I desperately need breaks between my back-to-back meetings

A reader writes:

I’m looking for some practical advice to create breaks between meetings. I started a new job about six months ago and the meeting culture here is slowly killing me. My old workplace had done some improvement work that resulted in, among other things, hour-long meetings being scheduled from :00 to :50 instead of the full hour, creating a natural break for restroom needs, coffee, etc.

Now I find myself fully scheduled in back-to-back meetings. For example, my workday starts at 8:00 and today I have virtual meetings at 8:00-8:30, 8:30-10:30, and 10:30-12:30. In our meetings, people will occasionally drop a “brb” in the chat and step away for a moment, but never for more than 1-2 minutes at a time. I would like to be able to take 10ish minutes to make a cup of tea and give my eyes a chance to adjust away from the screen, but this is certainly not something I see other people doing. Is this an unreasonable request? Our work is not life-or-death but I feel that there’s an inflated sense of urgency/importance that is probably contributing to this problem.

If you agree that it’s reasonable, do you have any suggestions about how I can carve out this time for myself? I’m exempt and not subject to break regulations, so that’s not a solution. I don’t feel that I have the standing yet to bring up the larger issue of meetings in my team/department in general. It may not work for one-hour meetings, but my thinking was that, 10 minutes before the end of a two-hour meeting, I could say something like “I’m going to drop off a little early; I need a few minutes before the next meeting.”

I have additional concerns about how this culture would affect people with a medical need for long bathroom breaks, etc., but that isn’t my situation and I have the impression I’m the only person who cares about it. It probably won’t surprise you that this organization has terrible work/life balance in general and I am already thinking of moving on; in the meantime I’m trying to make things work within this structure.

If nothing else, it’s absolutely reasonable to say at the start or end of meetings, “I’m going to drop off a little early; I need a few minutes before the next meeting” (your proposed language) or even just “I have a hard stop at 12:20 so I’ll be dropping off slightly early.”

You might also be able to let some of the meeting organizers know privately that you’re frequently in back-to-back meetings all day and will sometimes need to drop off 10 minutes early … or even say, “Would it work to schedule this meeting for 50 minutes instead of the full hour each week? I’m finding I have no time between meetings all day long and it would help to have more of a break between them.”

And you should be able to do all of that for hour-long meetings too, not just the two-hour ones. If you have concerns about how culturally acceptable that would be, you could run it by your boss or a coworker who has good judgment — but generally it should be okay to do.

Speaking of your boss: I hear you on feeling too new to bring this up in a larger way, but in a lot of roles and with a lot of bosses, it would be totally fine to say — even when new — “I’m finding I’m in back-to-back meetings all day with no time between them for the bathroom, grabbing coffee, or responding to emails. Do you think the org (or our team) would ever consider experimenting with defaulting to 50-minute meeting blocks instead of full hours? I’ve seen that work really well in the past.”

Also, do you actually need to be in all of these meetings? I know that can be hard to push back on as a new person, but it’s worth thinking about (and possibly discussing with your boss) whether you can skip some of them … as well as whether you can say, for example, “My schedule is packed right now so I’m just going to join for the first half of this call since those look like the agenda items you’ll need me for.”

Read an update to this letter

{ 221 comments… read them below }

  1. Elle*

    I like the “hard stop” suggestion. I let people know at the beginning of the meeting when my hard stop is and then leave at that time.

    1. LTR FTW*

      Same. Another thing that I do is to just call out that the meeting is almost over. If we hit 10:49 and the meeting ends at 10:50 I’ll just say “Okay well it looks like we’re just about at time, anyone have anything else?” and that signals that it’s TIME TO GO.

      This works even if I’m not running the meeting, I can get it in there. “So, I don’t want to dive too far into this topic because I can see we’re just about at time, but I’ll reach out to Fergus over email this afternoon about the next round of llama grooming…”

      Believe me, everyone else wants the meeting to be over so that they can get a cup of coffee and pee, too!

    2. ecnaseener*

      For me, “hard stop” makes more sense when you’re talking about the agreed-upon stopping time. I would be confused/surprised if someone RSVP’d yes without mentioning they were leaving early, then at the start of the meeting announced they had a hard stop at an earlier time. (I don’t think I’d hold it against them or anything, but I’m not everyone.) I think “I have to leave early” or “I have to leave at 11:50” works better in that case.

      1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

        I have seen people do this at the start of a meeting a hundred times. It might depend on whether the hard stop is at the scheduled end of the meeting, or if it’s partway through. Either way, though, only the person who send the meeting request would know about someone’s pre-mentioned hard stop, so if it’s a meeting with more than 2 people, then it still helps to make that announcement at the start.

        1. Gato Blanco*

          I agree that I have seen people mention a hard stop plenty of times at the start of the meeting. It was completely normal and no big deal at all in the last couple places I have worked (both in-office and remote meetings).

      2. Catabouda*

        I often use the hard stop language as a way to signal if you need something from me, get to it. Don’t wait until the last moment to ask me a question.

      3. GhostGirl*

        Ain’t NOBODY keeping track of the various hard stops of people in meetings, if there are that many meetings particularly. No one cares. People have appointments, have to pick up kids from school, travel for client meetings, prep for a presentation, whatever. It’s a very normal thing and I’m even shocked if I have more than 5 people in a meeting and no one needs to jump to another meeting or leave in a timely fashion.

  2. Zach*

    Definitely be vocal about it being a hard stop. In my experience, when meetings are scheduled to end 5-10 minutes before the hour to allow for time between meetings, everyone ignores it and goes the full hour anyway.

    1. Corrigan*

      This. We have them scheduled that way, but I feel like in everyone’s head it’s just an hour meeting, and there’s nothing stopping you from using the whole hour.

      1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

        It sounds like the culture is extremely meeting-happy, and even if OP got that policy pushed through, everyone would ignore it.

        I worked someplace once where the CEO (sadly) announced that a lot of people are in a lot of meetings, so wait 5 minutes past the start time for people to show up. Which sucked for me as one of the people who was NOT in a lot of meetings. But, I didn’t quite have the chutzpah to just start showing up 5 minutes late to everything. And if meetings can be shortened randomly because some participant are 5 minutes late, why can’t they be shortened deliberately by ending all meetings 5 minutes early?

        1. El Muneco*

          I just mentioned to someone this week that I expect that at some point soon the company culture of allowing meetings to overflow 3-5 minutes will degenerate to the point that even people who don’t have previous commitments don’t show up until then. There already is a joking recognition that people in on time will use the first couple of minutes to shoot the breeze or finish up getting caffeinated beverages, scolding the cat, or other things like that since they know that it’s unlikely that things will be organized before they get back.

          This cannot be good.

    2. CareerChanger*

      Yeah, even as the person running half the meetings, it’s hard to enforce this. I’m thinking of instead starting meetings at :10 or :15 and going to :00 – people want to linger late, but no one will show up early!

      1. Ama*

        I had a meeting with another department last week that started at:15 and that may have been partly why. I thought it was great.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        You won comments. This is so true. It would be the best update to meetings since email.

      3. Lac*

        I do it this way. It’s wonderful. Sometimes I have someone who calls in early, but they’re rarely mad about it.

      4. Anottermouse*

        I personally dislike this, as I’m usually antsy for the meeting to start and just want it to be over, but I’ll get stuck in a “waiting phase” for that :10 or :15 and not be able to accomplish anything with that extra time for fear I’ll be late.

        1. Chutney Jitney*

          That’s just a mental block though – it’s not actually any different than a meeting starting at 2:00. Do you stop working at 1:45? Or 1:30?

          1. Rainy*

            I have ADHD, and because I have poor perception of time passing *and* am bad at estimating how long a task will take, AND am subject to task cascades, while I can’t speak for Anottermouse, it actually is different for me. True story, a standing meeting I attend regularly changed about a year ago from starting on the hour on one day to a quarter after on a different day, and while I did just fine with the day change, I am regularly either very early (because I forget and walk to the conference room for the old time) or a couple of minutes late, because I am finishing something up and don’t start heading down until the meeting is nominally starting, and it takes me a few minutes to get there.

            I’ll get used to it eventually, but depending on the chili pepper rating on your neurospiciness, sometimes this stuff can be harder on some of us than others.

            1. Rainy*

              For the record, I’m not saying “don’t do it” because if this is a hack that works for someone and their colleagues that’s great, but saying “Your difficulty is just in your head” is not super helpful. Things that make a difference for time-related issues can be: an alarm scheme that works for you individually, or changing up how you use your calendar or planner, changing the timing (or the snooze time) on your Outlook reminders, etc, but “it’s in your head so decide to stop” is not always (or maybe ever) going to be a helpful thing to tell people.

              1. WellRed*

                Preach, both to the unhelpful “it’s just in your head” comment and to the agony of wait mode.

            2. mlem*

              Google defaults to a 5-minute warning. I had to change it to 4 minutes, because with 5, I’d regularly get distracted by something else and miss the actual start; but with 3, I didn’t have enough time if I needed a quick bathroom or kitchen run.

