people keep asking me for meetings that could just be an email

A reader writes:

I’ve read your post on actually making meetings useful (among many others!), but need advice on how to make clear that I’d always prefer an email to a meeting, every dang time.

I work in the arts in a very part-time role that ballooned out during the pandemic. The organization is a tiny nonprofit that, because we’re the go-to folks for this art form in our state, receives lots of requests for curation advice or collaboration.

Thanks to the area we live in and the nature of our work, we’re getting back into a Covid-safe flow for our annual work. Our budget is tiny, and I have about 10 hours a week to get all my work done.

So many clients and partner organizations are keen to get back to work with us, and while I love the enthusiasm, boy howdy are they keen for meetings! Almost always, the meeting content could have been one dang email.

I think rapport-building may be part of the reasoning behind organizing endless Zooms, and while building partnerships is a (small!) part of my role, I find it super hard to parse out which meetings are worthwhile on this front. I’m always up-front about needing a brief/context before arranging a meeting – but I find often even Fancy Organizations ignore that request, perhaps assuming it’ll save them time to present the brief in the meeting.

One recent example is an organization (of lovely people! with lots of good will!) pushing to arrange a meeting and ignoring my request for context. It turned out the only outcome of the meeting was that they wanted a couple of minor recommendations – literally a two-minute email’s worth, which instead took up a big chunk of my li’l work week. (Often these requests come from full-time workers, whose vision of their weekly schedule is no doubt very different!)

No one loves a dang meeting, sure, but I literally do not have time within my work week – where I can whoosh through emails at high speed. How can I phrase “Just email me!” in a way that actually works, without seeming dismissive?

Why is this a thing?! This is so very much a thing.

It happens within organizations (45-minute meetings to tediously relay information that could have been conveyed in a short email), and it happens with external contacts too.

Some of it is people who have gotten used to just defaulting to a meeting without thinking through whether it’s really necessary. Some of it is, as you said, with the goal of relationship-building. Some of it is that people are bad at knowing whether something will be straightforward or involve a bunch of questions that will be easier to field in real time.

In any case, it’s sounds like you’re in a good position since you can decide whether to accept these meetings or not, as opposed to having no choice. That means you can do what everyone should do but not everyone can: decide how much of your time you can afford to spend in these types of meetings versus working on other priorities. And because you only work 10 hours a week, the amount of time you have for optional meetings is probably really small. (If your organization decides it should be otherwise, they’d presumably need to hire you or someone else to work more hours or change the things you’re responsible for.)

If you look at your workload and decide you do indeed need most of those 10 hours a week for non-meeting work, that’s likely to strengthen your backbone when you need push back on meeting requests. Or who knows, maybe you’ll look at it and realize you need, say, eight hours for other stuff and then you can allocate two hours for meetings without as much annoyance  (since relationship-building with partner organizations does have some value, if you have room for it).

To push back on meeting requests, I’d explain that you’re very part-time, because the people you’re dealing with are probably assuming you’re full-time — and understanding that your work time is already very crunched will give them helpful context. For example: “Most of us are very part-time here so it can be tough to schedule meetings outside of grant meetings (or whatever example works here). I’ve found it’s best to start with email and then if it turns out we need to, we can schedule a call or meeting at that point — but email often ends up working. Thanks for understanding.”

Even if you weren’t part-time, you could do a version of that: “I’d love to connect but I’m in triage mode with my schedule right now. Could we start with email and then if it turns out that’s not enough, we can schedule a call or meeting at that point — but I’ve found in these crunch times that email often ends up working!”

I wonder, too, if it would make sense to set up a slightly more formal system for dealing with this kind of inquiry. This might not work in your context, but often when you’re getting a lot of outside meeting requests, there are ways to funnel them into systems that minimize the burden on your side, whether that’s a written FAQ or a monthly conference call that anyone with questions can attend or a ticketing system for help … or even just giving yourself permission to say, “Right now we’re prioritizing meetings on XYZ and asking people to put anything else in email so that we’re better able to process the large number of requests coming in to us.”

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 197 comments… read them below }

  1. Roscoe*

    Its funny, I have the opposite issue.

    I’m in Sales. And our pricing structure isn’t exactly complex, but isn’t easy to discuss over email. It almost always leads to extra questions. I always try for a quick call first (and by quick I mean scheduling no more than 20 minutes, but finishing in less than 10 isn’t uncommon). People constantly are pushing back to just do it over email. But it ends up being so much more back and forth when a 5 minute call could’ve easily clarified everything they need.

    I understand people are busy, but I feel like most people could find 20 minutes instead over emailing over 3 days.

    1. Rich*

      I’m also in sales, and I agree — but I can see both sides of it. I bias toward meetings in part because of same reasons as you. It’s an easier way to make sure we talk through issues and potential points of confusion that could turn into big problems if they’re not clarified early.

      But it’s also a way to get the customer talking so I can discover more issues, more opportunities, more ways to help — which is more sales.

      Emails are much more scope-limited, which is good or bad depending on your perspective. I think that difference in perspective explains part of the gap over a preference for meetings vs email.

      1. Janet's Planet*

        And that’s exactly why customers don’t want meetings. They want answers, not more sales opportunities for you.

    2. Ashley*

      I have had a number of sales people over the years claim that and it not be true so I have become jaded enough to say email me and then I know I can always call with more questions. I think the problem for a lot of people is having no appreciation for when to switch from email to phone calls (and for that matter text message to emails). I know I therefore tend to default to one extreme or the other and don’t always believe just assume the person who should know if an email or meeting would be better is wrong.

      1. Roscoe*

        Sure. Its not ALWAYS true, but more often than not, it takes more than one email to get all the information that is needed, on both sides

        And again, I have no interest in wasting anyones time. I don’t love being on long calls that go nowhere either. But having a ton of back and forth can just be annoying when it can easily have been over and done.

      2. bananab*

        I’m with you and not just with sales. Every time I’ve had someone insist it just won’t work over email, whatever they wanted to talk about 100% could have worked over email. And all the business about having to go back and forth instead of a quick call, it’s usually just back and forth about how bad they don’t want to use email.

        1. Janet's Planet*

          And when the call is done often a recap of the details needs to come over anyway – critical info, links, etc. Email forever!

    3. Brooks Brothers Stan*

      Honestly, I’ve learned the brilliance of the short 10 minute meeting since WFH became standard. The trick is brutally enforcing the short meeting. I’ve found that for people that are going to have 45 emails back and forth, they also aren’t going to know how to have a ten minute meeting. What I’ve taken to doing with people that aren’t used to the quick pulse checks are sending a basic list of bullet points of what the meeting is going to accomplish, and a bolded highlight of the time.

    4. Lacey*

      I find that sales people default to meetings way too easily. That may not be the case for you, obviously I don’t know, but it’s SO common, that it makes people less likely to believe it needs to be a meeting or call, even when it does.

      I’ve had sales people insist we must do a phone call, only for the entire thing they need to say to be two sentences. Then they say, “I just couldn’t get that across in an email” and I always think, “You could if you had written those words down in an email!.

      If you have a design or marketing department you could also have your graphic design team put together a marketing packet that clearly lays things out. I’ve found them to be incredibly handy for more the complicated pricing structures that come with advertising.

      1. Snailing*

        Yes, or I have just a simple question/clarification, but I know if I get on the phone with someone in sales, I’ll be listening to a lowkey sales pitch for 15 minutes. Then I feel stuck doing niceties over the phone when I’m hearing a bunch of information I already know from having read the dang proposal already. If it’s for something more complicated, absolutely call me! But if I can get a quick answer or bulleted list of what I need to email back for a quote…please just email it!

        I’m in benefits & insurance, so absolutely #notallsalespeople, but #eneoughsalespeople. I’m also admittedly even more introverted that usual in these pandemic times, so I have little energy to turn it “on” for the extrovert-leaning salespeople in my area/industry.

      2. Koalafied*

        Yeah, it gets my hackles up because like so many people I’m overworked, and often I don’t know if it’s worth 20 minutes of my time if I can’t confirm that it’s even in a price range we could realistically afford. I wish they would at least figure out a way to give a ballpark figure and note that the cost will depend on factors XYZ.

