain that they can’t find the material/call-in number/ webinar link that was included in the material or the Outlook invite. NO.

        This was ranty but I’m coming off a frustrating meeting this morning, so.

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          My current annoyance is a new digital system to avoid having to print out reams of paper for the meeting. (And there’s nothing quite so painful as a paper cut is there?) Sadly, despite it being explained how it functions, I still get requests to print everything manually.

        2. Melissa*

          I hate when people ask for agendas to be sent out a week in advance. I am really big on agendas and I believe EVERY meeting should have one, but really…a week? 2-3 days should be sufficient.

        3. Jess*

          Being the meeting organizer is totally the worst. I used to have to run a weekly meeting where everyone would complain how long the meetings were but the same people would make the meeting three times as long as it needed to be by chattering about wildly off-topic stuff and repeating long winded stories or opinions just to hear themselves talk.

          You can’t win.

      2. Who are you??*

        My last company had a meeting to discuss when to have a meeting on a huge project. They looked at me like I was the crazy one when I pointed out how insane the meeting was!

          1. Melissa*

            I love Doodle polls. I also love Google calendar, because you can block off – let’s say – a 2-hour block of time with 30 minute slots and have people sign up for one-on-ones within that time. I do that with my students and it is glorious.

          2. Cath in Canada*

            They keep threatening to ban Doodle Polls where I work.

            Canada in general and British Columbia in particular have really strict privacy laws. Any cloud service where the data are stored on servers that are physically in the US (or anywhere that’s not in Canada, really, but most are in the US) potentially violates these laws. So we can’t put “personal information” on any such service, and apparently someone’s availability at a given time of day technically counts as personal information. We’re hoping that asking people to use initials, or some kind of code name that’s assigned in the email that includes the link to the Doodle poll, would be OK, but they might cut our access anyway :(

  2. Anonalicious*

    Pre-meetings with a small sub group of staff before the actual meeting is really starting to get to me.

    1. Lisa*

      It’s so bad, or the 4 min meeting that is purposely scheduled for only 4 min but turns into an hour because some manager thinks they need to explain what the project is in fine detail to every new employee.

      Ex. We are a marketing agency, and let’s say our client is Apple.

      Rather than say we need a strategy for the new Apple product, the manager will start explaining in detail about the company.

      “Apple was founded in 19…, let me go back further. Steven Wozniak and Steven Jobs had been friends in high school. They had both been interested in electronics, and both had been perceived as outsiders…..”

      45 min later we would start talking about the product we should be focusing on. Seriously, not everything needs to be explained as if people were just born and never set foot on earth.

      1. Steve G*

        I like this last sentence. I got explained the Enron scandal recently. I tried to get it to stop saying that I was in college at the time and we studied it to death as part of school so I know it as well as anyone but that didn’t help. My coworker apparently thought I was just born and “never set foot on earth.” It’s not like it happened 50 years ago…

    2. LQ*

      I kind of like these (depending on what is needed). I’ve often strategized when going into difficult meetings. You hit these notes, I’ll hit these other notes. We can’t let it veer into this territory or that. Here’s the exit strategy.

    3. Saskiatt*

      I think pre meetings can be quite useful in certain circumstances.

      For example, my company works closely with another company on a very high profile project, such that the CEOs aren’t involved in the day to day of the project, but meet quarterly on the project (for both ceremonial reasons and to overcome anything we need to escalate to CEO level)

      We coordinators always hold a pre-meeting ahead of the scheduled CEO meetings, so we can plan the agenda and discuss any sensitive issues ahead of time, to make sure the CEOs’ time isn’t wasted with issues we could have fixed ourselves.

      We then also hold a “pre meeting” with our CEO that normally goes for 10 minutes : this is an update on the project, here is what we think our company needs to get out of the meeting, here are any sensitive issues that we need to be mindful of / tackle based on the discussion we had with the other company’s coordinators, etc. etc.

      Both these pre meetings wouldn’t be nearly so candid/useful if they were done via email, as often what gets discussed are the things people aren’t comfortable putting in writing, but are crucial to the project’s success.

  3. Jillociraptor*

    Very smart, and very hard! Our biggest challenge is that everyone is so busy with meetings that you need to schedule a meeting to get something in front of them. There are plenty of things that would be better disseminated in memos or emails, but most people have little faith that anyone would read them, since they’re so strapped for time. It’s a weird chicken and egg issue.

    Have you all read “Your Scarcest Resource” from HBR?

    It was really illuminating for our team!

    1. Dan*

      This. So very much this.