              1. Buffy will save us*

                I have set alarms for two minutes prior to my standing meetings’ start times. 99% of them are on teams so it reminds me to log in.

              1. Rainy*

                It’s a pretty common ADHD thing, at home we call it a “chore cascade” but at work I say task for obvious reasons. :) It’s where you realize you need to do one thing, you try to do the thing, but every step reminds you of a different thing you need to do, so you wind up 20-40 minutes later having done everything but the thing you meant to, AND you lost all track of time.

                So like, last week I wound up leaving work late because I realized as I was packing my backpack to go home that my desk had a bunch of random trash on it (white bakery envelope, fizzy water can, applesauce cup and foil from lunch, etc). So I gathered the trash and recycling and put them in my trash and recycling bins in my office. But oh no! It’s Thursday and I work a 9/80 so I’m out tomorrow! Better put my trash and recycling in the main office bins so they’ll be collected. Then I realized no one had cleaned the office fridge in a while, so I went through and took out everything moldy or rotting or past its date. Then I went back in my office and realized that I had a bunch of papers everywhere, wouldn’t it be nice if they were tidy. But that turned into sorting them, because the first one I picked up I didn’t need. So I sorted them, which necessitated another trip to the recycling in the hall, and then neatly clipped everything together that went together and stacked it on my desk. But with all the papers tidied, I realized that the desk was dusty, there were some crumbs etc, and a coffee ring or two. So then I dusted and wiped down the desk. That meant that I put away all the pens and markers on my desk, which I try to do before I leave anyway, but since I was in that mode, I realized that a lot of cruft had accumulated in my drawer. So I cleaned my big drawer out (more trash, more recycling) and then put everything back. But in putting everything where it went, I realized that I hadn’t switched out my artificial flowers from winter for my artificial flowers from spring, so then I got into the cabinet where I keep that stuff, selected some nice late spring/early summer branches of flowers, and arranged them in my vases. And then I looked up and I should have left almost an hour ago.

                1. Lizzo*

                  Somewhat off-topic, but can you offer any suggestions for other ADHDers about how to (at a minimum) be aware of this sort of thing, and (ideally) how to manage it? And/or suggestions for the partners, who need greater reliability and follow-through so that households can function without putting all the emotional labor on the non-ADHD partner?

                2. Thegreatprevaricator*

                  I am currently in the process of pursuing a task diagnosis and this is me, all the time to a greater or lesser extent. On particularly squirrel days it’s like being a damn pinball. There are ways I can manage it – actually having a full schedule helps because then I don’t have time to ..SQUIRREL.

                3. Rainy*

                  @Thegreatprevaricator: I was recently (<1y) diagnosed. I am 47 and went on meds basically the same week I was diagnosed, and hit my target dosage (they start low and step up) pretty quickly, and when I hit the right dose, my head got quiet.

                  No more zillion thoughts whizzing around like my brain is a racquetball court someone dumped a giant box of pingpong balls into. No more getting distracted by my own brain as well as stuff around me. It's easier for me to just sit down and do the thing, and it's also easier for me to rip myself out of hyperfocus if I need to. Meds have been *lifechanging* for me in so many ways, but the inside of my head being quiet is really high on that list. I'm not sure I even knew it was possible before meds.

                4. Rainy*

                  @Lizzo: Honestly, just being aware that it’s a thing can help you break the chain and either get back to the original task or move on to the next thing. Different strategies work for different people and different types of tasks, so some of it is just figuring out what works for you. My ADHD doc also has ADHD, and when she has a room she absolutely needs to get clean all at once, instead of letting cleaning happen cascade-fashion, she puts a giant laundry hamper in the door of the room she’s cleaning, and when she happens on an item that could have caused a cascade, she puts it in the hamper to deal with later and continues the original chore.

                  My spouse and I both have ADHD and a big part of success is just picking our battles with our ADHD. If there’s no time pressure, sometimes it’s fine to just let the cascade happen if you know that you’re the kind of person who works better cascade-fashion. If there is time pressure, leaning on your partner to help pull you out of distraction mode–“If I’m not back downstairs in 10 minutes can you please call me”–or using other methods (pomodoro, phone alarm, whatever).

                  But honestly, meds are the big game-changer. I have a lot of coping strategies (I was dxed last year at 47, spouse last year at 36) that work really well–until they don’t. As is the way with coping strategies. I use a planner, I’m a big checklist-maker, and a routine helps with things like household maintenance etc. We each have a list of stuff we do without fail on chore day (which is Saturday for us), and the routine of knowing what has to be done every week works really well for us, but might not work as well for people whose ADHD shows up differently to how mine or my spouse’s does.

                  Also, ADHD is not weaponized incompetence. Weaponized incompetence is a manipulation tactic used by people who don’t want to do something that would otherwise be expected of them. ADHD is complex but essentially my brain doesn’t make the right chemicals in the right amounts. It’s not “on purpose” and it’s not because I’m “not trying hard enough”. Most people with ADHD are trying really hard all the time. Are there fun things about ADHD? Yeah, absolutely. I love my brain in all its terrible weirdness. But I also don’t have a choice, because this is the brain I got. Absent some kind of horrifying dystopian medical procedure, I don’t get another one, and I have to make this one do what I need it to do as best I can.

                5. Lizzo*

                  @Rainy–thanks so much for taking the time to reply! We’re all a work in progress, right?

                6. DocMcCrakin*

                  @Lizzo and the ADHD’ers in the house, here are a few resources I have found invaluable.
                  1. I Have ADHD Podcast
                  2. Dana K. White’ blog books, and Podcast for all things decluttering, organizing, and housekeeping. http://www.aslobcomesclean.com
                  3. How to ADHD YouTube channel
                  4. pomodoro time blocks for productivity

                7. Rainy*

                  @BoksBooks well, I do have ADHD, so by definition if I’m doing it, it’s ADHD :)

                  Everyone’s ADHD shows up a bit differently. I am pretty good at looping back around and completing things (eventually), but that’s a coping strategy that I have been intentionally cultivating over the almost 50 years I’ve been alive, and I have a bunch of external things I do to minimize the number of tasks that get left half-done.

          2. MigraineMonth*

            Isn’t not ending the meeting on time also a mental block thing? We’re relying on the magic of the “00” or “:30” in either case.

      5. Well That's Fantastic*

        As someone who frequently meets with new folks and has no clue if they’re “join 5 minutes early”, “log on right at time”, or “wait a few minutes while everyone joins us” kind of meetings, I absolutely love this!

      6. Miss Chievous*

        A couple of years ago, I was on a project with back-to-back meetings and started scheduling all the meetings I was facilitating from XX:05 to XX:55 so *I* could have a break. All the meetings were starting at 5 or 10 after to give people a chance to finish trickling in from their last meeting, so why not make the buffer time official?

        People loved it. I’ve kept up the practice since then. I’m good about starting at five after but still sometimes eat into the ending buffer time. Some of my colleagues have adopted the practice, including my boss.

      7. Green great dragon*

        Yes! I do this and it works. 10 mins is ideal, because meetings tend to run over by a couple of minutes, so you still get your coffee time in (and I also find meetings scheduled to end at 10 to the hour just keep going until the hour). 15 mins risks someone deciding that’s just long enough for a quick catch-up about something urgent.

        I started doing this and a few people, not that many, have copied me. But everyone loves me for doing it when I’m meeting them.

      8. Person from the Resume*

        I’ve seen :05 START which recognizes that people have trouble arriving on time from another meeting running a bit long or trying to get one last thing finished before joining the meeting.

      9. Rach*

        My (very large tech) company is trying to improve work life balance and one of the things they’ve implemented is that no meeting is to start on the hour. The earliest time a meeting can start is 10 mins after the hour and need to end before or at the end of the hour (so if you start at 1:10 pm, you need to end by 2 pm). So everyone has at least 10 mins between meetings. It is working very well.

      10. MigraineMonth*

        Huh, I do usually “show up” early to Zoom meetings. I connect as soon as I get the 15-minute meeting alert, because I sometimes miss the 2nd alert and someone has to ping me to remind me to connect.

        I know this sometimes alerts the organizer, but hopefully they write it off as a quirk.

        1. starting early stresses me out*

          I said “oh my god” aloud to this! I am often stressed by the alert that people are on my meeting before it starts–which is a quirk on my end, but something to note.

          One other thing: sometimes hopping on early means hopping into another meeting that’s already going on. Strong recommendation for not joining early!

        2. Astor*

          I used to organize a lot of meetings for my job, and so I’d get the notification when someone joined. While there were some meetings with some people where that would prompt me to go in early, in general: I just assumed that colleagues (even ones I hadn’t met, as long as I recognized their name and role) were joining early for exactly the reason you described.

          I also often organized meetings on my boss’s behalf, and she was totally fine with me handling it this way. She knew that if it was (for example) a VP then I’d notify her that they’d joined early, but otherwise neither of us needed to join early too.

      11. Big Lug*

        Yes, this is what finally worked for my org – convention is now that hourlong meetings start 10 past, 30 min meetings start 5 past. Much easier to start late than end early.

    3. ENFP in Texas*

      Absolutely. A “50 minute” meeting will not stop at 50 minutes.