        It also makes me highly suspicious that the reason they won’t disclose the price is that it doesn’t depend on an objective standard but is similar to what some employers do with hiring – concealing their range in the hopes they can get you to pay more. If each customer could see what the other was paying it would ruin the upper hand they currently gain from information asymmetry. Which means if I don’t have the right kind of personality on my team to do some hard negotiating, we’re probably leaving money on the table we could have gotten if we’d made more noise.

        I will almost always choose a product with up-front pricing over one with “call for pricing” for these reasons. It’s only if there is no product with up-front pricing that can meet my needs that I resort to adding my name to a sales list for some “price is negotiable” seeming thing.

        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          “I don’t know if it’s worth 20 minutes of my time if I can’t confirm that it’s even in a price range we could realistically afford. I wish they would at least figure out a way to give a ballpark figure and note that the cost will depend on factors XYZ.”


          “I will almost always choose a product with up-front pricing over one with “call for pricing” for these reasons.”


        2. AntsOnMyTable*

          On my neighborhood facebook group sometimes businesses (usually HVAC/duct cleaning) will post and say they are a flat fee – no hidden charges. But they won’t list those prices. You would think it shouldn’t be hard to give at least an idea – one system is X amount, two is Y, etc. Once I made a comment about that so they direct messaged me and then asked for my info about my house. At this point I don’t feel it is a set fee the same for everyone.

          I agree, I will not go with people who aren’t transparent about their fees.

      3. Lavender Menace*

        Yes, and yes. I’ve had that experience too – sales folks insisting on a call when the stuff they have is much simpler than they advertised. Designing a marketing packet or infographic was exactly what I was going to suggest.

      4. Janet's Planet*

        Lots of sales people are hunt-and-peckers with poor grammar and spelling skills. That’s a big reason why they push for phone calls and in-person meetings.

        1. M. Albertine*

          It’s also a factor that salespeople tend to be charismatic and use their personality to sell. They rely on the feedback loop: if they can tell that you are losing interest or that a particular point isn’t going over with you, they can switch gears. All that is harder to do over email.

    5. Nesprin*

      I deal with sales reps frequently and this drives me beyond batty- I’m absolutely one of the email push backers.
      Scheduling a 5 min phone call means that I have to find time during normal business hours when I’m at my desk, not in the middle of a project and not putting out fires, whereas I can deal with emails late at night or when a meeting is suddenly cancelled.
      It’s worse because I usually email to get a sense if thing X costs $1000, $10,000 or $100,000 or I have a thing due in 30 min and I need a list price quote immediately.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Yes, and I rarely schedule anything else in that 30-minute time slot even if the meeting itself only takes 5 minutes, just because of how our calendar system works. So then I’m spending 5-10 minutes trying to come to a stopping point on my prior task before the call, then have the call, and then probably have a 20-minute time window before my next meeting in which I may or may not be able to focus productively, depending on the types of tasks I need to handle. Bleh.

        Better than a 30-minute meeting, but sticking fixed events on people’s calendars can be disruptive even if you keep it quick.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            Some of it is my own lack of discipline, my twitter compulsion, working from home with my kids remote learning, etc. But my concentration is terrible these days, and anything that causes my day to be even more choppy is a hit to productivity.

          2. Lacey*

            Yes! I don’t deal with many phone calls these days, but I used to have to quit what I was doing to answer calls all the time and when I got back to my project I had a hard time remembering what I was doing and what I needed to do next.

          1. LW*

            You’re not the only one, WellRed! I don’t mind when meetings/calls have a clear time limit and agenda, but boy are they disruptive otherwise. I feel so anxious when I can’t prep and don’t know what I’m in for!

      2. Washi*

        Yeah, I think this is where power dynamics come into play. It might be more work for the sales rep to write things up in an email, and then type up more stuff if I have question…but it’s still less work for me.

        It’s a little unclear to me how the hierarchies work in OP’s case, if she’s supposed to be catering to these organizations, or if they are more on an equal footing. I think that influences whether will have the support to push back on meetings, even if some people are a little miffed.

    6. cabbagepants*

      In my organization, everyone is so busy that the only way to get anyone’s attention for more than 30 seconds at a time is to schedule a meeting. Emails requiring more than 30 seconds’ worth of thought go unanswered, or, are answered incompletely and require the 3 day back-and-forth you describe. The irony of scheduling meetings in response to folks being busy is not lost on me, haha.

      As Roscoe says, the solution is a short, focused meeting. Or I’ll just call people. I know lots of people hate the phone, but if you won’t reply to my email on a mission-critical item where your sign-off gates forward progress, then… *shrugs* the phone call it is.

      1. Ratsup*

        Yup I’ve experienced this too. Email is usually a black hole. A colleague sometimes sends the email and also schedules a meeting – if it gets taken care of the meeting is canceled but if not it’s there to force attention. It might take some reconditioning but if you respond to their emails I’d bet they’d adapt pretty quickly and you can save the meetings for when they’re really needed.

      2. Koalafied*

        Yep. My organization uses meetings as an accountability tool. Every meeting you get a task to complete before the next meeting and everybody starts their task 24 hours or less before the next meeting so they don’t embarrass themselves in front of everybody else by not having their part done in time. The meeting is just there to make the deadline have a high enough reputational cost associated with it to keep people on schedule. I hate it.

        1. sofar*

          Came here to say the same thing. Meetings (for better or for worse) seem to be the best way to signal, “Hey this is important. You need to complete your deliverables by this time, or look really bad.”

          Also, since we’re all so busy and can’t have little impromptu clarification chats (like we could in the office), email becomes a black hole. We’re all so exhausted with electronic communication. And I’m totally guilty of seeing a long e-mail with 10 replies, putting it on my to-do list to catch up and then totally spacing on it. A meeting with those same 10 people is often more efficient.

            1. sofar*

              Oh, my company very much has Slack. In fact, I wrote an entire reply on another thread about how my company is too reliant on it. Slack is also a black hole now that we are all remote. So many times, it feels like the 100+ Slack-message chain could be a 15-minute meeting. So many times has it taken two full work days to come to a consensus because people wait hours to reply to a Slack message or weigh in on a channel.

          1. buttercupmuffin*

            Mine is. How projects get resourced is loosely related to business objectives and strongly related to whichever project manager is the best at social engineering.

        2. DiplomaJill*

          I’ve learned to dangle the prospect of cancelling the meeting if I get x in advance (for certain co-workers).

          I structure it as, I’m scheduling a meeting so I can learn where we are with x and any concerns with the deadline. If you can give me this information in advance we won’t need to meet. And suddenly, they’re doing their work and giving me the info I need. And I have less meetings. Win win win.

    7. Tuesday*

      I get what you’re saying, but honestly, I’d rather do the back and forth over 3 days thing. It’s just less disruptive to my schedule, and then I have a record of what was said that I can refer back to or forward to others if necessary.

      1. cabbagepants*

        I think the 3 day back-and-worth can work IF everyone gives the email their full attention at least while reading and responding to it and is disciplined about staying on topic. When it goes off the rails is when people are sending incomplete replies, not reading earlier context, when the email branches out fractally with different replies to different sub-thoughts, etc.

    8. Workfromhome*

      I’ve been I sales so I get it BUT being on the other side now I find the call (especially an initial one) is usually for the sales persons benefit not mine. It gives them an opportunity to sell and importantly to overcome objections. Sales people often don’t want (or are encouraged not to) conduct business over email because its much harder to force that build up of value. If you quote a price of $10k and the buyer feels that’s too high they can easily just ghost and not reply. If you get them on the phone you can ask “Why do you thing its too high?” and try to change things or sell them on why its worth 10K. Its the old “You have to come to the dealership to get the best price spiel” It may work better if your initial email response is better tailored. They email and you reply well the price could be X,y or Z. I can give you a firm price if you want to have a 5 minute call OR you can fill out this 10 page questionnaire that gives me all the information I need to answer your question. You need to make it feel quicker to them to call. Whn they send one question at a time it takes 1 minute. If they know they are in for 15 minutes of filling in a form they will want to avoid that and call.

    9. Aquawoman*

      After the second email, pick up the phone and call them. We do a ton by email, but if we have to keep going back and forth, it’s easier to do on the phone. They might not take the call, but given that there is a track record that This Won’t Be The End of It, they might.