      We have an internal chat system, which is supposed to replace email for when you really need a quick answer… but several key decision makers don’t both to sign on, so the only way to get their sign off is to schedule a meeting.

  4. Ann O'Nemity*

    Any advice for gently nudging people to run their meetings better? I’d like to see more agendas shared beforehand, and more action steps determined at the end of the meeting. I’ve tried asking for these things when the occasion arises, but it’s not having a long-term effect. I’m not in a position to make demands, as these folks are higher on the org chart than I am.

    1. LQ*

      A really good time to lead by example. Make sure that your meetings always include these things. Depending on your environment you can try asking “Do you have an agenda for what will be covered at this meeting so I can be prepared?” I’ve also sent out a list of “My understanding is I will be doing x; y; z…” in situations where the people running the meeting aren’t. If it is important, the follow up action steps can be agreed to during the meeting and if someone has a computer I HIGHLY recommend sending them out during the meeting. “You’ll have it when you get back to your desk.” This has never gone over poorly but trying to send it out later for some reason often has when I’m not leading the meeting.

      1. Jamie*

        I wish this worked as well in practice as it does in theory.

        I do run a good meeting. I don’t call them unless needed, I require only people who must be there, I send out agendas and any info they need to look over beforehand, I start on time and end on time – and I do my damnedest to keep people from slipping into minutia or off track.

        I do this because I hate meetings – so lets make them as short and efficient as possible when necessary.

        People comment on it on how they know mine will never run over (huge issue here) and will start on time (also huge issue) and how helpful the agenda is. Zero people have changed their meeting style in response to this.

        1. Bea W*

          Ditto. Unfortunately, the response I’ve seen a lot of people have to their dislike of meetings is to do a really crappy job running them, which makes people hate meetings….and so on and so forth.

        2. LQ*

          I know. I figure I’m going to keep doing it to demonstrate that it is possible. I have started doing the email action items during the meeting thing and people haven’t complained (as long as I do it during the meeting, otherwise LQ is giving me wooooooorrrrk). It’s not doing all the stuff but it’s one tiny change in my universe of constant meetings.

    2. Vancouver Reader*

      Is there one person who takes notes at each meeting? Can you ask them to send out the required notes?

  5. Laura*

    Also, if you run into situations where I sometimes do where _someone_ from your team needs to be on the meeting but the organizer has scheduled multiple people from your team, and that’s not necessary: “Oh, Mike’s our absolute expert on chocolate teapot lid ornamentation. I’ll be available if he needs to pull me in for some reason, but I don’t think you’ll need me in this meeting.”

    (Alas, that does mean you get to do your turn in the meeting when half the team gets invited and the topic is chocolate teapot spout curvature, which is your specialty.)

    1. Laura*

      Actually, one other beauty of this approach: you can then legitimately block the meeting time out on your calendar so you’re “available” if you’re needed, thus gently turning back any other meeting that tries to claim that period. Provided Mike is, in fact, able to handle the meeting without you, you now have a block in which to get some work done. :)

  6. AnotherAlison*

    The one that really gets to me is the all day or multi-day offsite where I only really need to be there for a short time. We typically do these 2x per year, out of state.

    1. Sparrow*

      We sometimes have meetings like that. Pretty much everyone brings their laptop and does other work until it is time to participate.

    2. BritCred*

      Used to work for a company that did quarterly “company” meetings and would call all off site staff in for a whole day to get everyone together for some back patting and some “inspirational tasks….

      Reality was that the information in there could be relayed in an hour or over a presentation document on email.

      Then they decided to bring in more “fun” things to these meeting, food and after work events. Fine except when the boss is screaming for X Y and Z to be done right now I don’t have time to make up a marketing advert for “fun” with 10 other people who don’t do marketing either.

      Yes, there was a small amount of “find out what everyone else does” in that task but mostly it was trying to stop the egos from wrecking it and getting marked down because one director doesn’t like cartoon type images (unknown to us) and told another had already used the image we chose in a prior advert (unknown to us).

      Then a days worth of overtime (unpaid – salaried) to catch up and smooth over clients who were irritated they couldn’t get hold of us the day of the meeting.

  7. Steve*

    I’m actually trying to get my company to start using more Skype, FaceTime, Google hangout, etc. meetings. In the last few years we’ve gotten better about keeping our meetings on time and on point, but spending extra time driving to meetings is just dumb as far as I’m concerned. What a waste of time and travel expenses.

    I wouldn’t say we’re behind the times technologically, but there still seems to be quite a bit of resistance to online collaborations.

    1. Alex*

      Check out Blue Jeans for video – it bridges all the major services into one meeting so it doesn’t matter how they join. Pretty cool.