      Announce at the beginning that you have a hard stop, and drop at that point.

      1. alienor*

        Even if there’s nothing left to talk about, people will keep blathering on! I can’t count how many times I’ve been in a meeting where the organizer said “I think we’ve covered just about everything, so it looks like we’ll be able to end a little early” and then it somehow just kept going until 5 minutes past the hour anyway. Torture.

    4. Lana Kane*

      It’s hard to enforce, but can give you cover when uyo do indeed leave the meeting on time.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Here’s what I always say: I have to jump off a few minutes early because I need to make another call* before my next meeting.

        *Call can be interpreted in a variety of ways!

    5. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I’ve floated the idea of implementing “short” meetings a few times at my current company and I’ve been told it will never work here. The culture doesn’t support it and no one is willing to take it on — meetings will always run full time + two minutes. (+ 2 because everyone is 2 minutes late from the last one…)

      I’ve worked with some organizations that have the discipline to stop on the :50/55 and I salute them. It’s a much nicer way to work.

    6. Meep*

      I work with talkers. Love them to death and I know it is out of nervousness overhearing them speak, but what can be said in 5 words or less always turns into 50-100 words. They also love to schedule 15-minute check-ins. I just write them off as 90 minutes every time. If they end early, yay for me! I wonder if OP could add some buffer time and make every meeting 75 minutes in her calendar instead.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          With my previous manager, I scheduled a meeting immediately after. I’d rather have back-to-back than get trapped in a meeting for twice the scheduled time, mostly talking about sports or roasting coworkers.

          When they retired, they documented one process by recording a 5-hour video meeting. As a result, no one will touch that process with a 10-foot pole.

        2. Meep*

          I don’t know if they trained me or if I trained them, because at least they stopped scheduling 4PM meetings with me, because they know I will kill them.

    7. A Poster Has No Name*

      Yup, same. But people saying they need to drop a few minutes early or whatever is usually fine, if they’re not actively involved in the discussion.

    8. House On The Rock*

      In my previous organization the leadership made a huge deal about meetings ending after 25/50 minutes, and people made a show at first for scheduling them as such…but it almost never worked and ended up being more frustrating, because at the appointed stopping point, someone would invariably say “we can all stay on the full hour/30 minutes, right?”. And saying “no” got grumbles.

    9. Roland*

      I have had the same experience, which I why I advocate for starting 5/10 minutes late instead! (5 for 30 minute meetings, 5 or 10 for hour meetings). It’s easy to just keep going but it’s harder to just get started (it happens, but not as much).

  3. Nesprin*

    One thing that helps me is outlook can let you set the default meeting length to 25 or 50 min.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I *always* try to schedule 30 minute meetings, and I’ve seen other people in my org pick it up after I started it. Maybe OP can be the change.

      1. Baby Carrot*

        The problem with 30 min meetings is that people book another 30 min meeting right before or after. Thats why I prefer to use the option in Outlook to start or finish early.

        Also, when I feel that 30 minutes is not enough but 60 is too much I do 45 minutes meetings. I can mostly have 15 minutes breaks between meetings this way.

    2. Lana Kane*

      I didn’t know this, thanks for sharing! Where I work we’re encouraged to make meetings 25 or 50-55 minutes to let people breathe in between meetings. I’m always changing it manually.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            My org just added Microsoft Teams to its suite of video-conferencing options, so now my department’s video meetings are in Skype, Discord, GoToMeetings or Microsoft Teams. Every other department only uses Zoom, but my department doesn’t have Zoom licenses.

        1. JenLP*

          It also doesn’t work in the Client setting of Outlook but it does in the Web version. GRR

    3. June*

      Yes, I was going to suggest this! My last company didn’t have it but my current one does. Maybe the letter writer can propose it when they talk to their boss?

    4. mlem*

      My organization tells us to set Google Calendar to “short meetings” (25 rather than 30, and 50 rather than 60). There’s no kind of notification at the ending time, and literally no one actually stops at the scheduled times. It just makes our time-logging software have weird math.

    5. Media Monkey*

      i was about to say this – seems to be a newish feature as it popped up at the top of my outlook last week!

  4. Ellis Bell*

    It’s totally reasonable to be a human who needs to pee and drink and reboot between topics. If, however, it’s a true martyr culture it might be more acceptable to avoid mentioning personal needs and say you need to prepare for the next meeting, or to gather some materials. You don’t need to specify that refocusing your eyes and gathering your wits is the prep you really need to do. If it’s one of those places where the meetings are epically pointless, you’ll never need to actually prepare anything solid and doing something that will keep you awake and a bit less murdery is by far the best prep you can do.

    1. House On The Rock*

      This is the approach I’ve taken. I found that when I said (very reasonably) “I’m dropping off for a quick break since I’m in meetings the rest of the day”, someone would always chime in with “oh same here!!” and kind of imply that I was a special snowflake for needing to take care of basic human needs. So my go to is “sorry guys, I need to drop at 1:50 to to a bit of prep for the next meeting”.

    2. Chinookwind*

      I was once on a convention committee for a woman’s group that wanted to go the entire day without breaks beyond lunch so we could finish early. I protested loudly, pointing out not only that our usual attendees are all women and are either women of child bearing age or older women living the after effects of bearing children. Yes, this is more forward than I wanted to be, but the president was focused on wanting to finish up early so they had extra time to get ready for the evening banquet and couldn’t understand why the attendees couldn’t just get up whenever they needed to (never mind we had active votes going on in the afternoon that you could miss if you were in the bathroom).

      I smiled pointedly at our president when we had our first coffee break that day and half the attendees immediately got up and made a beeline for the washrooms (the other half for coffee and nibbles).

  5. Medium Sized Manager*

    +1 for the hard stop. If you are uncomfortable with (rightfully) advocating for a real break and it fits with your role, you could also say that you need a few minutes to prepare for your next meeting. Taking your breaks and stepping away from your laptop is essential for avoiding burnout and being fully present in your work.

    1. Goldenrod*

      I agree with the “hard stop” language, and/or also with privately communicating to the meeting facilitator ahead of time that you need to leave early.

      As someone who does a lot of meeting scheduling, I think the 50-minute meeting idea is fine on paper, but (as many have pointed out), it doesn’t tend to really work. But so many people arrive late/leave early from meetings, that unless you are *leading* the meeting, that is usually fine (in my observations).

      I think people understand “I have a hard stop” and I wouldn’t recommend providing any further explanation. Explaining it too much can sound defensive…or like you’re asking for permission…but just casually communicating that boundary is usually something that people won’t question.

      (In the unlikely event you are asked to explain, you can still say something vague like, “I have another commitment.”)

      1. Medium Sized Manager*

        I agree across the board- I don’t find the 50-minute meeting helpful unless the meeting runner is diligent about enforcing it, and you don’t need to explain yourself. But, if there’s a concern about not looking as dedicated as everybody else, having a work cover is a nice fallback.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      I know OP is new to the company, but I’ve found that new people are better at pointing out “the Emperor has no clothes” than people who are embedded in the culture already.

      Challenging the culture needs to be done from a respectful place (don’t just decide the E-50 forms are redundant, ask for someone to explain how they’re different from the G-3 forms), but it can be done successfully, and it’s sometimes easier as a newcomer.

  6. Sloanicota*

    I’ve been interested since the pandemic in which orgs have “cameras on” versus “cameras off” culture. It seems to truly be an artifact of culture, not a necessity based on the subject matter / content being discussed, for the most part. Cameras-off meetings are much more generous of your need for personal breaks, as you can take a walk during them, pace around the room, get that second cup of coffee or whatever. Sometimes you can nudge a meeting into cameras-off or simply assert that’s what you’ll be doing today. In very small meetings, especially one on ones, where nobody’s necessarily looking at a document – small meetings have the most camera-on pressure, I find – you might suggest switching to a phone call to give yourself this break. You can offer a polite excuse if necessary.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Same. I had two hourlong video meetings this morning where I had a primary role, so I had to leave the camera on the whole time and pay attention the whole time, and I found myself really, really struggling.

      I normally walk around, even if it’s just pacing the kitchen and making tea. I find it really hard to pay attention if I just have to sit there and look, even if I’m talking. I feel this rising tension, and if it keeps dragging on I feel like throwing the computer and running away!

    2. Pop*

      Yes, I think while going off camera for a few minutes at the beginning of a meeting is not a true “break,” it does allow some more flexibility (and I have made many cups of tea this way!)

    3. Maglev No Longer to Crazytown*

      Our meetings are general camera-on, but no shade on people for leaving them off. With people working on different teams, and projects with different meeting schedules, there are definitely days people do not get good breaks between meetings.

      However, people are empowered to do what they need to do. They will drop off a few min early with a chat note, “gotta stop now, have another meeting I am getting ready for,” with “getting ready” meaning grabbing food/tea/break. Also, people will show up to a meeting and say “Leaving my camera off because I am eating my breakfast/lunch and don’t want to be rude.” Thankfully this works well in our group.