    10. Esmeralda*

      You may be wrong abuot that 20 minutes, Roscoe. I may have 20 minutes, but not all in a row. I’ve got five minutes here and there. Or I can read and send an email while I’m in a required meeting. Also, even a short meeting = time taken up with niceties. Which, if I need to be working on a relationship with you, ok, but if it’s just info, then I feel I’m wasting some time.

      And perhaps you’re good about really keeping it to 20 minutes, but my long sad experience is that most people are not, and then I have to cut them off (nicely of course, but still then I’m the one breaking the interaction, which is a bit of emotional work, right?)

    11. Desperately Seeking Quiet*

      If your pricing structure can’t be explained over email, your structure is wrong.

      Put the dang structure on the website for heavens’ sake, I don’t have time to interrupt my train of thought for your 20-minute phone call. Plus, then it’s in writing where we can both refer to it. If you don’t want it in writing, your structure is also wrong.

      I haaaaaaaaaaaaate phone calls that disrupt my train of thought. I am begging everyone reading this to just send an email. If I’m not answering your email, I’m too busy to answer the phone either.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        This. If your pricing can’t be explained in an email, it makes me assume it’s either overly complicated/high or it’s just being used as a leverage for a meeting. Practically every product and service I use can be summarized – including volume discounts – in a one-page rate sheet with base assumptions.

      2. D3*

        This, absolutely. The answer is NOT expecting people to give you an audience for SALES. (Which, frankly, is always awful, with the probing and the pushing.)
        I am much, much more likely to give my business to a company with simple pricing, not pricing that’s tricky in order to force a phone call.
        I am SO OVER salespeople who “prefer” phone calls. No, it doesn’t serve me better. It serves YOU better.

      3. armchairexpert*

        This isn’t always true. I run a content marketing agency, and the variables are pretty huge. Some clients want a 600 word article but they’ll provide the research. Other want 600 words but I do the research. 1200 words doesn’t cost twice as much as 600, for a variety of reasons. Some only want 400 words, but can I do an interview with one of their stakeholders as part of it? I also add rush fees for some jobs, volume discounts for others, and frankly if you know a freelancer who doesn’t add a PITA fee for some clients, you might be those clients.

    12. Yorick*

      I’m guessing that you’re wrong and that it would be way better for you to explain it in a short email. This is why everybody hates dealing with salespeople.

    13. Sales Geek*

      Former sales guy (31 years, software sales) here. Yes, this is true. But, but, but…

      In sales you’re often tracked and measured against activities that lead to a sale. Email really doesn’t count much when management is reviewing your activities against an opportunity (the dark side of CRM). And this can get very detailed when you’re documenting a meeting; the umbrella is a sales opportunity with a given customer and you can document a meeting with (at least) the top-level attendees, what was discussed, follow-up items, etc. It’s handy for very large customers (who will, in turn have a very large sales team) and/or very complex sales (e.g. IT outsourcing or major system replacements) where there are many moving parts that need to keep up with each other.

      Translation for non-sales folks: meetings are documented proof to management that you’re doing something to close business. Emails, not so much. The latter take longer to document than to perform and will always lead second-guessing managers to ask why you couldn’t “be in front of the customer.” It’s a perverse incentive to lard up your day-to-day activities.

      1. Roscoe*

        This is 100% true. The number of emails I send or voicemails I leave don’t really count toward my metrics, but calls do. That said, its really not the reason I push for it.

        Hell, I’ve had plenty of jobs where our pricing was pretty flat, and people still had questions. I think a lot of people commenting on how our pricing structure must be bad or too complex really overestimate the intelligence and comprehension skills of the general public.

        Also, I mainly sell a group who is, lets say, notoriously frugal. So they always want to find out how far they can REALLY stretch. If I say this covers 50 seats, there is always “well what if I have 51”. If I say the price is $10,000, then its always “what if I cut this, how much does it down”. This isn’t like I’m selling $5 footlongs at Subway where simple multiplication is the end of it.

        And as I said to someone earlier, I don’t like wasting my own time either. As far as metrics, a 5 min call and a 30 minute call are both a call. So if I know its clearly not worth continuing the conversation, I’m happy to end it ASAP. However, people often don’t know what kinds of things they need to ask about. “They don’t know what they don’t know”. I’m all about being efficient. Figuring out how worthwhile an opportunity is is extremely important, which is why if I can figure out in 5 minutes that you won’t buy I’d rather do that than 3 days worth of emails to come to that same conclusion

        1. cabbagepants*

          I am not in sales but in an industry which stereotypically employs “smart” people (think medicine), but it can still take 10-20 minutes of back and forth to get a simple concept across. Lol. I usually call AND email and agenda in advance AND have a visual presentation, but it still can go like:
          Me: If A, then B.
          Them: So you’re saying that you provide A and B?
          Me: No, but if you provide A, I will provide B.
          Them: Oh so I provide A and you provide B and C.
          Me: You’re getting there. If A, then B.
          Them: Wait, you said you provide C and now you’re pulling C? What kind of business is this!?
          Me: I did not mention C.
          Them: Oh you must have said D.
          Me: I said, If A, then B.
          Them: Make up your mind! I just need to get B from A, how hard is this for you?!
          Me: …

          1. Roscoe*

            Oh don’t get me started on the people who hear (and read) what they want, even though its clearly not what was said. Or if its stated very plainly, the still don’t pay attention, then get mad later.

            I recently had someone who signed a contract with very specific dates (our contracts go Jan 1-Dec. 31, no matter when you purchase). I have some flexibility to change a start date if it matters, but not an end date. So they may sign a “year long” contract that isn’t a year. But because this person refused to actually speak to me, they felt I misled them on the contract terms, even though it was right there on page 1.

      2. D3*

        That’s between you and your boss and does not obligate people to give you time for meetings/calls. Period. I don’t give a fig about your metrics.

      3. Sindy*

        None of which is my problem. I’m not agreeing to a meeting to help you with your metrics. I need this in email format for my workflow purposes – and if you cannot provide that, I’ll go to someone else who can. You want my business, you can adapt to my needs.

  2. Magenta Sky*

    I suspect that if you ask them to email you an agenda for the meeting, that will make it easier for them to realize on their own that they only have a few questions that can easily be answered by email. And if they don’t realize it, perhaps they can be gently guided to that awakening.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Some may realize that when they’re typing an agenda, but I bet more will be unaware in which case there’s no reason to tip toe around it. When someone sends you an agenda that includes something that can be addressed by email you can just say: “I see Llama Grooming Recommendations is on the agenda — our standard recommendation for that is X and Y.”

      I get a LOT of requests for help on a system my business group uses, usually with the only context being “System Questions” and last month I started asking folks to tell me what types of questions they have before I respond to the meeting request — 9 times out of 10, I can point them to a job aid on the (centrally located and easily searchable) group wiki that covers exactly what they’re asking me to spend an hour walking them through. It’s been freeing!

    2. Anhaga*

      This is the sort of tactic I’ve used to ensure our customer support people aren’t dragging me into unnecessary meetings. I’m the tech support, and often need to research answers to questions before I can answer them, so I always ask our customer support team to please get a list of questions or concerns from the client so that I can prep my answers and not waste anyone’s time. Quite often, that ends up with me saying, “Okay, I can answer these all really quickly in writing–see if they *really* want a meeting or if we can just do this via email.” There’s a 50-50 chance that I will, as a result, not have to sit through a useless meeting.

    3. Antilles*

      This also has the benefit that IF the meetings still end up happening, they usually flow faster and better.
      When someone is forced to write up a bulleted list/agenda, they’re thinking through their questions as they do it. As a result, the meetings tend to be way more focused and productive – less vague “let’s talk about the project” and more “I have issues with the laboratory samples, results X and Y look odd”.

      1. Bored Fed*

        I strongly agree. Getting an agenda and materials in advance of a meeting allows me to prepare, and invariably results in a more focused and productive meeting!

    4. Filosofickle*

      I just finished up a project with a client that was internally trying to wrangle down all the meetings. They required a PEAR — purpose, expectations, agenda, roles — laid out for every single meeting request or it simply would not be scheduled. There were a few times when we (consultants) felt that was getting in the way of the work but I respected what they were trying to do. It always makes my meetings better when I take the time to be clear what it’s for and what we’ll do and it’s easy to get lazy.