  8. Clever Name*

    I think some people think that attending lots of meetings is a symbol of their own importance. Kind of like the humble-brag about being “busy”.

    1. Kai*

      Yep. This exactly.

      I wish I could get my bosses to stop scheduling so many meetings, but it’s a huge part of the culture here. And most of them, I’m certain, are unnecessary or could be cut down to half or one-third of the time.

    2. some1*


      IME, #3 is a common mistake among first time managers. Possibly a combination of getting to run the show for the first time and/or they think there boss will be impressed?

    3. Ann O'Nemity*


      Additional symptoms may include: scheduling pre-meeting meetings and post-meeting meetings, asking to be invited to other team’s meetings for no apparent reason, acting put-out when not invited to high-status meetings, and using meetings as a never-ending excuse for lack of real productivity.

      1. LQ*

        I think you just diagnosed a coworker of mine who wants to be management and she does all this thinking it is the way to get there.

    4. nep*

      Agreed. This thing of just slapping a label on something, throwing that label around (‘I’ve got to be at a meeting…’) when there’s really no there there. No substance. Agree with one commenter above — seems that some people dig meetings just because they like to hear themselves talk, and others to hear them talk.

      1. Jamie*

        This. Ages ago a new hire at a place I worked came in with all kind of plans on how to improve things. One of those was a lot of meetings.

        Weekly meetings of all management to touch base and fill each other in on what’s going on in our departments. “Shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours once a week.”

        Ha! Ha! We were busy. And do you know how many people give a crap about what’s going on in IT as long as they aren’t having issues. Exactly zero. About as much as I care about things that have nothing to do with me.

        But it was amusing, because it was just so out of step with the way we did things. Sometimes a toe-in first approach is better than just jumping in the water without testing it first.

        Never happened – but I’ve worked with several people over the years who were really passionate about meetings. Without exception they were always the ones who were much more enthusiastic about sitting around discussing things than actually getting anything done.

    5. Clever Name*

      Even worse is that this same coworker refuses to schedule a very sporadic meeting bringing together different teams that are working on a huge, long-term project. I am frequently asked by the client the status of something that I’m not involved in (but is reasonable to assume I would know about), and I have to tell them I have no idea what the other team is doing. It’s incredibly frustrating, and I think it makes our company look disorganized. I try not to take it personally, but I know it would make things run more smoothly for myself and my coworkers.

    6. Melissa*

      Ugh, yeah. Which is odd to me because more meetings = less work getting done in my world.

    7. Jessica*

      This plus infinity. The managers where I work are big on meetings, and when those meetings aren’t productive, they just schedule them weekly (instead of every other week or once a month) instead of realizing that they aren’t running the meetings efficiently. They like to talk about how busy they are with meetings, so I don’t think the culture will change. The biggest problem is that most of the managers get along really well, so they spend a lot of the time chatting about things perhaps semi-related, but mostly not really related to the reason the meeting was called. They also have a “core” team of managers to make decisions that i, sadly, composed of every manager, so they have to try to get all managers to agree to anything before they will change or implement anything. The idea behind the “core group” was to have a smaller group of decision makers to make a final decision based on feedback from the larger group, but then the highest-up manager decided that all of the managers were too important to not have in the decision making group. *groans and shakes head* I know that most meetings are just to gossip and gab, so the reasons behind the multiple daily meetings that my boss goes to don’t actually have much to do with most of the meeting. (And all hour-long meetings, of which there are multiple a day, end up being at least 30 minutes longer, if not double the time. I mean this literally, every day. Most of the meetings could probably be cut down to a half-hour, if they would actually sit down and get to the meat of the reason behind the meetings.)

    8. Kelly*

      Sounds like a co-worker of mine. She’s salaried which means she can come and go whenever she wants. I’m not sure honestly how productive she is on a normal day when she has meetings and faculty consultations on a regular basis. She also has a tendency to stick her nose in areas that are outside her job description just so she can seem important.

      Currently, we’re switching over to several different computer systems within the next year. They had a webinar meeting for the major switch which she insisted on attending, even though her job doesn’t require her to use any of the software that’s changing right now. The people that should have attended were myself, my counterpart and my boss because we use the current version most frequently. We would have benefited from the Q&A sessions when the team in charge of the transition provided more clarification about the process. She had to go to maintain her presence in the campus community. Instead, the two who couldn’t attend, myself and my counterpart, due to staffing issues, have to watch it without the Q&A.