      1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        This is how my work is and no one really cares if people hop on and off camera or drop out early or message they are running a bit late. Everyone gets it. If you’re a critical part of them meeting they’ll wait or come back to you later. Just communicate and you’ll be fine.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        Yes, that’s the culture at my job, too.

        It’s so much worse, working remotely, because in person, usually the back-to-back meetings were in different rooms, so you would stand up, walk around, could swing by the bathroom and/or kitchen, etc.

      3. The Original K.*

        This is how my employer is. I had my camera off in my 1-2 PM meeting today because I was eating lunch. About 1/4 of the people in the meeting had cameras off.

    4. House On The Rock*

      About a year ago I moved from a “cameras off” culture to a “cameras on” culture and I had no idea ahead of time how much more draining it is. Some do default to having them off, but I’ve seen higher ups call others out for not being on camera, and also seen tortured explanations of why someone is off camera. I’m usually able to turn the camera off in large meetings where I’m not actively presenting or participating, but it honestly can take me a few days to recover from being “up” and on camera for 8 hours of straight meetings (which is also common where I work).

    5. MigraineMonth*

      When I met one of my coworkers in person after working with them closely for over a year, I had to ask who they were. I’m not sure if it’s by choice or a technical issue, but they have literally never turned on their camera.

    6. Malarkey01*

      I am in a months long rollout of a new system and process and have been conducting a lot of it virtually. A lot of the sessions have after call assessments or different tasks for measuring knowledge. I hate this as someone who prefers cameras off BUT all assessments have shown camera off leads to worse outcomes- even in our rock stars who are very knowledgeable and diligent. I’ve talked to several about why their results dropped and we’ve been troubleshooting improvements- the biggest thing we’ve consistently found is that with cameras off people multi task MUCH more. I experimented with myself too and yep when camera was off I was clicking through other tabs, letting my attention wander into emails, even started writing a to do list. Things I seriously wouldn’t normally do at all.

      It’s an interesting phenomenon.

  7. Samwise*

    50 minute meetings — those never stop at 8:50 am…they run over right to 9:05 am

    OP needs to find a way to schedule a real time chunk between meetings = 30 minutes. So that when the first meeting runs over, they still have time to get a break. May not be possible…as a new person you may not feel you have standing to do this.

    If you can’t put in real breaks, then feel free to use brb and stay away for 10 minutes. Turn the volume up so you can hear if there’s anything you need to respond to. (I will take a PT-exercises break — if I hear my name, I get up, unmute and say, “sorry — bad back, I had to stand up”. (If you’ve got enough time to notice how long people are brb’ing, you have time to take a longer brb — that’s not a criticism, it’s an observation)

    1. Sloanicota*

      I wonder if OP could use the “time block” strategy to block off more 30 minute work breaks in her calendar. Some offices seem more open to this than others, and it depends if people are really scheduling around her specific calendar or not. I do this myself though, and I’ve never had anyone challenge me on it. No-one needs to know if part of your work block is spent in the bathroom. OP says they’re new at their job; for the first month or so I try to be a perfect employee who never pushes back and is very attentive to culture, but between a month to three months I might try to implement some little foibles that make my life easier even if they’re slightly out of step with other people, and see if it floats.

      1. I am Emily's failing memory*

        Yes, this is definitely worth exploring. When I onboard a new direct report I tell them on Day 1 that I recommend they block off time for focused work on their calendar, because if their calendar is ever empty it’s liable to get filled. If it’s a role where their attendance in meetings is going to be important and they’re likely to get pulled into an above-average number of meetings, I’ll usually advise them to block more time than they need but make half of it “tentative,” because in our office culture people know that means, “You may schedule me for meetings during this time, but only if the alternative is waiting 2 weeks until everyone has an opening on their calendar.” For people who do more solo work and are needed in fewer discussions I’ll advise them to hard-block 3-4 hours each day, or to hard-block 2 hours a day, and tentatively block the remaining 4-5 hours of Thursday or Friday so that most weeks they’ll be able to have a meeting-free day towards the end of the week.

        1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          I love that you make this explicit for people. We have someone coming in to talk about neurodivergence and I may use this as an example of making “unwritten rules” clear..

        2. Samwise*

          I do this with my mentees. I show them my calendar and encourage them to ask others in the office how they handle their calendars.

      2. Meep*

        I was thinking of something similar as extending the meeting time in her calendar and only in her calendar. If a meeting is an hour, then she has 75 minutes blocked off. Eliminates back-to-back meetings in more than one way, because let’s face it, meetings never end on time anyway.

      3. Samwise*

        I do this for my calendar for the entire year — block off breaks, time for working on specific projects, time for planning, time for crisis appts. I can adjust for meetings that I really need to attend, but it has been a game changer for me for my mental and physical health.

        When a meeting gets scheduled, I put a block before and after.

        OP may not have complete control of their calendar…or may just have left it wide open. If they can add in any blocks whatsoever, they should. They can likely name the block, if they think that would be helpful for bosses looking over calendars (“plan for BossName project meeting” “review Dr. BigWig’s report before meeting” “write meeting summary for Important Client”)

        1. MAC*

          I’m in a much less meeting-intensive role now, but at my last several jobs, I had to do this, along with blocking time for focused work. I’d block 15-30 minutes on each side for pre- & post-meeting prep/wrap-up. Otherwise I would never have had time to go through notes & action items that were assigned during the meetings, let alone actually DO any of the assigned tasks!
          Depending on the location of the back-to-back meetings, it’s also helpful to block out travel time. My company has employees in multiple buildings throughout our town, which can take anywhere from 5-45 minutes to get to (by car) from my building. More than once someone has tried to schedule me from 1:00-2:30 in Building A and 2:30-3:30 in Building Z, without taking into account that I would need a teleportation machine to make that work!

      4. alienor*

        I do this as well. I have 25-30 meetings per week on average, so at the beginning of each week I’ll go through my calendar and block off almost all the space that isn’t already spoken for. It’s the only way to ensure that I have at least a little time during the day to do my actual work, answer emails, etc.

        (On a related note, I haven’t been able to decide what my least favorite calendar configuration is – a big clump of back to back meetings where I don’t get to eat or pee until afternoon, or 7-8 half-hour meetings all sprinkled through the day so I never have time to focus on anything. They’re both terrible. I hate meetings so much.)

      5. ferrina*

        Absolutely! This was my first thought. My boss has blocked time for lunch every day and for other breaks as needed. She also uses it for Focus Work (otherwise she’d never get to spend an hour reading that intensive report or developing new documentation). She has set her calendar settings so that the rest of the organization sees that she is either Busy or Free, but her direct reports can see what she’s blocked the time for, just in case we need to interrupt her.
        It works really well!

    2. MissMeghan*

      I think this really varies, there’s been a trend to pushing for 50 minute meetings, and at least where I work the push has come from the top, so people have been adopting it. I’ve also heard many people saying they need to prep / shift gears for their next meeting and have it be received well in meetings. It’s a growing trend that (hopefully) can continue gaining momentum.

  8. Can Can Cannot*

    I sometimes block off 15 or 30 minutes before or after a meeting to give me some breathing room. Occasionally people will ask if they can schedule a meeting over those times, but not often.

    1. takeachip*

      in the Before Times when everything was in person, people often had to block out “travel time” to get from one location to another. This is like mental travel time!

    2. Storm in a teacup*

      I do this too and I also book in lunch break daily – most of our senior leaders do this so it helps drive a culture.

  9. Elle*

    This is so hard and I feel like it’s really hard to counteract without support from your mgmt. I noticed I was getting so many meeting requests that I had no time for my actual work. I’ve started blocking off chunks of my time on a regular basis so that I have built-in downtime- I can still choose to schedule over it if I want to, but it’s there if I need it. I’ve also gotten comfortable with saying no to meetings- it doesn’t have to be a hard no, it can be “I’m not available for that entire hour, but I can join for the first half hour” or “I’m not free during that time, but I can answer xyz question for you via email” or whatever.

  10. Cynan*

    “Speaking of your boss: I hear you on feeling too new to bring this up in a larger way, but in a lot of roles and with a lot of bosses, it would be totally fine to say — even when new…”

    If anything, a good manager should value the perspective of a relatively recent hire on a practice that may have become ingrained in their current culture but be immediately obvious to someone from outside the company. (Of course, not all managers are good managers, so weigh this by what you know of your new boss.)

    1. Empress Matilda*

      I would say *especially* when new! If your boss seems receptive to it, of course – but in general, this is the best time to be asking questions about the culture, before you get too immersed in it yourself.

  11. BellyButton*

    When I started at this company I made all of my meetings 45 min, and it slowly has become the norm. If someone books an hour with me, I immediately go in and block off the 15 min before and after. I need to have a few minutes before a meeting to open up any thing I am going to need, to look over past notes, or just go to the restroom and freshen my water.

    1. SnowyRose*

      I block 15 minutes before and after meetings as well and mark it as unavailable. I used to put prep but found unavailable was more effective.

    2. Global Cat Herder*

      Our company tried to go to a default 45-minute meetings. People would schedule 15 minute meetings in the spaces in between.