    5. Corporate Lawyer*

      Yep, my organization (which suffers from an over-abundance of internal meetings) has rolled out a new motto: No Agenda, No Attend-A. We’re encouraged to decline meetings that don’t have an agenda.

    6. LW*

      That’s been my tactic so far, but a lot of these guys just ignore my request and try again to schedule the meeting. I’ve been digging my heels in a lot, just repeating myself, but Alison’s scripts should come very much in handy here I reckon!

      1. Deanna Troi*

        It is really hard, but unfortunately you will have to be firmer with them. I would never participate in a meeting without any context (unless it was under direction from my boss). In addition to the scripts about handling things by email, I would say “I’m unable to schedule any meetings without knowing the purpose of the meeting and receiving an agenda first. ” Rinse and repeat.

  3. CurrentlyBill*

    One thing that might help is to schedule only 15 minute meetings. That could protect your time and help folks still feel like they asked their questions.

    Or maybe create asynchronus meetings where they send you and audio recording of their part of the discussion and you respond in audio as well. This addresses people who don’t feel comfortable typing their thoughts in an email program but process them out loud, instead.

    And, yes, I am aware I just invented voicemail tag [shrug].

    1. cabbagepants*

      15 minute meetings are a great idea! I think some people feel like they have to fill an entire meeting slot, or, given more time, will carelessly include a lot of fluff that you didn’t actually need to sit through.

      1. Esmeralda*

        15 minute meetings are an awesome idea — but only if people stick to the 15 minutes.

        And good luck with that…

        1. Cabbagepants*

          Thankfully my company has culture that if a meeting runs long, you just say you have to drop and then you hang up.

        2. Fried Eggs*

          And also only if you’re meeting on Zoom or in your office. If you have to walk down the street to a coffee shop for every meeting, they add up fast and take all of your time.

          I’ve worked with people who want to have meetings for everything because they think they’re master networkers who’ve turned their love of socializing into a professional skill. But it just doesn’t mesh with the constraints and realities of my job.

    2. Emilia Bedelia*

      For most people, the audio processing part is not the issue – it’s the back and forth discussion that they feel that they need.

      Frankly, I work with a lot of people who do not pick up on things quickly and who really do need to have a meeting in order to digest something… and they think that everyone else wants that too. I intensely prefer email and it’s really hard to get through to people that I would rather them send me the information ahead of time and have a follow up meeting to discuss – these people want a meeting to get the idea of the request, and then they want the documents as a follow up. Often, it’s because the person who is asking me for something doesn’t really understand my job, and they think that what they want is hard to explain or understand, but since I do this all day, it’s simple to me. I suspect that the people who want to meet with OP think their request is incredibly complicated and it just isn’t.

      1. Filosofickle*

        I’d like to work with you. I WANT to give things to people in advance so we can use meeting time to move forward instead of present/read/chat. But damn if I can people to do prep work. I end up having much longer meetings and more meetings than necessary because people won’t do advance work.

      2. LW*

        Yep! Quite often their email gives me the impression it’s a big, lofty, complex matter to be discussed. Even if it were (it never is!), our org is usually too small and time poor to handle large, complex requests anyhow.

        What really grinds my gears is how often these folks want to meet in person (pre-covid/post-restrictions-easing), as if dragging me from my home office via public transport to wherever is a *great* use of my pandemic time.

        1. Ama*

          I’m late to this but my org (which is in medical research) gets a lot of vague requests for meetings to “discuss collaboration” from for-profit entities adjacent to our field that are really just fishing for access to the group of prominent academic researchers that volunteer for us. Last year with my boss’s blessing I instituted a policy that my department specifically would take no meetings about collaboration unless the person asking had a specific project they wanted to propose — if they wouldn’t volunteer anything more than “let’s discuss possible areas of collaboration,” I would just reply “because of the volume of requests we receive we aren’t able to schedule meetings unless we can review the project being proposed in advance.”

          I don’t know if there’s something like that that would work for you but it has really helped me (plus I think word is starting to get around that fishing won’t get you anywhere with us, as the number of vague requests we receive has dropped considerably).

    3. booksbooksmorebooks*

      Yes! This is super helpful. Plus if you only set aside, say, an hour or two a week for 15-minute meetings it can help to use appointment slots at a predetermined time, batched, so you can use a variation of Alison’s scripts and if they keep pushing for a meeting well, you’ve only got one 15-minute slot left next week, if it’s urgent, best to switch to email! Make email easier on their end than waiting for a meeting.

    4. Person of Interest*

      Yes to the 15 minute meetings. So many people are conditioned by Outlook default settings that a meeting has to be an hour. I changed my settings to 30 minute default and it completely reframed how I think about the meeting agenda and purpose. And when someone emails you to ask for a meeting be upfront about saying how much time you have to give them.

  4. OyHiOh*

    Thankfully, I don’t have the meetings overload problem but I do have the limited office hours problem

    For me and my organization, it’s worked best that my email signature includes my office hours. This sets expectations pretty well: If I’m in the office, I’ll respond as soon as I have the information you need. If I’m out of office, know that I’ll get to it when I am next in and have what you need.

    1. Comrade Mewtwo*

      I was going to suggest the same thing! I’m also part-time in a role that people sometimes assume is ft. I’ve found that specifying my pt status in my email signature helps preemtively manage expectations around timeliness of email responses, project deadlines, etc.

      1. anneshirley*

        I agree with this! I’m 30 hours, so definitely different than 10 hours, but in my signature I have “I work part-time, 30 hours a week, but will try to get back to you as soon as possible.” At the very least, it makes me let go of guilt for not responding to people right away if I’m not working at that time.

    2. LW*

      LW here! I do this already. I actually took my phone number out of my signature as I’d get so many calls on my off days, despite my hours being *right there!!*

      1. LW*

        LW editing myself: my days are in my signature, but not how limited my hours actually are. Going to change that!

      2. OyHiOh*

        Yeah, my colleagues have their cell phones as primary numbers (they work remote from the primary office). I do not. Want to talk to me? Call the office line. If I’m not there, my boss most likely is. He works approximately 50 hours a week . . . .

  5. Tasha*

    At old job, I had the opposite problem. People would send and continue long emails of back and forth commentary rather than hold a simple short meeting with necessary decision makers.

  6. whistle*

    I wonder how many people are involved in these meetings? I often find that a 10 minute one-on-one conversation can cover more ground that a week of emailing back and forth, but as soon as that one-on-one turns into five people in a meeting, all efficiency is out the window. Perhaps there is a middle ground where you can say something like, “I can schedule a 15 minute one-on-one conversation so that we can see if that will take of it.” That way you get the rapport building of a phone call and a way to make sure you are on the same page (which can be tricky to do through email) without ending up in an hour long time suck of a meeting. I also find it easier to say to one person, “I’m sorry, I have to move on to my next appointment” once you hit that 15-minute mark than it would be to do so in a meeting.

    1. LW*

      Usually they’re one-on-one, but lately there have more often been three–six people in attendance. Start of 2021 program strategising, I guess!

  7. Anonym*

    Not sure if this would fly, but you could offer to schedule the meeting some weeks out (based on your real availability knowing you need 90% of your time for non-meeting work), and let them know you’re happy to answer anything by email in the meantime. If things get solved via email, great! Then you can cancel the meeting.

    TL;DR: two options: email now or meet (much) later. :)

    1. Ashley*

      I will do this one things that aren’t urgent and I have a strong suspicion an email could address. I can’t meet until next Thursday, but if you email me we might be able to get is addressed sooner. You can always have a little free time in your schedule for a quick meeting if it does need to be a meeting.

    2. hbc*

      I would even dangle the carrot of scheduling sooner once you have an agenda or topic. “I don’t have any slots open for meetings without clear topics until March, but if you send me the questions or specific topics, I might be able to schedule you for next week.”

      And then “Oh, here are all your answers, doesn’t sound like we need a meeting. Thanks!”

    3. Bee*

      Yes, this was my thought: first, set your own hard limit on how much of your 10 hours you can spend on meetings per week, and hold to it. The natural consequence of this is that meetings will have to get scheduled weeks in advance, and plenty of people will find that they’d rather send an email than wait a month to have a Zoom. And if you still wind up in pointless meetings – well, at least you’ve capped it at what you know you can manage!