      I think that she uses meetings, committee assignments, conference planning, to name a few things to justify her full time salaried appointment when her job could easily be done by a grad student or hourly person. My boss doesn’t seem too interested in having her contribute more with our current staffing problem. There’s days that we can’t get our workloads done because we have to cover the desk or work on projects. It’s frustrating because I know that she could contribute more and be a better team player if enough pressure was put on her.

  9. Elizabeth*

    Ugh, meetings. At least at my workplace, they’re not handled well, so I’ve been soured on them. In my dad’s office, he has that Demotivators poster: “Meetings: None of Us is as Dumb as All of Us.”

    I have a co-worker who insists on scheduling standing meetings every week for various projects. Inevitably, there won’t be much movement on a project one week or the other, but somehow we still end up stuck in them for a full hour, inevitably talking about someone’s kid’s upcoming tonsil removal (today’s topic du jour).

    If I’m ever in the position of leading a meeting, I make sure to write out (and distribute) an agenda with specific topics, questions, and action points, and stick to the meeting’s original time frame as closely as possible (usually for my tasks, no more than one hour).

    1. Jennifer*

      Oh god. My weekly standing meeting drives me nuts because even if “we don’t have much to meet about,” by god, we will make something to make it run for an hour. If we at least went to every other week it’d be less of a drag and more informative. But don’t even get me started on that one….

      1. Jessica*

        Yes! Why is that? If nothing is on the agenda (which we only can have at the beginning of the meeting), then we go around and talk about how things are “going” for each of us. That always devolves into just chatting about stuff, while a few of us sit there and fume that we could actually be getting real work done. The meeting should only “stand,” if there is actual work to be done during it!

  10. Tennessee*

    Any suggestions on how to convince managers that having someone give a half-hour presentation on their current research isn’t that productive? I’m at a scientific research facility and our meetings are typically 15 minutes of announcements then 30 minutes of a researchers presenting their work, then 15 minutes of QnA. The research is usually really interesting, but I don’t have time for this! And because I work for multiple groups, there can be 2-3 of these a week. And most of the presentation is really down in the weeds, detailed material in areas most of the audience doesn’t understand; i.e. current findings on the chemical composition of the upper lip of the chocolate teapot handle, but half the audience is in data management and wouldn’t know a chemical formula if it bit them.

    1. LQ*

      How about asking that those presentation meetings be scheduled separately for those who are interested? If you talk about letting that be the focus of the meeting that might help?

      “Can we highlight the research by having those meetings separate from the regular announcements?” And then not have the research meetings be mandatory except for the ones that impact you.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      Perhaps you could suggest lightening talks (make the presentations shorter), offline Q&A to save time, creation of a blog to replace the in-person presentations, or voluntary lunch and learns.

      1. Vancouver Reader*

        Lunch ‘n Learns are great, at least in an academic environment they are. No pressure to attend, but I found the ones I went to were usually interesting and the department supplied coffee and cookies as incentives to attend.

    3. Lora*

      There are several methods to deal with this “everybody should know what we do here!” syndrome:

      1. Chalk talks. Amazing how brief and to the point people can be when they are sufficiently motivated.

      2. Lunch-n-learn: either provide lunch for free, or have an optional meeting in the cafeteria that people can come to or not as they like. One place I used to work for had Brown Bag Breakfast: once a week, the entire department (consisting of several groups, about 120 people total) had Thursday morning where two scientists would present their work for an hour or so, and we had announcements & discussion. It never ran over 2 hours total. Shorter, if the coffee machine broke. There was a rotation, so you really only presented once a year, and it had to be ONE project (out of 8 you might have on any given day) that was actually interesting to other people, so folks generally presented their big rock star project.

      3. Webinars recorded and posted on the organization’s website for posterity. These are nice for research facilities because you can post the awesome ones on the company website for public consumption once the lawyers approve it, and it’s good PR. Or make it available to the local university science/eng departments, or wherever the presenters graduated from–alumni associations and adjuncts looking for course material like that sort of thing.

      4. If you ARE a senior manager at once of these things, sleep through half. I am not kidding, one of the famous guys who was on the Board of Technical Directors at a place I used to work was notorious for snoozing through meetings he found boring. People made a concerted effort to be short and interesting, because they knew he would only be awake for maybe 15 minutes.

      5. Electronic notebooking, so everybody can see everybody else’s work anyways.

      There’s more but I have to eat something on my lunch break…

    4. Bea W*

      Persuade the meeting organizers that data management should make presentations about their work at one of these meetings and make everyone sit though that. Be sure to pick really weedy topics like data migration or data cleaning or implementing validation checks. ;)

      1. Melissa*

        DATA CLEANING. That one is sure to put everyone to sleep, lol. (I’m the data management person on my team, ha.)