  12. HonorBox*

    I like the idea of a :50 meeting versus full hour, but you (the collective you, not LW specific) need to be aware that it’ll take time to shift culture. I like the Hard Stop idea because it can also affect the start of a meeting, which is the time that generally annoys me because it’ll take ten minutes for people to be fully present and stop the chit chat. If people know on the front end that you’re leaving at :45 past, perhaps that will help them get to the actual meat of the meeting sooner.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah in my current role I’m on several recurring external meetings that frequently start late because we’ve trained people not to jump on right at the start time due to five minutes of warmup chat, so what used to be a little chat has now become more and more chat with later and later end times – it can be a vicious circle!!

  13. I Have RBF*

    I have IBS-D. This means that if I have to step away for a bathroom break, it can be quite urgent. It’s a biological thing that I refuse to make excuses for, so in meeting when I have a particularly urgent need, I just send a quick “BRB”, make sure I’m muted and camera off, and then dash to the bathroom.

    No one at my current job has ever complained. If they did they would get a polite explanation. If they then continued to make a stink about it, well, so can I – the word “poopsplosion” can be very descriptive. I think that only once in several remote jobs did I need to get graphic.

  14. Vg*

    Well in advance block off a couple of 30 minute slots on your calendar. Then when someone tries to schedule a meeting they’ll see you’re busy then and schedule around it. (Outlook even has a feature now for scheduling breaks.)

    This won’t work in all settings, but ina lot of places people have all sorts of things going on that it’s not unusual.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is what I do when my calendar starts to fill up. Sometimes, I just need 30 minutes to use the rest room, check my email, deal with some small stuff, and not be around other people.

  15. High Score!*

    Create your own meetings in your calendar for the last ten minutes of the hour, like 2:50-3:00 and title them as prep meetings: “Prepare for llama grooming seminar”. It’ll be tougher to schedule back to backs & a reminder to yourself of your hard stop.

  16. Help Desk Peon*

    My team is notorious for ad hoc working meetings that are intended to be one hour but go on for 3, so I feel you. One of my coworkers called for a “bio break” during one, and it’s become a thing, generally met by relief from everyone else on the call and we all step away for tea, bathroom, letting the dog out, putting the wet laundry in the dryer, whatever.

    You can be the change!

    1. Tired*

      Yup adding bio breaks to any meeting that is 2 hours or more has become a very welcome new normal where I work, at least with my usual team – very helpful!

  17. rayray*

    I’ve never been in a job that was meeting-heavy, and I am so curious what some of these people do that have so many meetings all the time – is there actual work getting done ever?

    I get it if you’re doing something where your meetings are appointment with clients, like a therapist, academic advisor, financial advisor etc.

    But what are these people doing for work where they have constant meetings?

    1. Sloanicota*

      I have definitely had jobs where I bounced all day from meeting to meeting setting action steps and workplans and wondered when the heck any of us were supposed to be actually getting these things done. But I suppose in those cultures the answer would have been “that’s what evenings and weekends are for, silly!!” I strongly agree with the OP that there’s a false sense of urgency sometimes – I find it comes from the top …

    2. Happy*

      In my industry, it’s usually the decision makers. Chief engineers, program managers, administrators, etc.

    3. No Tribble At All*

      Sometimes the meetings are “working groups” rather than decision making, which does tend to give you the vibe that it’s a project at school. But you are correct :C

    4. CR*

      A thing you learn when you work in an office is that people will book meetings just to look like they’re getting work done.

      1. ccsquared*

        100% this. I was tapped into something recently to provide subject matter expertise. The goal was to produce 2-3 slides, and the person in charge has no idea what he’s doing so he just keeps setting up meetings and rehashing the goal of the product in each new meeting. We’re now on week 5, meeting #4 of this dumpster fire.

    5. bjlong60*

      We operate primarily in cameras off mode. To get actual work done, I multi-task during my endless meetings (e.g., answering emails, updating status, etc.).

    6. Just Here for the Free Lunch*

      I work in a very meeting-heavy culture. If it’s a decision-making meeting or a working group where I have an active role, then I go and pay attention. If it’s a meeting where I have to give an update, then I keep half an ear open and multi-task when I’m not presenting or listening for someone to ask my input on a topic.

      I also get invited to meetings where my role is “being kept in the loop”. I decline those and just read the minutes.

      I rely heavily on time-blocks on my calendar to get work done.

    7. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

      Constant fluffernutter meetings are the lifeblood of middle managers who have no other real or effective work to do. It makes them feel important and inflates egos while simultaneously preventing anyone else from getting any real work done.

      1. ccsquared*

        Yup. And it can multiply – I’m on an initiative now where a middle manager creates so much chaos on the official meetings that each meeting with him results in at least two “shadow” meetings for people to actually discuss things and make decisions without him crapping all over everyone’s ideas.

    8. allathian*

      Some people get their work done in meetings while others get their work assigned in meetings and need non-meeting time to actually do the work. Usually, but not always, the higher you are in the org chart, the more meetings you’ll have on your calendar, in office jobs at least.

    9. J*

      I work with too many people who won’t read through a document for edits unless there’s a meeting. Sometimes that means logging in for a meeting, looking at a shared document where it says “Peter is this the correct year?” and then Peter looks at it with 5 of us and says “Yes” and we clear the comment and leave.

      Today it was finalizing a group document but those of us were delegating the final review steps and order and clearing up some muddy language in a collaborative way. That one was surprisingly useful, scheduled for 15 minutes but we went 30 and all came away happy even though we went over time.

      Most of the time it’s 10 people whose billable rates are all $300+ and 90% of us have nothing to contribute and it’s a huge waste of everyone’s time to “make a decision” that one person could have done if they ever checked their email.

      Sometimes it’s me doing new intakes with clients or outside counsel where one of us has previously shared background info via email but we need more secure and nuanced conversations about case specifics. Those I at least feel are useful almost always.

    10. NotAnotherManager!*

      The higher up I’ve gotten, the more meetings I have. Strategy meetings, project meetings, one-on-one with direct reports, ad hoc meetings to deal with strategy/project issues… it can be a lot.

      I am also in the midst of leading a large project that involves multiple departments and an outside vendor. We have regular meetings for the folks handling various aspects, and the PM and I go to nearly all of them.

  18. old curmudgeon*

    There is hard science to back up the need for breaks between meetings. I’ll put a link into my next comment, but here is a short excerpt from the article:

    Using EEG caps to detect brain wave activity and stress detection — the experiment had 2 groups of participants sit through 4 meetings back to back, with one group allowing 10 minute breaks in between each meeting. The data showed that the group who took breaks experienced a RESET in brain stress activity.

    Scientists concluded that the transition from one meeting’s agenda to the next COMPOUNDED the stress of the employees — as they were forced to switch and think about the new challenge immediately awaiting them BEFORE they had closure on the challenges they were currently facing.

    1. Chutney Jitney*

      Oh yeah, a former coworker just posted this on LinkedIn recently. The images in the article were especially compelling.

  19. Parenthesis Guy*

    Ask your company if they’ll let you expense a good pair of wireless headphones. I wear these for my meetings, and they allow me to get up and walk while the meeting is going on. Just make sure that there’s a microphone so that you can talk into them and a button to let you mute yourself.

    1. RainyDay*

      This is what I do when I have back to backs. If it’s a meeting I need to be in but am not leading or taking a key role, I’ll turn off my camera and walk around my house – refill my water, get coffee, etc. I can mute and unmute easily from the headset. It’s been a godsend.

  20. Problem!*

    Echoing adding fake meetings to your outlook calendar. Sometimes I set my Teams status to look like I’m in a meeting/on a call when in reality I just need people to leave me alone for a few minutes.

    1. Refugee from the Alpha Quadrant*

      At my first job, we called this an ‘auto-conference’, and I’ve used that term ever since.

  21. JP*

    I’ve had a lot of success by calling out meeting end times. My org has the 25/50 minute rule, but it’s rarely set up that way in meetings or noted in any way. So, I speak up at the 20 or 45 minute mark and point out “per org standards, we have five minutes left. Do we need to schedule a follow-up?”
    I’m not in a management role, but I find this REALLY breaks the conversation and gets people to think about the time. Even if we do continue, it goes from everyone ignoring the clock to folks thinking about stop times and if they have something after. (Especially when I’m in a meeting with the higher-ups that mandated 25/50 minute meetings.)
    You might find a 5 or 10 minute warning has the same effect for you, if you feel it would work in your org.

  22. Uncle Boner*

    Make use of “tentative” when responding to Outlook meeting requests.
    I started doing that when I was in the situation of the Poster and it changed my life.

    Alternatively, self-schedule yourself for short “meetings” if trapped in an Outlook culture. Your self-meetings can allow 15 minute increments of being unavailable to be scheduled by others.

  23. Emilia Bedelia*

    Personally, I find joining a little late to be easier than ending early. It’s easier to compress content up front rather than at the end – if I try to drop off a meeting early, I always get “ok, but just one thing before you drop off…”and I find most of the time the end of the meeting is more important than the beginning.
    If you use Teams or something similar where you can chat with participants, I would send a quick note that says “Coming from another meeting, will join at 10:35” or something like that. I find most people are sympathetic to back to back meetings and are more than happy to take a quick break themselves. You’ll probably get a few people joining at that time themselves, and everyone else will chitchat or answer emails or something in the meantime.