  8. IL JimP*

    I wish I could cut out large chunks of meetings but so many people just skim emails that it turns out to save time on my end to just cover it in the meeting again to ensure everyone knows what’s going on.

  9. blue*

    It’s because people are trying to build a relationship with your org. You can’t really do much relationship-building in emails. (I mean, sometimes you can, but it’s a lot harder than just by having a live conversation with someone.) This may be a great time to use your board. Ask them to do some meet and greet type meetings with the stakeholders who want to meet with you, since in your ten hours (which sounds like not even enough time to do much of anything! Can those hours be increased?) is not enough time for you to be able to do that. I just think the problem you think is the problem here is actually a different problem that definitely has a solution. It’s not really about the emails. Good luck!

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      Yes, exactly this. It sounds to me like they are interested in building that relationship, but have unfortunately encountered someone at the organization who has no motive from a career standpoint to do that. So there’s a mismatch.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*


        Early in a “relationship” a meeting makes sense to me. Or if you don’t want new relationships, then say no.

      2. LW*

        I’ve actually done a lot of work to build relationships for our organisation in 2020! But these requests are more often one-way: they want recommendations, they want us to program something in a way that benefits them. Depending on the situation/funding/level of good will, I need the full brief before I can decide if that’s worth the meeting.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      Yes, if you’re thinking of the exchange as “they want to know XYZ about our llama grooming program” and they’re thinking of it as “we’re trying to get to know arts organizations in the area and assess whether they might be good for future collaborations”, you’re going to run into problems.

      Do you have anywhere else you could direct the relationship-building energy? “I only have time for a couple of quick questions right now, but would you be interested in attending our llama showcase event next month to get a better feel for our work overall?”, for example. A fundraiser you can comp some tickets to? Or, as blue suggests, a board member.

    3. JM60*

      I’m sure that relationship building is their motive, but it would still find it annoying if I were in the OP’s position. It sounds like they might not be sensitive enough to the OP’s time. They might not know how limited the OP’s time is, but as a general rule, I think it’s polite to assume that someone’s time may be quite limited (until proven otherwise).

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        Hmm… I don’t know. If your mission is to assess an organization and build a relationship with it (assuming that’s what’s happening here), then the person’s time limitations aren’t really your primary focus, nor should it be. Your job is to get to know Organization X and to do what it takes to get that done.

        In fact, I’d say the opposite: “Assume that the rep you’ve contacted does in fact have time for you… until proven otherwise.” In which case, that right there may tell you what you need to know about the organization.

        1. JM60*

          Your job is to get to know Organization X and to do what it takes to get that done.

          Sure, that’s their job. In trying to do that job, it’s fine for you to ask if someone has time for a meeting. However, I get the impression that people are expecting meetings, and are often a bit pushy about it. The OP gives an example of someone “pushing to arrange a meeting and ignoring my request for context.” That shows lack of respect for one’s time, and is rude.

          1. JM60*

            I want to add a caveat that it’s not always rude to demand someone’s time for a meeting, but it often is. It may not be rude if you’re their boss, or if you’re a client and the time you’re demanding is part of their agreement with you.

    4. LW*

      Oh man, I wish my hours could be increased. Technically I made my own bed here: during 2020 I often did more like 20 hours/wk, unpaid, because [nonprofit/love the art form/bored/used to volunteer with them anyway/insert reason here]. So now holding my boundaries is brand new. I’m essentially covering a number of roles as this organisation lives off grants and there really is no wriggle room with hours/funding. Alas!!

      But I love your idea about leveraging the board when the requests are ‘getting to know you’-type requests!

      1. voyager1*

        Honestly if you are not getting paid for this job, walk away. You don’t want to do something (meetings) then you owe the organization the ability to find someone who will.

        1. LW*

          Uhh, I think you’ve not parsed all the info. I get paid (enough to cover about 10/week). Last year I went over and above for the reasons stated. I facilitate plenty of relevant meetings; I think it’s very clear that I’ve asked for advice to help prioritise my time and determine *which* meetings are worth it for me/the org I work for. I have my manager’s full backing in this endeavour.

  10. KitKat*

    As someone who detests meetings, I feel for you. I work in healthcare and I am clinical now, but I recently worked in an administrative position. I wholeheartedly feel that many people fill up their schedules with meetings to “look productive” or to justify their jobs. The actual meeting is not as important as having that meeting on their schedule. I envy you for being in a position to push back on some of these meetings!

    1. Anne Elliot*

      I work for a state agency, so forgive me if I defame my colleagues by also suspecting the “Look Busy!” motive for having so. many. meetings.

      I remind the people who report to me that, except at the highest level where big decisions get made, meetings are not where we do work, meetings are where we talk about work. And doing work and talking about work are not the same thing. For me, meetings should have an agenda and a hard stop.

    2. SS Express*

      I have to say, I’ve actually done this myself when I’ve worked for managers/teams that value input over output. It’s not the way I’d like to work and I hate to waste anyone else’s time, but if the person who devotes two whole hours to a meeting will be taken more seriously than the “slacker” who managed to get the same result after spending two minutes exchanging emails, there’s not much of a choice there.

  11. SarahBeth*

    Create a calendly account and let them schedule their own meetings. Allow for, say, four 15 minute meetings a week. That way if they INSIST on having a meeting they can schedule one, and if you’re booked out 2-3 months they can say “ok, why don’t I send an email instead?” You may find this is a roundabout way to solve the problem.

  12. Jordan*

    Goodness. I’m dealing with this in my small non-profit too. There are so many meetings; 85% of them without agendas. It’s almost as if they are allergic to planning for meetings. My new year’s resolution was to stop attending meetings without agendas. It’s worked so far.

    If I feel uncomfortable straight up asking for an agenda, I push back with one of these along with Alison’s script “What’s my role in this meeting?,” What are you hoping to accomplish in this meeting?,” etc. That seems to get the scheduler thinking. If they respond with something that I can easily answer via email I answer it and then ask them if I’m still needed.

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      I’m not sure what the agenda would be for an initial “get to know each other” meeting – or at least it’s possible for that sort of meeting with no agenda and the meeting to work well.

      This is very different than an internal meeting like the one you describe.

      The OP only works 10 hours/week. That’s key. They have no time for networking/relationship building. It’s not that the external orgs are way off and should just do email.

      1. LW*

        Bingo. I’ve attended a few useful/pleasant ‘get to know you’ networking meetings in the last year – especially as there are lots of tiny arts orgs in our sector feeling isolated and effected by the pandemic – but they had a beautifully clear agenda that showed us what was to be accomplished and what was in it for us. I find the people who simply can’t produce an agenda also just *want* things from us (as if we were an agency, rather than the kind of org we are) – these things seem to go hand in hand.

        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          I get it – your time if valuable. So just say no. But I think your expectations about initial contact is not reasonable in a lot of cases. I mean, you have reasons, but I completely understand why others don’t do it.

          Here’s an example. I work for a nonprofit that’s often perceived as a donor organization, though we’re we’re not. When people ask for meetings I spend a minute (1) on their website and also make it clear we’re not a donor. Then decide. And they might even back out. Asking for an agenda in a meeting about learning about each other’s organization seems a bit much.

          1. LW*

            I understand your example, but I think I oversold (or the comments maybe got stuck on?) the idea of getting-to-know-you meetings. Most requests are like the example I gave in the letter (and hence I used the term ‘brief’ over ‘agenda’ there – I just want to know what their goal is!) I hope that’s clearer! :)

  13. Anonymato*

    Can you have them fill out a form to figure out what they are trying to do? It’s cut down our work a lot because we can clearly see what “category” of response is needed and where to steer them.

    1. Allypopx*

      I would love to see more non-profits allow things like this. There’s generally a concern that it looks “cold” or impersonal but god grant me 15% less facetime for 40% more efficiency.

  14. Jennifer Thneed*

    OP: stop asking and tell. They want your time? You get to control that time. They push back? You are a boulder and can’t be pushed. You’re probably right that people who work full time aren’t thinking about what your schedule is like, but that is *always* true — the other person never knows what your schedule is like, so do them the favor of being really clear and don’t let them colonize your schedule. Follow everyone else’s suggestions; take meetings by phone instead of zoom; make them give you a topic/agenda before you’ll even check your schedule. And also be up-front about the fact that by being strict with your time, you can do more for them and for others. (Oh, and tell them: “I’m only here quarter-time” because “part-time” can mean so many different things.)