    5. Melissa*

      I also work in a scientific research group and one of my two labs has weekly lab meetings for 1.5 hours apiece. Someone usually presents on their research, sometimes the entire 1.5 hours. And if nobody has anything to present, we’ll discuss a journal article. I don’t mind being in a journal club if it is a journal club of my choosing, but I don’t want to attend a meeting during the most productive hours of my day to talk about nothing.

      Unfortunately, my solution thus far has been to simply skip it (which I can do because it’s a secondary lab and my advisor is on sabbatical – but won’t work for you). Would suggesting something else to do with the time work? I mean, the ideal would be no meetings at all, but at least if you *have* to have one…

  11. LQ*

    Something that I’ve been really surprised by is that while people complain about meetings they get really upset when you try to take them away. I had a project and I was the lead and so I aimed to have as few meetings as possible. I said as much up front. Everyone was super happy, woohoo cheers. But then I’d send out a detailed email, here’s what needs to happen what each person needs to do, etc. Not complex, but enough detail to complete the task. Then people started by coming to my desk to ask questions. “Well did you read?” “No…Can we schedule a meeting to talk about it?”

    I think people (especially extroverts ime) like the social aspects of the meeting. I’ve tried to include this where I have a regular meeting that is a quick update (we go for a walk since it’s just 3 of us on this project) which usually ends up being social, but also only 15 minutes and a walk. It also means I get to tighten up the other meetings.

    1. Cath in Canada*

      anti-meeting extrovert here! I’d far rather use email or our project wiki than meetings whenever possible, but there are times when a meeting is the only way.

      1. Jessica*

        I’m another extrovert who hates meetings. I’d rather discuss via email or another method of collaboration unless absolutely necessary, because it puts everyone out and pulls everyone away from their various projects. There are reasons to have meetings, but they are not common and definitely aren’t as common as meetings are in my workplace. I love talking to my coworkers, but not right in the middle of other projects just because the meeting is a regular one or because a manager wants to distribute information (not make decisions, just distribute information on an office change or a reminder about who to go to for what) that could better be sent via email.

    2. Clinical Social Worker*

      I love the idea of walking meetings! I don’t think I’ll be able to do that really in the near future but it sounds lovely.

      1. LQ*

        They’ve been really effective at cutting down the other meetings and making those meetings do what they need to. (Let people get the social out.) I highly recommend them for small groups.

    3. Melissa*

      I’m an anti-meeting extrovert who’s had the same experience. I’ve been a supervisor/manager for a couple of different roles and one of my goals is always to minimize meetings, so I spend a lot of time preparing handouts and detailed sheets of information to explain a lot of the crap that people spend hours sitting around in meetings discussing. And then…inevitably half the team doesn’t read the meticulously prepared handouts, and they ask if they can meet with me to discuss. Or, for the few meetings that we DO have, nobody is prepared because nobody read the freaking materials I sent out.

      I love people and I love chatting with them – but socially. I want to work during my work time.

  12. Leah*

    Also, make your meetings more efficient. This includes sending out an agenda ahead of time so that everyone knows what to expect. You can get better input when people have time to think things over. It also means that people won’t feel as compelled derail the conversation with an unrelated topic for the sake of speaking at the meeting.

    1. Vancouver Reader*

      And have action items sent out soon after the meetings that can be followed up at the next meeting so people are held responsible for items.

  13. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    How does working in an all-remote environment change things?

    My organization is highly decentralized. Some staff work in offices with other staff, but most of us work from home in cities around the world. We meet (by phone, Google Hangout, webinar, etc.) constantly. I think there’s a strong sense that there is value in connecting with each other in that way, even if a particular topic could be managed over email/with a memo/etc.


    1. Traveller*

      Yes, completely agree!

      Also, I’ve noticed more and more a trend in my work towards pre-scheduling times to talk, rather than impromptu phone calls (largely driven by working with colleagues in US, Europe & Asia at the same time).

      In one way, this is better as it allows me to know what is coming in my day with fewer interruptions. But, no prescheduled time is ever less than 30 minutes.

  14. Noelle*

    This advice is actually really similar to Donald Rumsfeld’s Rules for Successful Meetings,* which included this gem:

    “The first consideration for meetings is whether to call one at all. The default tendency in any bureaucracy, especially in government, is to substitute discussion for decision-making.”

    I REALLY hope people start following Alison’s advice, because meetings are out of control. I work in government, and at least 80% of the meetings I go to are unnecessary. Unfortunately, meetings are so ingrained in the culture that it’s difficult to get out of them.