  24. Lynne*

    I am curious if these are standing meetings or if they are more one-offs (or one-offs that turn into more and more meetings). When I need breaks from meetings because I’ve got work to do, I block out entire days to show I’m busy. That way, people have to ask me if I’m available. That gives me the opportunity to say I can make time from X-X. Of course, I’ve been working in my office for 8 years now, and I’m the only one who does my job, so I feel comfortable being firm with my boundaries.

    1. CR*

      I’ve tried doing this but then you’ll get people asking you “Are you really busy at X time, or can you come to this meeting?”

      1. Lynne*

        You do have to be prepared to tell someone you’re really busy. Whether you are or not! haha It gives me an opportunity to tell people what I CAN do for them, rather than feeling forced into a situation.

      2. Chutney Jitney*

        So then you answer, “Yes, I’m busy working on the Llama X deadline, I won’t be able to attend.” You don’t have to agree just because they ask.

  25. ccsquared*

    A coworker had an ingenious solution to this: schedule meetings to start 5 or 10 minutes late. So a 10:00 am meeting becomes 10:10 am or a 2:30 pm meeting starts at 2:35 pm. The end time of the meeting is still at the top or bottom of the hour.

    It’s the same buffer-creating outcome as ending 5 to 10 min early but plays into the natural tendency to treat the top/bottom of the hour as a stopping point instead of fighting against it.

    1. Baby Carrot*

      You can now set this in Outlook so it does it automatically when you set up meetings! Easier to not forget.

  26. Chris*

    I use to be scheduled for so many pointless meetings that were “mandatory” for me to be on that if I saw a day that had none, sometimes I would self schedule a day long meeting called “Lalala No Meeting Day” because I needed a day where I could actually DO MY JOB! These days I can’t do that because I have to be available to do meetings as a back up for my boss but I also have the confidence to reject meetings and to bounce off ones that after 10 minutes of listening I realise I don’t need to be on.

    Still, I empathize OP. The whole “Ooh, look, there’s a gap in their calendar. FILL IT WITH A MEETING!” mentality that so many people seem to have is confusing. Meetings are not what most people’s work is. Meetings should not be the majority of your day.

    Oh and I also refuse to take meetings scheduled at the start of my day. I work 8AM to 5PM on west coast (PST or PDT depending on which we’re on). I will reject an 8AM meeting. I am not making extra effort to be on early to prep for your meeting. I don’t care that you are in New York. I don’t schedule a meeting for you at 4:30PM taking you to 5PM or later. I respect that the end of your work day should be for winding down and coming to a close. Respect that the start of my work day should be for opening things up and getting prepared. What I’m saying is… boundaries. Figure out reasonable ones for yourself. Nothing unprofessional about that.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      I will forever have the respect of OldJob’s west coast office head honcho, simply because he established a “if we have to have an East Coast-West Coast meeting, lets set a reasonable compromise and use meetings as sparingly as we can because they inconvenience all of us”.

      We had a standing meeting (it really was needed, we tried to get around it and our attempts were an epic failure) for a project. The compromise was that they’d come in early, and we’d work through our lunch those days, in order to get the block of time that we really needed. Thankfully, we were able to fine tune ourselves to the point where it was once or twice a month only. The West coast staff involved in the project was to blow off an hour early on those rare occasions. Ours (East coast) expensed lunch for us.

    2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      yes! I once spent 2 hours in an in person meeting that was mostly ice breakers because I didn’t remember to have a stomach ache that day.

  27. Nom*

    I just turn my camera off and take my computer to the kitchen and/or bathroom with me. This wouldn’t work in all work cultures (or for meetings you’re leading, for example), but I think it’s a lot more doable than LW may think it is.

    1. Kyrielle*

      We are a camera-off culture and I have absolutely triple-checked I’m muted and camera off and then brought the laptop along, left it nearby with the volume up a bit.

  28. lilsheba*

    Good lord when are you supposed to have any kind of bathroom break, or have a chance to have some coffee/water/food? I would definitely break off 10 mins early people aren’t robots! As for cameras on or off I am lucky ours are off which is what I prefer.

  29. mr egg*

    This is something I dealt with constantly when I started my current role- I had up to 30 hours of meetings a week and I was dying. YMMV but I’ve found that being strict on those boundaries was the best way to handle this.

    1. Do you actually need to be in these meetings? If so, do you need to be there for the whole time? I encourage people to message me to handle things async as much as possible. I also refuse to join meetings without an agenda or a clear reason as to why I need to be there.

    2. At the beginning of the meeting be clear that you have a hard stop, and remind people about 5 min before.

    3. Schedule your breaks, and prioritize them. No, you can’t move it to make time for a meeting.

    4. Straight up be late to your next meeting if you need to. I know this is not the best advice but I got to a point where I would end my meeting, hyperventilate under my desk for 30 seconds, and then log into the next because I was so anxious about being late. Unless you’re walking into open heart surgery, nothing is that serious. Most reasonable people will understand if you message them 10 min before with a “Hi, my last meeting is running a bit over and I need a few minutes before the next. I’ll be about 5 minutes late!”

    I hate meetings lol. I truly hope you’re able to carve out more time for yourself OP!

  30. Stuff*

    I don’t know if this is in the United States, and in the US, all 50 states have their own labor laws, but I would check with those local labor laws. Where I live, California, you must be provided with a paid break if you work 4 hours, so this sort of meeting schedule would only be legal if you were allowed to leave the meeting for a full break period. I know there are some other states with similar laws, though a distressing number of US states don’t mandate breaks be provided at all. I think it’s at least worth checking, though immediately going to “Well, this is the law” may not be the best tact, of course.

    1. I don’t post often*

      Not sure about California, but I’m flatly certain in my state non-exempt employees do not have mandated breaks.

      1. Stuff*

        Here in California, exempt employees don’t have mandated breaks, but do have a mandatory meal period, but it’s very common for office workers to be classified as non-exempt, so I certainly wouldn’t presume OP is exempt, based on what we know.

        1. Stuff*

          Also, although all exempt employees are salaried in California, being salaried does not in and of itself make someone exempt, or mean that they don’t have mandatory break periods. There seems to be this perception that being salaried means someone is exempt, which is very, very untrue in this state.

          1. hourly exempt*

            Not relevant to the OP but not all exempt employees are salaried in CA. I am hourly exempt. I am Sr Mgr level but on a W2 contract. I get paid all the hours I work but only at my base rate.

            I do get paid breaks and a mandatory lunch break – but I am often in back to backs and “lunch” might have to be at 10:30 or 3pm depending on the day.

  31. I don’t post often*

    This is my life. And no, I didn’t need all the meetings, but big project/ reorg, and the department refused to pay for a project management firm or even just hire from within or appoint someone with actual experience. So here we are managers my level and above (two levels worth) on the phone for five hour meetings. When do we accomplish actual work? Who knows? We did this for three weeks. It was stupid and pointless.

    Does anyone’s office actually abide by the 10:00 to 10:50 type scheduling? I know people that schedule that way, but it’s generally ignored and we go into 11:00.

    1. allathian*

      My team’s been pretty good about stopping at the scheduled time, if not earlier.

      Our meetings rarely last longer than 55 minutes, but if we have a 2-hour meeting, we’ll have a short break in the middle so that people can stretch their legs, get a beverage, etc.

  32. Llama Llama*

    My manager would say ‘I need to talk with Bob’ which was code for a need to step away for a little bit. I knew what the code was for but most people did not.

    1. bjlong60*

      That’s similar to what I do. I just post in the chat “BRB – dealing with another issue”.

  33. Amy amy*

    I used to work in a similar environment. Here is what worked for me: 1) Add fake meetings to your calendar. Call them “Meeting” and when you get an invite, say “I have a conflict at 10am but I can make 10:30am work” 2) Schedule meetings to end 5 or 10 minutes earlier. Instead of 10am-11am, you would schedule 10am-10:50am. Then you cut it off at the latest at 10:55am – “Great points/discussion. Unfortunately, we are running over time and I have to prep for another meeting. Let’s continue to talk later.” or something along those lines. 3) If I’m leading the call or if there is a moment to say at the start “I have a hard stop at X” or “I have a hard stop at X, let’s dive right in”,it set the expectation that you need to leave/end the call for another real of fake meeting. 4) If possible, check the settings on zoom that pops “10 or 5 minutes left in the meeting”. You could also assign someone and say “Amy will track our time” and then she would post in a chat for all to see.

  34. superhuman bladders?*

    I have to ask, are there seriously people who can regularly go 4.5 hours without peeing? While concentrating on something? My max is around 2 hours unless I’m dehydrated and I don’t have any known medical condition affecting that.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I used to be a teacher and can confirm that you can indeed train your bladder.

      It’s not natural, and it’s not good for your body, but it can be done.