  15. Claire*

    I’m not sure if this is viable for OP, given how small the non-profit is, but when I get a request for a meeting, I always ask for a brief summary of what they want to discuss with the explanation that I want to make sure that the right people from our side join the meeting; I do often end up finding that the problem can be solved with a three sentence email, and if it can’t, I can prepare a bit to figure out how to address the problem and if anyone else needs to join the meeting. Organizations often do just ignore requests for briefs, but if you give them a reason, they’re more likely to get back to you.

    1. OyHiOh*

      Kind of in the same vein: I do the majority of the meeting scheduling for my org. I try to either make the meeting title as descriptive as possible, or else use the description box to provide a two or three sentence summary of the meeting. It’s not quite the same as having a purposeful agenda but it helps quite a bit.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      Yes, “so the right people can join the meeting” is a great way to push for more information. It makes it sound like you’re trying to be helpful rather than pushing back and protecting your own time.

      1. Self Employed*

        I like that so much!

        And in situations where matching them up with Board members is the best option, you would be able to tell the Board members why it’s important for them to do the meeting.

  16. hiptobesquared*

    My entire day has been 10 minute calls that could have been emails… if people just read their email and responded. But after a while, I just need to find a time and discuss.

  17. Bookworm*

    Good luck. I went from a few weekly/bi-weekly type meetings to multiple daily and weekly meetings. Most of these don’t need to be meetings at all and/or should be bi-weekly at the most. Pandemic obviously has a lot to do with it but it has made me completely resent this job.

    Yes, I tried going up the chain. Didn’t work, but hilariously we had a company-wide assessment where the people facilitating employee feedback notes that there’s appears to be a big communication problem *despite* these meetings.

    Hope it works out better for you than it does for us. Hope they respect your time better!!

    1. Snailing*

      Ugh, I hate that pairing of over-communication with ineffective-communication, and too often they seem to go hand in hand!

  18. Jessica*

    I thought Alison’s answer was great, but I can’t agree with the OP on “every dang time.” Sometimes I’m emailing a question but I know I’ll have lots more depending on what their answer is. Do I write an elaborate “if your answers so far were yes, no, more than 33.4, never, and Thursdays, then I would also need to know…” email? Do I just wait and send the inevitable first of a zillion followups? A live interaction of any kind would be so much better for these situations!

    We have one support department in my organization that refuses to speak to anyone live ever, and I hate it with the fire of a thousand suns. I know they’re understaffed and if they were regularly reachable by phone, people would call them with dumb questions all day long instead of ever reading the manual. But even when something is badly broken, time sensitive, complicated, and there have been many emails already, they Will. Not. Talk. Live. about it, and my rage about this cannot be encompassed in words.

    I feel like zoom has helped a little in one way; if people are getting together in person, it tends to be full-on Let’s Have A Meeting, but you can more often get people on board with “let’s zoom for 5 or 10 minutes and just solve this thing.”

    1. Snailing*

      I feel like the initial brief would help best in your scenario in your first paragraph. Then at least OP knows what their working with at all (the basics of the inquiry), and the other party has the opportunity to really think about their follow up questions in advance since they already have the basics of what OP’s company can do for them.

      I love Alison’s and other commenters ideas on how to sort of force that first assessment through writing and then everyone is at least starting on the same basic page and thus saving the valuable meeting time for more in depth collaboration.

    2. Yorick*

      If you know there will be a lot of follow-up questions based on the answers, ask for a meeting to discuss these 4 things, and then list them as questions. Then someone like OP will have context to plan the meeting. Or, they can try to answer in an email and then if a meeting is still needed at least you will know some stuff so the meeting can be shorter.

  19. Allypopx*

    I don’t think I could even keep up with my inbox on ten hours a week, let alone meetings. I’m thinking back to the auto-reply letter from last (?) week and wondering if that’s actually a good solution here. That one was rude, but maybe something more like “Thank you for your email! I will get back to you as quickly as possible, but due to extreme time constraints it would help me get you a timely and thorough response if you could put as much information about your inquiry in the initial email. My availability for meetings is limited, but if I can’t fulfill your request through email I will reach out with some options for a 15-minute check-in.” That wording is probably not perfect, but a general idea.

    If you’re getting a lot of requests via phone, but ED let me set up a voicemail that basically says “we’re working remotely and checking the voicemail periodically, please email [my email] if you need a more immediate response” which allows me to filter phone requests.

  20. Lil Fidget*

    I’m a grantmaker so I have this issue – people just want to “network” with me, on the incorrect assumption that I can give them some kind of edge in getting a grant. One thing I have to do is create a stable networking event and invite my contacts there, including for short one-on-one discussions over the coffee cart or whatever. Then when I get a request with no meat, I can at least offer an invite to an upcoming networking event.

    To be fair, we dish it out too, as I’m required to do “site visits” that are a pretty big waste of time for all involved.

    1. LW*

      Yes! It’s sometimes like this! And fortunately when it comes to requests like this, I do have the odd event that I can encourage folks towards (e.g. if they want gigs in teapot juggling, I can suggest they go to more teapot juggling meetups in our area, etc.).

  21. Nanani*

    The other nice thing about emails is you have the written record, in searchable form, right there.
    A meeting requires you to write things down during or after the meeting, possibly in two steps if you need to then type up or transfer the notes.

    Pushing for a meeting can also mean pushing the record-keeping work onto someone else =.=

    1. TiffIf*

      This so much–document document document. If it isn’t documented, in an email, in a chat or in a ticket then most likely it won’t get done, even if a decision was made in a meeting. If it isn’t documented and communicated to the right people then you may as well have not had the meeting for all the good it will do.

      1. Workfromhome*

        Yup unless you have the meeting recorded or someone taking minutes it can be a real minefield. I recently had prospective a vendor push and push for for a phone all until I relented. I had previously emailed them telling the, no openings for an A class vendor but if they wanted to be a B class they could. The phone call turned out to be the exact same conversation as the email you cannot be A class no way no how. Find out next day they called another staff saying high we are a B class vendor (which they were not set up as yet) and Mr. X told us we could become A class how do I do that. It was a total fabrication but had I not had the email we would be dealing* how I wasn’t clear or the6 misunderstood. If I am going to have to type up a big email summarizing the meeting then I’d rather just type a big email and not waste my time with the meeting.

        1. ThatGov'tGirl*

          ^^^ This.

          We review application against codes, and so we get applicants asking for a meeting to ‘discuss’ our comments. We’re reluctant to acquiesce because more often than not, the ‘discussion’ is really just a venting/whinging session. A summary email is helpful, but I agree with the above that most times, an asking for an email with specific questions is more helpful to moving forward.

          Also, like the above mentions, we have applicants who try to pit team members against each other, as if we don’t communicate with each other, and so we discourage speculative inquiries. This chicanery usually just adds time+money to the application rather than getting it closer to approval. Even so, some still try, and more baffling, repeatedly. Le Sigh.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      Exactly- even a long back-and-forth chain is better because it’s searchable, you can see exactly what people said (rather than remembering the jist), you can look later and tabulate frequently asked questions in order to make a faq, etc.

    3. LW*

      Exactly! I’m fantastic at record-keeping out of necessity, but my working memory is dreadful – so meetings just mean I have to write it allllll down and document it anyhow.

  22. Alex*

    It is my experience that people request meetings when they are feeling like they don’t want to really deal with the issue at the moment, and they think that when a meeting happens, decisions will magically be easier.

    Of course, in these cases, often the problem ends up being restated and then everyone goes back to their desks and nothing was done.

    Is it just me? Because my boss does this allllllll the time.

    1. Tuesday*

      I’ve had that experience too. A meeting makes people feel like work is being done on a problem, even if nothing is really getting accomplished. I feel like email can force a more direct response sometimes.

  23. Workfromhome*

    Earlier in my career this drive me insane. Still is annoying but more management now. I can’t tell you how many times tepid get voicemail or even email saying “Hey I need yo7 to give me a call” or. Vendor saying Id like to come by the office to discuss our services see if everything is ok”. No context and would so often be a big time waster.