    *Not going to link, but the whole piece is on the Wall Street Journal, “Donald Rumsfeld’s Rules for Successful Meetings,” May 10, 2013.

  15. Lar*

    What would your advice be for too many meetings outside of your organization? It seems as if I am invited to represent my organization on all kinds of committees and boards, many of which are redundant or just plain ineffective.

    1. CTO*

      I think those are easier to get out of. Can you and your boss develop a shared list of priorities for your time and come to an agreement about when it’s worthwhile and when it’s not?

      I often find that those kinds of groups cast a really wide net when they invite organizations to join in their work, and (at least in my community) they understand that organizations are very busy and underresourced and won’t actually accept every invitation they receive. You could ask to stay on the group’s email list as a compromise.

  16. Sparrow*

    I work in software development so the majority of my meetings involve meeting with the clients to understand their requirements. Or reviewing my system requirements with the developers that need to make changes to the code.

    Our company has offices in India and in various time zones across the country so pretty much everything is handled via conference calls. This is good and bad b/c it’s easy to multi-task when you’re just listening on a call. But it’s just part of our company’s culture. Luckily I don’t have to deal with too many unnecessary meetings.

  17. Vancouver Reader*

    I liked one place I was at where they would put times next to each agenda item, and the facilitator actually tried to stick to it. That way the meetings actually ended on time so people could head off to their next meeting.

    1. Melissa*

      I do that when I create agendas! This helps me, too, as sometimes my other meeting attendees will politely call attention to the fact that we need to move on without me even having to say anything. (They are the anti-meeting allies.)

  18. Lora*

    Pro tip, if you MUST have meetings for “optics” reasons:

    1. Talk to the potential attendees ahead of time, casually, in the hallway/cafeteria sort of thing. Ask their opinions of the subject. Chat for just a few minutes.

    2. Compile the thoughts and suggestions into something coherent and easily understood, without jargon.

    3. IF AND ONLY IF you have photographs or meaningful graphs (the kind with error bars, R2, variability measurements, histograms etc.), those are the ONLY slides/visuals you need. The only text required is the credit at the bottom of the image that says whose data it is.

    4. Send that out ahead of time, get feedback, incorporate it.

    5. Schedule a meeting with a head honcho present, for 15 minutes, in which you all agree to the things you already discussed over ham sandwiches.

    6. Bring your own A/V equipment to the meeting as needed. Do not trust the company-provided systems. They WILL break down for hours at a time, unforseeably, when you tried it out just the day before and it was fine.

    7. Provide food at this meeting. Schedule it either at the beginning of the day or the end of the day, but not in the middle of the day. If someone can’t make it, they can send a buddy.

    The advantages of this method are
    -Minimizes confrontation. Nobody is having stuff thrown in their faces for the first time and expected to form an opinion about it on the spot without getting a chance to investigate or collect their thoughts.
    -Gets input from folks who are shy or frequently shouted down by obnoxious people.
    -Makes people feel valued, that you are interested in and respect their opinion specifically, they are not just a token for their group.
    -Everyone is prepared and knows what’s going on, so you don’t have to spend any time on background information or niceties.
    -Shorter meetings which are to the point and infrequent.
    -Food. More people who need to be there will trouble themselves to show up.

  19. Alex*

    One thing that has really helped tighten up my meetings is to include not only an agenda, but the thesis of the agenda is what the outcome of this meeting should be. We used to just outline the purpose, but actually defining what your expected outcome is has been much more successful for us. Ex – the purpose might be “Catch up on progress of roll-out”, but the more specific outcome expected might be “Determine if items xyz are on schedule and find out if client is planning on adding more, and if so, how many and in what timeframe”. I also started skipping personal introductions because they’d take too much time and weren’t really important – I might have a team of 6 people on my call, each having their own piece of information to share, but rather than going around the table, I’d just introduce everyone by name , title, and a sentence on why they are involved.

    Most of my meetings now end early. It’s awesome.

  20. Jennifer*

    The thing about stuff like this post is that well, I don’t really have control over which meetings I can choose not to attend, though. Even if they get scheduled when I am busy elsewhere, they will be rearranged just so I can go!

    Oh well, could be worse. Except for the one weekly meeting, everything else is irregular or monthly and not too bad. I just get annoyed when I am super overloaded and the whopping 3 hours a day when we’re not dealing with the public is taken up with meetings.