      1. allathian*

        When I was in first grade, I got locked in a toilet stall during one recess and couldn’t get out until someone found me the next recess. We had recess after every lesson, so this lasted an hour at most. The experience was traumatic enough that I avoided going to the toilet at school again if I possibly could, and when I had to go, I had to *go*. I got detention a more than once for running out of class without the teacher’s permission, but even that didn’t change my ways. I finally got past my fear of being locked in a toilet stall when I started my period and realized that it was extremely unlikely to happen again.

        As an adult, I’ve typically had to pee around every 2.5 to 3 hours. It’s one reason why I don’t like to go and see movies that are longer than about 2.5 hours at the movie theater, even if I usually don’t drink or eat anything while watching. At least when you’re streaming at home, you can take the breaks you need.

    2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      That used to be really normal for me! Now less so but still doable. The concentrating helps — the busier I am the less I pee. I have rarely tried to hold it or train my bladder, i just don’t always notice I guess and the feeling often goes away if I am distracted.

    3. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I don’t think I’ve trained my bladder or anything, but I probably pee once a day at work. Maybe twice. We have to cover a desk, and I have noticed I naturally need to go between 4 and 4:30 every day, exactly when the other person leaves, so I have to make sure to go before she takes off. That is about 6 hours after I get to work. And I’m approaching retirement age. Um, gotta go rn!

    4. BubbleTea*

      The “upside” of being too busy to pee is that you’re also too busy to drink. I used to do 14 hour shifts in healthcare and rarely used the bathroom more than once, if at all, in that time. Truly the gift that keeps on giving.

    5. lilsheba*

      I cannot do that. I am on two diuretics and am older as well so I have to pee often. And I’m going to go when I need to go, I’m not going to do what’s unhealthy. My last call center job used to have a fit about that but I don’t care. My human needs are more important that your metrics. Now I have a lot more freedom.

    6. Angstrom*

      People who work in cleanrooms have higher-than-normal rates of UTIs because they don’t want to have to degown/gown to go pee, so they don’t drink and don’t pee until a scheduled break. Not healthy.

  35. NJAnonymous*

    I have had the same problem. One of the solutions that’s worked reasonably well is to block out time on your calendar as heads down time. Where I can block longer periods (2 hrs) I’ll go for it but usually it’s more like an hour here, 30 mins there.

  36. Fernie*

    For what it’s worth, our company tried to make :00 to :50 the default for meetings, but everyone still just kept talking until the top of the hour so it didn’t work. However, when my manager decided to START her meetings at 10 past the hour, and run them from :10 to :59, that worked perfectly and everyone managed to finish talking within the allotted time.

    So, my suggestion is, when you are scheduling meetings yourself, schedule them to start them at 10 past, and when you are an attendee, send a note that says, “I will join 5-10 min late”, as it’s easier to grab time from the start of a meeting than the end of it.

  37. Violet Evergreen*

    You can always ask your boss or a coworker:

    “I’m finding I have no time between meetings all day long. Do you find that you have this problem? I was thinking I would sign off 10 min early for some meetings when they are in a long block. Would that work here?”

  38. frankie*

    Here’s my best tip: Schedule all of your to start at 10 AFTER the hour. No one pays attention if it’s at the end of the meeting but they do if it starts at 1:10 instead of 1! When I’ve suggested this, people are usually like “YES, why didn’t I think of that before?” because we all have this problem.

  39. JustMyImagination*

    If you’re not comfortable pushing back, yet you can probably carve out 10 minutes by dropping off one call a little early and arriving a few minutes late to the next one.

  40. e.y.w.*

    Thank you, OP, for noting the medical issues. I have a digestive condition that is covered by the ADA, and this schedule would absolutely be a problem for me. Even if I’m not struggling with my condition, I still need to take medication at very particular times. Some of them have to be taken with food. I imagine that many people just need a few minutes for the same reason, or other small things, and stepping away from a meeting early would help tremendously.
    I know that in some organizations and industries, meeting culture is hard to reform, but I think it serves everyone to reflect on practices!

    1. Rainy*

      Yup. I mentioned this below, but I take a couple of medications that will dehydrate me pretty badly if I am not actively drinking a liquid most of the time, and not having time to get water (when most of my job is talking), well, I might get through today but tomorrow could be a lot harder than it needed to be for lack of a few minutes to refill my water.

  41. jj*

    How are the times being scheduled? Are folks looking at your calendar, are you sharing your availability? Echoing some other commenters, I’d suggest writing in a 10-15 minute break before and after each meeting so you don’t appear available for back to back. If that isn’t an option, like they are scheduled too quickly for you to be able to, I’d suggest making standing weekly appointments that appear weeks or months in advance. Like a classic two 15s and one 30 throughout the day. If asked you can always adjust as needed but hopefully if folks see those they’ll believe you are unavailable and schedule around?

    1. More dopamine, please*

      In my experience, colleagues don’t notice (or respect) time that’s blocked in 15 min increments, but if I block 30 min, they will try to work around that.

      Even with a 30 min break, much of it is usually spent catching up on email and quick follow-ups, so it’s more of a planned catch-up work period than a true break!

  42. Rainy*

    I have meetings all day but am able to schedule a lot of them myself, and the ones I can’t, I can schedule my own meetings around, so I typically try to give myself 15-30 minutes between meetings. This covers running over, random requests for info, time to address my inbox (which is sometimes fine and sometimes like being in a wind tunnel full of bees), and have time to pee/get water. I take a couple of medications that mean I need to be well-hydrated and while I can manage a 9hr day on just my morning coffee (which is sort of large), that doesn’t mean it’s a great idea.

    Those occasions where I end up in back to back to back meetings with no breaks between are almost always either meetings with 3-4 different groups that I need to be at but don’t have scheduling authority, or times when someone has seen a gap in my schedule and shoehorned their thing into that gap. Stuff that regularly winds up like that, I either let the organizer know that I’m always going to be late or have to leave early, or I ask if there’s a way that we can shift the time so that I’m not always going from one meeting straight to another. I’ve found that unless there are powerful reasons to keep it the same, people are usually pretty responsive to “Listen, I need five minutes to pee and top up my water or I’m no good to you anyway”.

  43. JustMe*

    Unless it’s a big important meeting with external clients/stakeholders/vendors, I think you would be justified in saying something like “Hey all, give me just a minute, I just need a sec to transition from one thing to the next.” That’s pretty common in my workplace for internal meetings. Otherwise, I’ve had success in some workplaces by just accepting that some days will be very meeting-heavy and planning around it–ex., accepting that desk work will not be happening and making plans to do it on other days, making sure I have food/supplies/all necessary equipment with me to jump from one thing to the next to the next, etc. At my first job out of college, which was also very similar to this, I would also build “prep” into my schedule (ex. Prep for Strategic Planning Meeting 8:00-8:15, Strategic Planning 8:15-9:45, etc.)

    1. allathian*

      Yes, and prepping absolutely includes getting water or coffee and going to the toilet if necessary.

  44. Michelle Smith*

    I’m one of those people with medical issues. I drink a lot of water during the day (mandatory with the supplements I’m prescribed), so I need frequent bathroom breaks. I also need to eat something small every 3-4 hours during the day, without exception, which usually means I have to each lunch around 11 and a snack around 3, regardless of whether I have meetings.

    I don’t have an answer for you re: how to change meeting culture. I don’t control the meeting culture here either, which is similar to yours in that we are frequently scheduled back to back and when we aren’t, we frequently have meetings that are 2 or 3 hours long, which is too long for me to go without the bathroom. I am lucky, however, in that my meetings are all virtual. So if I need to go to the bathroom, I stop what I’m doing and I go pee. If I need to refill my water, I go do that too. If I think someone might need me during those 5 minutes, I have a couple of options. If I’m not doing something that I would be mortified if someone heard (e.g. using the bathroom), I just keep my bluetooth headphones on, make sure I’m muted, and turn of my camera and do what I need to do. Bathroom time is different because I do not want to risk being unmuted if someone has a question for me and I don’t respond. In those situations, I may do what your coworkers do which is drop a BRB in the chat and then leave my headphones at my desk.

    I do this despite being the person who takes notes for our team. We had a client meeting last week from 2-4 pm, overlapping the time I needed to test my blood sugar and eat a snack. I was off camera for 30 minutes (headphones on though, so I could hear) and no one said a single word to me about it. Was it a real break? No, but I took care of my biological needs despite being in a meeting for which the time of day and duration were completely out of my control. I say all this to say, do your best, but if you have to step away from your computer even mid-meeting, just do it. Do not wait for permission. Just take care of your needs. If you aren’t able to change your meeting schedule, the only thing you can change is how you manage it. I wish you luck!

  45. More dopamine, please*

    Personally, I haven’t had luck with dropping off meetings early without disruption, but instead I try to protect time after each meeting.

    When I get an invite for a 30 min meeting, I IMMEDIATELY book the 30 min after for a private appointment. That gives me time for meeting follow up and to take breaks as needed. I do the same for longer meetings, as I’m able to.

    For standing meetings, I book a recurring private appointments right after them to protect that time, especially for those long meetings. And I protect my lunch time.

    I never say that I need breaks or disclose what the blocked time is for, because that will lead to people running roughshod over my boundaries.