    Now unless someone is very senior to me I either don’t reply to voicemails without context or if I have their email I’ll email them and say “Im held up in meetings projects if you send me an email with a summary of what you want I can either have it directed to someone who can help you right away or if it can’t be solved right way do some research first and set up a meeting. I would say 50% of the time they come back and say I solved it myself or reached out to x who took care of it 40% of the time it’s something I can solve /reply via email because it’s simple and maybe only 10% of the time do need to call because it’s more involved. I find so much of the time the meeting or call becomes about what the other party wants to tell you or rant about and less about what the outcome they want and how I can get it for them.

  24. Introvert girl*

    Thanks to COVID we have daily meetings lasting around 30 minutes. I asked to make them less frequent as they’re a waist of time. (Every body has to say what they’re going to do that day) but my manager refuses as she needs to “see” us.

  25. Peanut Butter Vibes*

    Ah, this issue is something I have been struggling to navigate!! While I totally agree I get so many meetings that could have been an email, I have so many stakeholders that won’t reply to emails after a follow-up or two! So then I have to schedule a meeting where I read my email to them… and they give a short go/no-go and we’re done in 10 minutes… and IT COULD HAVE BEEN AN EMAIL.

  26. Name Required*

    “I’m not sure I’m the best resource from our organization to join this call without more information. Please outline the questions you’re hoping to answer so I can get you in touch with the best person on our team.”

    And then when you are the best person for the questions (or heck, maybe your were always the best and ONLY person for the questions), you can shoot back a quick … “I would be the right person to help with these questions, but I don’t think a meeting is needed. Please see answers below.”

  27. Trillian*

    The week I had 32 hours of meetings in a 37 hour (official) week, and spent an additional 25 hours actually doing my work, was the week I realized there are two kinds of roles:

    * Roles where meetings enable you to do or delegate work, so your list of tasks is shorter at the end.
    * Roles where you get given work during a meeting, and you cannot work in a meeting. Your task list is longer at the end of the meeting.

    People in the first type of roles love meetings, people in the second type of roles hate meetings.

    1. Kelly L.*

      This explains so much. Meetings produce more work for me *and* I’m supposed to be the note taker. So meetings give me a whole new pile of work plus rendering the minutes into a form legible to people other than myself.

  28. Julianna*

    I’ve used “Sure, I’d love to setup a meeting! So that I can be better prepared, can you tell me more about what you’re looking for with ?”

    And then once they answer that, I reply with the information they needed and ask if we still need a meeting. Often it turns out no, we didn’t need a meeting.

    1. Argh!*

      I bet everyone in the arts is lonely as eff at the moment and dying for human contact of any kind. Add to this the fact that some of the people LW is encountering may be extraverts, and that some may be parents who are dying to talk to an adult, and it’s a wonder any emails are still being written.
      And the other good reason to have a meeting is to give people a chance to ask clarifying questions, especially if there are newbies in the group.

      I have attended some meetings online at work lately that are truly just horrible – the authority figure says what they want us all to hear, then asks if we have questions, and there are never questions because the authority figures where I work deliberately leave out information and have no intention of filling in any blanks. They only say “Any questions?” as a pro forma thing. THAT kind of meeting could be an email!

      1. LW*

        Actually we’ve all done so many events online that I’m surprised anyone wants to look at Zoom ever again in our industry! But I hear you.

  29. introverted af*

    I have a coworker that is in charge of managing several types of reports for the entire org (~170 full time employees), among some other things. We’re supposed to email her to request them, she straightens everything out, passes it along to the Data Requests staff, reviews the documents, and then sends us the file.

    It is absolutely maddening that instead of responding by email with her questions she calls me every. Single. Time. Sometimes it’s stuff I covered in my email, sometimes it’s a simple question like “How quickly do you need this?” or “do you need donors since 2010 or 2015?” And she will call my work phone, but I’m not in the office every day, so I don’t see the voicemail, so she won’t start working on it until I call her back. Maddening. And I can’t even get her to reliably call my cell phone either. I get the value to the database team of not having to parse out requests but come on.

  30. Data Bear*

    For an entertaining musical summary of this topic, search YouTube for Thomas Benjamin Wild’s song “Could You Really Not Just Put This In An Email?”

    (I’d link, but it looks like URLs are disallowed in comments.)

    1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      After spending over three hours in meetings yesterday, this made my day. Thank you.

  31. Workerbee*

    This is a thing because if’s it’s anything like my org, there’s value placed on talkers, and not only talkers but long, repetitive talkers, and this is mistaken for substance and cleverness. Add in how the talkers are always So Busy and will happily list every iota of their calendar for you (usually in another meeting), and you begin to see that all these meetings guarantee they’ll never be able to start or finish any actual task.

    They’ll even volunteer for stuff only to magically never be able to deliver because of all the other stuff they have to do (that they…still aren’t doing anyway).

    I’ve taken notes in these meetings for my own edification, so it’s not just in my head that there is not only no substance and much repetition, but a lot of contradiction and (horrors!) convoluted sentence structure. I’d be more amused were I not subjected to this so often.

    I am heartily sick of these people. I’ve also been told that I need to talk more in meetings! Arrgh.

  32. meyer lemon*

    I regularly receive a kind of request that is much better handled by email, but many people want to call and regale me with tons of unnecessary detail about their project, and try to get an immediate answer (which I can’t give them).

    I found that a good solution is to provide a list of all of the information that I need up front, and then I can get back to them so quickly with an actual answer, it deflates their need to try to corner me. Maybe a similar strategy could work here.

  33. Momma Bear*

    If there are repeat offenders, I’d take a few minutes to meet with them about meetings (ugh, but bear with me). For example, if you find that x person asks for y status update every Friday, I’d pre-emptively say you’ve noticed, your time in the office is limited, so how about you give them y status on Fridays and you can either do a 10 minute stand up (scrum) call or you can follow up with them later if they have specific questions. Or mention that these meetings tend to be less productive when held more often so what about every other Tuesday instead? Some people like face time and are absolutely craving interaction right now but that doesn’t mean that your entire day should be eaten up with meetings. Could you and another PT person team up? You take meetings on Tuesday and Thursday and they take Weds and Friday?

    If you haven’t specifically said, “I need context because I only work PT and need to triage my tasks” try doing so. In some orgs you are required to provide an agenda 3 business days ahead of the meeting for this purpose.

    1. LW*

      It’ll have to be triage! Good advice for repeat offenders, but for the most part these are new folks each time. Our org is literally three people, and I’m the only one who can answer most of the Qs that come my way. (If I can send them along to someone better suited to answer, I do.)

      Appreciate your input, thank you. :)

  34. The Tin Man*

    I’m not sure if others recommended it above or if works for you OP but do you have a set enough schedule where you could have some sort of “Office Hours” where you keep every Monday from 10a-11a open for “External Meetings” but don’t do them otherwise? That way if you can communicate back something like “My schedule is in triage so I can only have scheduled external meetings on Monday mornings. Those are full for the next three weeks so we can either schedule you for that or we can see if we can handle this over e-mail. What works for you?”

    This borrows Alison’s “triage” wording but also puts it to them that if they really want a meeting they can wait, or we can do e-mail. Some may prefer to wait but I bet a lot would prefer to get a response sooner.

    1. The Tin Man*

      Of course that has the downside if useless meetings fill your calendar and crowd out ones you know would be useful.

      1. LW*

        Annoyingly, because my hours are so few, they do change a fair bit to suit a changing workflow. But I have my days in my email signature – I think it’s a great idea to be more specific there, even if I privately know I’m flexible.

  35. Gertie*

    I find a number of meetings seem to be a way of trying to hot potato responsibility for projects and/or decisions. I end up having the same meetings over and over. There’s an issue. We share ideas on how to deal with the issue. There is general consensus on what are good ideas. And then crickets.
    No one wants to make a decision on how to proceed. If I had the authority, I would choose. This last time I made one of the action tasks coming out of the meeting to find out who actually had the authority to make a decision. We’ll see if that happens. I’m betting no one wants to claim authority to make a decision on who has authority to make a decision…

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      “I find a number of meetings seem to be a way of trying to hot potato responsibility for projects and/or decisions.”