  21. Who are you??*

    I work in a fairly “all-remote” company now which has cut down on the meetings I have to attend. My Old Company loved them though! There were meetings to go over changes to exisiting programs that wouldn’t go into effect for over 2 years, there were meetings to discuss making our work more efficient, there were meetings to discuss projects that our team had no input or connection with, and my favorite the meeting to discuss when we should schedule a meeting for a big project. Meeting attendance was mandatory, but after the meeting to have a meeting debacle I told my boss to come get me if it was truly important but that I wouldn’t be going to so many meetings anymore. Sheesh!

  22. NavyLT*

    I hate meetings, but if I have to be in it, I want to run it. They end faster that way.

    The worst thing is when the person running the meeting gets sidetracked into an in-the-weeds discussion that doesn’t involve anyone else. Is it so hard to say, “We’ll talk about that after”?

  23. MaryMary*

    My organization has huge communication issues, as well as a large number of external meetings with clients. Everyone is very busy. Because some of my coworkers aren’t responsive to email, internal meetings are the only way I can think of to keep projects on track and to communicate with people (you know, other than considering it a performance issue if people do not effectively use modern communication tools). At least if I meet with someone face to face I know the communication took place. No one can say they didn’t know or didn’t receive an email.

  24. Holly*

    I just looked at my boss’ calendar. He has three empty slots the entire week, on a 8-5 schedule.

    Surprise: every single one of those busy slots is a meeting.

  25. Jamie*

    I have a meeting pet peeve that is relatively new, since it’s just cropping up in my office.

    We don’t do meetings well as a whole, however we don’t call them frivolously – I love that 99% of the time the meetings are actually valid and not filler.

    That said there is a new irritant that must be quashed. Sharing handouts.

    If you are holding a meeting where we’re looking at data I want to see it. All of it. Send it to me electronically before hand and I’ll print my own but a meeting with 10 people where there is one copy of each of the 5 things you’ll be talking about and you expect people to share – so not only are we sharing but we’re looking at different things?

    I don’t care how many times you talk about not wanting to kill trees – I will always assume it’s because you don’t want us to be able to do the math. And even if it is for environmental reasons – I still don’t care. Don’t call me to a meeting where how data is being compiled and analyzes is being discussed and expect me to share a handout with another professional adult which may or may not have anything to do with the figures you’re talking about.

    I will always do the math. Because my role is taking what you’re doing and putting into the system to autogenerate – so I need to understand the formulas. And since I also do the analytics I need to make sure your formulas are correct and make sense and often how people are calculating isn’t how they say they are calculating.

    Either print up a copy for everyone or go ahead and start the meeting and stop again once I ask for a copy of everything.

    Seriously – I get that people are environmentally conscious and don’t want to waste paper, but wasting the time of everyone else is okay?

    And the paper police need to know that as nice as it is they print on the backs of old paper if they don’t draw a line through the old side I have no freaking idea what you want me to look at if you leave it on my desk so I’m just going to leave it on yours with a post-it saying “?” and you can draw the line and get it back to me.

    You can be a good citizen without making more work for me.

    Sorry – meeting tangent.

    1. Bea W*

      Amen. Don’t want to kills trees? Send it electronically or use a projector. My group’s function is to work with data. Not SHOWING data you are talking about in a meeting will just make everyone crazy and you will get nothing done.

      1. Bea W*

        OMG and people print on the backs of old print outs? Without crossing out the old side? WHY? OMG…I need to walk away from my desk now. I can’t take it!

    2. Melissa*

      I agree – I want to be environmentally conscious, but at the same time work needs to get done. Being conscious means only printing out what you NEED – but you need handouts of data visualizations. Also, this is going to make me sound wasteful but I hate when people print on the backs of old paper. Buy recycled paper if you really feel that strongly about the environment, and then print double-sided, but gah, don’t print on paper that’s not relevant to what we’re discussing. It’s confusing and it looks messy!

  26. Bea W*

    #5 Block off chunks of time in your Outlook Calendar to trick meeting junkies (you know the type, they will just schedule a meeting using the info in Outlook and not actually speak to anyone first) into thinking you are not available.

    1. Lora*

      I did this at Exjob, and people would send meeting requests anyway–which I would decline–and then they’d have the meeting without me AND COMPLAIN THAT I WASN’T THERE WHEN THEY NEEDED ME. Derp.

  27. Newbie*

    When I started at the last company I worked for, there was an hour long meeting – every single day. I couldn’t believe it. One of the things discussed repeatedly in these meetings? How far behind we were and how that needed to change. 20 people sitting around for an hour every day, rather than tackling the backlog. 100 hours of lost productivity every week. Is it any wonder we were behind?

    Nobody in management made the connection. :::facepalm::: I was there more than 2 years and had a different boss before meetings were reduced to once a week.