      I don’t see how this relates to the OP’s situation. There are no decisions or responsibilities in an initial get-to-know-each-other meeting.

      So many of the comments here are about situations like yours – internal work meetings. Not networking/find partners meetings.

      1. Gertie*

        Actually not talking about internal meetings, but collaborations between organizations. Are these all networking/get to know you meetings? Didn’t get that impression from the OP making recommendations.

        1. LW*

          Some are networking – but most have a specific project in mind for either collaboration (often we just don’t have the time/resources – though we want to help where we can!) or requesting recommendations (as if we are an agency for, say, Teapot Painters – again, happy to help, but it comes outta my 10 that I need to use for my own projects).

          In short it’s fantastic to have so much interest in our art form – and that our efforts in 2020 have made us better known as experts – but our access to time, funds and resources is the challenge in terms of prioritising.

  36. Jady*

    A strategy that has worked for me: Book your ‘work’ time like meetings on your calendar and hold firm.

    (I don’t usually do this to avoid meetings, but to get deadlines met. But it’d work both ways.)

    If someone asks for a meeting, you respond with ‘I’m all booked up! The earliest I could do is next Tuesday. Could you send me the info about what you need? Maybe we can figure it out through email.’

    People generally don’t want to wait a week+ for a meeting to get what they need.

    If you come to realize it actually needs to be a meeting, suddenly you’ve had a cancellation! Let’s talk tomorrow at 2.

    This works well in conjunction with explaining you’re part-time. When you’ve got 10hr a week, it’s pretty understandable you’ll often be booked.

  37. James*

    It’s always fun to see different cultures. I and the team I work with are the opposite–we would MUCH rather have a meeting than emails. Our weekly status updates are a way of preventing a lot of disruptions, as we all hold off on things until those meetings, at which point all the stakeholders are present. And if there’s more than 3 or so people involved emails just get too cumbersome, with everyone wanting to weigh in and have their say. In a meeting you can often just say “Yup, I agree with Jill” and be done with it! We have a lot of meetings mandated by various regulations anyway, so we’re used to making decisions this way.

    If you want to avoid meetings, asking for an agenda is a great tactic. It allows you to respond with “Oh, I can answer that now! [insert answer] Let me know if you need anything else, or want to call to discuss it.” This makes you look proactive, like someone with the information at their fingertips. If they just want to build a relationship with you (NOT something to under-estimate!!) you can still have the meeting, but with the understanding that the stated goal is secondary. An alternative, especially if it’s the same person/group of people, is to set up a weekly/biweekly meeting to discuss any issues that have come up. It doesn’t have to be formal, either; I’ve been on jobs where a weekly five-minute conversation at lunch was sufficient. It was all about making sure the person realized I cared about their opinion; once they knew I’d listen, the meetings slowed down.

    1. LW*

      Forgive me if you’re replying to the comments in general/the theme of meetings in general, but if you’re replying specifically to my question (letter writer here – hi!), it’s not so much about ‘culture’ but about time- and resource-scarcity in a team of three people each of whom work no more than 20 hours a week. I’m not underestimating opportunities; I’m looking for ways to get the information I need (an agenda!) to prioritise within the time I have. We of course have regular internal meetings as needed.

      As you will have seen in my letter (or maybe – and sorry to be sassy – like my meeting-requesters, you missed it), I do already ask for an agenda/brief, but that request is often ignored. I literally use the proactive wording you describe, because the information is indeed at my fingertips most of the time.

      1. James*

        My comment was more in general. The tone of this thread is very much anti-meeting, so I thought I’d comment on some of the benefits that meetings bring.

        Given your comments about time and resources being an issue, in response to my comments and others, it sounds like management isn’t very clear on prioritization. Either you’re under-staffed for what they’re trying to do, or they have misaligned priorities. That sounds corporate-speak, but in this case it sounds true: if they’re prioritizing meetings, but their resources don’t allow it, they’ve screwed up their priority list.

        Also, it sounds like the folks you’re having meetings with aren’t terribly respectful of your time. It’s one thing to occasionally forget to send information (happens to the best of us), or for a glitch to cause your email server to eat the email (just had that lead to a hilarious comedy of errors yesterday…..), but for it to be routine means that they just don’t care what you say. Which may not be a deal breaker–we’ve all had to suck it up and work with clients that are less than ideal–but it’s something to bear in mind.

  38. LargeHippo*

    I do not understand people who don’t give context for a meeting they’ve requested. Don’t you want me to be prepared so I can, oh I don’t know, answer your questions?!?

  39. Good Vibes Steve*

    I feel like the pandemic has created this weird reality where every conversation needs to be a video call. They are often linked to needing to be in a specific place where you can have good light and sound and a closed door (if you’re lucky), it’s adding a weird formality, as well as the need to go through the full length of the scheduled time.
    I’ve been trying to get people to just give me a call instead. Like “sure, would love to chat, here’s my phone number, give me a call between 8 and 11 am on Tuesdays, I should be available.” These always run less long (max 10 minutes) and require your attention in a less tiring way (no need to stare at the screen). I’m the kind of person who was phone phobic two years ago, but the alternative of video calls is even worse.

  40. Former ops manager*

    Can you set aside 1 hour a week for these meetings. Then schedule them back to back so your down time between them is minimal.

    Your response to the requests for meetings can be something like:

    I get a lot of requests for exploratory meetings. I have limited time so I set aside time slots on Fridays each week. My next availability is 10am on Friday (3 weeks away). Does that work for you? Can you send me through a list of questions/what you want to talk about so I can prepare.

    Answer the queries and then suggest cancelling the meeting. If no queries come through, postpone til you get them.

    If the meeting does go ahead, you have prebuilt your excuse to finish because your next call is starting and by having them back to back you won’t be switching tasks so much.

  41. CM*

    Lots of great suggestions here. One I didn’t see is — OP, it seems like this part of your job is driven by people outside your organization. But what are YOUR priorities? Are there certain groups you want to work with, certain types of projects you want to focus on? Seems to me that you’re more focused on what they want from you, rather than what would help your organization achieve its mission. Maybe getting more focused on internal priorities would help you triage, so that you’re willing to take the context-less meetings with Org X which you really want to build a relationship with, but when Org Y insists on a meeting, you say, “I’d love to meet sometime, but since I’m very part-time my availability for in-person meetings is extremely limited. I probably won’t be available until later in the year. But if you send me an email, I’d be happy to take a look.”

  42. CCSF*

    Contractor for a seasonal arts nonprofit here. Add yes. YES TO ALL OF THIS.

    I laugh out loud when people ask for the address for our office. It’s literally me and three other folks — all sitting on our couches. I tell people that I have to schedule meetings around my 40-hour a week job and family time (usually after 7 or 8pm) since all of us are part-time and that definitely helps them get the picture.

  43. TaxLady*

    OMG I feel this so hard. I am a Tax Preparer, I only get clients by referral, and I have a super detailed website telling you everything you need to know to work with me. Yet I get tons of people contacting me (through said website!) asking to have a 15 min conversation about me possibly doing their taxes. No. I am not going to sit on the phone and go over everything that is already on the website with you because you don’t want to read. If you have a specific question (do you handle x?) then just email it to me. I always reply referring them to my website and telling them to email me with specific questions, which usually works, but a couple of times people have insisted on asking for a meeting in order to “tell me all about their situation” and “see if they want to work with me.” I usually decline, those are not clients I want to deal with.

  44. EngineerMom*

    I started a policy at work – I don’t accept meeting requests that come without context. I will reply with “Tentative” and a request for an agenda or more details if the issue isn’t clear from the subject of the meeting.

    There are a definitely a couple of people who still don’t regularly put useful information in their meeting requests, but responding firmly with “I cannot make time for this meeting without more information as to the purpose and intended outcome” has pushed back a lot of the “fluff” meetings.

    I also use meetings as a way to quickly touch base with people who are notoriously bad at email – either hard to get any response, or generally send responses that make no sense or are incomplete. I usually try to be very clear that I’m only looking for 10-15 minutes to touch base on expectations of a specific project. I’ve found that after doing this regularly for a couple of years now, my coworkers have started imitating that pattern – our system defaults to a 30-minute meeting when you go to set one up, but a lot more people are whittling it down to 15 minutes right at the outset now!

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