  28. Melissa*

    “Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself: Is this something that could be just as easily conveyed in a memo or email? Is this a discussion that requires back-and-forth or just information-sharing (which could be done without a meeting)? Who really needs to be there? Should it be optional or mandatory?”

    Oh dear lord, if more people asked themselves this before we had meetings I could be left alone in bliss to actually finish the stuff we’re meeting to discuss. I work at an academic medical center and we have 2-hour lab meetings just to update people on the projects they are NOT working on (but happen to be projects OTHER lab members are working on) and to “discuss” the progress on scientific papers that we’re writing (which really is only applicable to the people writing the papers, so it often turns into everyone listening for 10-15 minutes while they wrangle out some details or plan another meeting. Not to mention that we HAVE a manuscript status worksheet we all have access to!)

    I spend a lot of the time thinking about the actual work I could be getting done while I’m just sitting there.

    Academics love pointless meetings!

  29. Sharm*

    One of the reasons I’m wary of being in management is because I’ll have to attend a million meetings, which is I guess what you do when you’re important.

    My company uses the Rockefeller habits, so they are obsessed with meetings and there is no way to convince them to cut down. Every team meets for at least one (some teams have two or three) check-in every day, to talk about what we’re working on for the day. I can see how for a short-term term, technical IT project, this might help surface bugs and kinks. But all we do every day all day is work with each other. Everyone is ALWAYS aware of what’s going on — all team members work on every project somehow (I’ll set aside my issues with this for another day). It is such a waste of time, not to mention a disruption of momentum, to break for a pointless meeting.

    Worse, we’ll have these check-in meetings — 30 minutes before our WEEKLY one hour team meeting where we talk about the same time! I just don’t even understand the point!

    Meetings make me so cranky.

    1. Saskiatt*

      Oh my god me too. My office spends 3 hours a week in “update” meetings. As in, Adult show and tell where you talk about your priorities for the week. Because apparently staff morale is built when everyone knows what everyone else is doing, and when everyone gets their chance to say something at a meeting.

      So on Monday morning the Team leaders for each section of chocolate teapot making meet. Directly after, all teams involved in the chocolate side of things meet to update on EXACTLY THE SAME THINGS (as in, we team leaders get to listen to our staff rehash what we all said the hour before.)

      And then of course mid week the entire Chocolate Teapot office meets to update everyone about their work. Never mind that, as Team Leader for the Cocoa, I don’t really need to listen to a detailed account of the current priorities for every single member of Team Spout Curvature- it makes zero difference to my cocoa decisions.

      In theory, each hour is supposed to be different, for example Team Leaders are supposed to go into “higher lever planning”, and the chocolate meeting goes into more detail on the chocolatey issues, but in practice it means I have to listen to the exact same things 3 times a week, and I have to give the exact same update 3 times a week to pretty much the same group of people (I try to say different things each time, but there’s only so much variation I can do!)

      And it don’t think that’s even annoying from an “I’m so busy already” attitude as suggested by Hiring Mgr; I’d even rather they cut my pay and work hours by 2 hours a week than have to sit through essentially the same already pointless and drawn out meeting 3 times a week Groundhog Day style.

  30. shellbell*

    I once had to attend a meeting with 3 other people about ordering a trash can for the meeting room and whether or not the phone on the meeting room could dial long distance (it could). During the meeting, a colleague walked by. Someone actually said, hey you need to join us. This is an important meeting. Then this poor guy had to sit in a meeting ordering a trash can.

    I went home and got drunk.

    I cannot make his shit up.

  31. Hiring Mgr*

    I’m all for productive and efficient meetings if they need to happen, but sometimes I feel like “I hate meetings” is the new “I’m so busy”

  32. Cassie*

    My boss loves meetings. You want to revise a course? Schedule a time to see me. You want to add a link to the website? Schedule a time to see me. You want me to choose the menu for the event? Schedule a time to see me.

    It’s partly because of his admin position that he feels like he *has* to be available to everyone at all times. The other part of it, I think, is that he doesn’t have the time to read through emails (or maybe lacks reading comprehension…) and would rather you just tell him what you need/want in person.

  33. Vicki*

    If you think bowing out of meetings won’t go well, talk with your boss ahead of time.

    What about meetings called by the boss? Over 25 years I’ve been in far too many “weekly team meetings” called by the department/team manager where the stated “purpose” of the mertying is “Everyone go around the table and give us an update on what you’ve been doing.”

    They’re almost invariably a waste of time but none of the options in that blog post are likely to work because they all require telling “the boss” that he’s wasting (20 people x $N/hour) every week.

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