    When I do invariably get meeting invites for my “unavailable” times, I usually decline and suggest an alternative time that I’m available. It doesn’t always work, but having a buffer after even half of my meetings makes my life so much better.

  46. GreenShoes*

    Here’s what I do in no particular order:

    -Chat the meeting and let everyone know you’ll be 5 min late
    -Drop out of the meeting 5 min early with a “Sorry have to drop”
    -I keep meetings on my schedule that are ‘nice to go to’ but keep them as tentative. If I can go to them, great, but if not I don’t worry about them
    -Ping a ‘work friend’, my boss, or someone on my team in the same meeting with a ‘Hey can you cover for me’ and step away for 5 min

    For the others that wonder when people get stuff done in meeting heavy cultures. The short answer is the more meetings that you have the less hands on work you’re doing. Generally it’s planning, organizing, directing, etc. In other words, it makes more sense for me, a manager, to sit in an hour long meeting to come up with a plan that I can communicate in 10 minutes to my team who will execute that plan.

  47. ADidgeridooForYou*

    This is actually one of the more negative side effects I’ve observed from the transition to remote work. When everyone’s in the office and in one room, it can be a little easier to just check in with the group and say hey, we’ve had back-to-back meetings today, why don’t we take a few minutes to check emails and grab some water? When you’re just working with individual calendars, though, it’s so much easier to schedule things back to back without really thinking about the effect on the person (and, of course, it’s harder to talk to the group as a whole to push things back).

  48. jasmine*

    I’d recommend blocking some time on your calendar. Add a few 10-15 minute events and people will know you won’t be available at that time.

  49. Jujyfruits*

    I literally changed careers to move away from a job where I was in back to back meetings. When I finally set boundaries about having breaks in-between, I got push-back that I wasn’t seeing enough people, even though I always surpassed my goals and had a higher client list than my peers.

    My advice is to set boundaries and stick with them. If you need 10 minutes between meetings, leave 10 minutes early consistently. I guarantee there are other people who would appreciate the break!

    1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      It can be really difficult if the culture is like this though. I actually had people double book meetings even when it was clear you weren’t available.

  50. It is what it is*

    In my experience if you start at :10 or :15 to try to accommodate people in a previous meeting then people will show up at :20 or :25. So stating you have a hard stop at :50 is the better route.

    Fifty minute meetings would be a great new normal, especially when using a conference room that is booked at :00 behind you.

    One place worked, before I moved, meetings were fifty minutes so those in the conference room could get out and not hold up the next meeting. Meetings starting at :00 started no later than :02. If you joined late the leader would say something like “ contact me after the meeting if you want to know what happened before you joined.” All to say this company respected employees time and didn’t keep people waiting for ten or 15 minutes waiting for others to join late. If you joined late, you were expected to catch up on what you missed after the meeting and not expect everyone to have to go through everything again to get you up to speed.

    I wish more employers operated this way.

  51. Momma Bear*

    It’s not uncommon for long meetings to be punctuated by a “biobreak” (restroom/coffee/stretch) so if you have the opportunity to introduce that, it might be good for everyone. We also sometimes have long meetings where only key players are needed the full time. Some projects talk to subset of people A right off, let them go, and then the more technical details they don’t need get addressed with other people who stay on.

    If I knew someone was in back to back to back meetings I would be open to shuffling the meeting time a little where possible. I currently have two meetings that end/start at the quarter hour for just that reason. I’d try a private talk with the organizers about the times. You might be able to shift at the stroke of a keyboard, but mentally you need a moment.

    Blocking out breaks where you can is good, too. Teams (for example) should show the schedules of everyone and help pick a good time. Now that you’ve done this for a bit, speak up if you feel like your input is not required at all the meetings, if you need a meeting time changed, etc. You are probably not the only one needing a moment between meetings all morning.

    You can also talk to your manager about priorities and figure out what tasks/meetings are most important for YOU to attend. I asked to be in on a meeting because I glean a lot of info there, but I don’t actively talk. I can step out quietly when necessary, just like I would IRL if I needed a bathroom break.

  52. Simone*

    Love all these suggestions. My observation is why so many 2 hour meetings!? We’re pretty meeting heavy by most of ours run 30 min and it’s very common for someone to go off camera to eat or walk the dog etc. but because it’s 30 minutes usually you get a few 30 minute blocks in there to walk around, eat etc.

    I do have a couple of productive 1 hour meetings with smaller teams (3-6 people getting things done/decisions made, sign offs etc in that time) but 2 hours is really long!

  53. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    Ugh! I feel for the OP.
    The culture of my company is like this too. Some days are back-to-back meetings all day, and sometimes even through the 12-1pm lunch slot too.

    I honestly had to ask when I was supposed to actually DO my work with this many meetings because oftentimes I would find myself working until 7 or 8 pm in the evening to do the actual tasks my job requires aside from meetings.

    1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      Blocking out “work” time was the only way, but sometimes that also got ignored.

  54. Jessica*

    Microsoft did a study last fall (I think?) where they scanned people’s brains after just two back-to-back meetings and wow does it make people’s stress levels go through the roof. You can probably find it by googling it–it might be useful data to get help in having more breaks.

  55. Person*

    I’m a believer of blocking off time on your calendar that you need for yourself so that other people don’t take it up. For me, since I’m in significantly less meetings than you, this means blocking off my lunch hour. In your case, could you potentially artificially block the 10 min before/after meetings? or just add a few breaks to block off time on your calendar throughout the day?

  56. Chickaletta*

    As someone who manages a crazy calendar for a busy executive, I do block 30 or 60 minute breaks in his day as “desk time”. As soon as you have a meeting that you don’t want anything scheduled immediately after, put one of those blocks on your calendar. It’s such a normal thing to do in my organization and everybody understands that it’s a meeting break. If someone needs to schedule over it, asking permission first is the polite thing to do. Now, you may be at the mercy of people higher up than you, especially if that’s the only time that works for them. But really, no human being can be in back-to-back meetings for hours on end and stay focused and engaged and hopefully that doesn’t stay the norm for you!

  57. Rosyglasses*

    There was just an article that came out that talked about how your brain actually needs the breaks in order to perform better (sort of a duh moment, but nice to see brain research supporting it, albeit from a small sample).

    From the study:

    “Participants who took breaks showed positive frontal alpha asymmetry, suggesting higher engagement during the meetings, while those without breaks had negative asymmetry, indicating that they were more mentally withdrawn.”


  58. Scott S*

    My company started a rule that ALL meetings start five minutes past the hour or half hour. We originally had a rule that all meetings end five minutes early but that didn’t work because people just ignored it. Starting five minutes late solved it.

  59. A person*

    I’ve been at my company for 16 years so being new isn’t really a consideration for me… but well, I have had good luck with dipping out early also from meetings when needed. I also have no sense of time and since I don’t sit at a desk all day I’m frequently late for meetings. I’m working on that…

    I also have found it helpful if the back to backs have a lot of the same people on them you can say something like “a bunch of us just had an hour meeting right before, can we take a quick 5-10 minute break before we start?” If the meeting is only 15-30 min, then that might not work but if you’re about to dive into a 1-2 hour mtg then go for it. Also… why are your meetings so long?!?! I find I usually start losing people after 30-60 min. Routine meetings at or more than an hour seems excessive. I might just not know how other industries work but man… that’s tough!

  60. Carrots*

    If you’re not already doing this, help normalize having your camera OFF for various chunks during the meeting. I often turn my camera off when I need to close and rest my eyes, run to the bathroom (within earshot of the meeting), or make myself a cup of tea. It’s just not an issue at all at my workplace to sometimes turn your camera off, or even leave it off for the whole meeting. No one questions it.

  61. Raida*

    Don’t forget you don’t need to say “I need a break between meetings”
    You can say “I need to make notes on the meeting while it’s fresh, going into another meeting right afterwards.” “I have another meeting right after this and will need to prep for it.”

    For yourself, start making 25 minute and 50 minute meetings.
    Start blocking out your calendar for a couple of fifteen minutes every day. If someone needs you for a meeting you’ll either attend at the start or end of it if it overlaps with your blocked out time. If it’s the start of the meeting you can get stuck right in because you have to go in fifteen minutes.
    Maybe some meetings will be made into 45 minute ones instead of an hour if you’re really important to the whole thing.

    But regardless, you will get time to look away from the screen, make notes, prep for meetings, do other work.

    And if you think it’s a poor work/life balance kinda culture, bring up the issue via saying things like “It’s fascinating, meetings always take as long as you’ll let them take – studies show that a fifty minute meeting gets the same amount of work done as a sixty minute one.” “I’d bet we could do this in twenty minutes” “the business would get, what, X staff times Y meetings per day is Z hours a year just by making meetings five minutes shorter”

  62. Elissa*

    I’m at that inconvenient level where I’m high enough up to be needed in a lot of meetings, but not high enough to control scheduling. Part of it is the nature of my role, we’re a support service to other parts of the business.
    I have recurring meetings booked to block out parts of my calendar, start & end of each day, lunch, Friday afternoons. No one in the business can see the details of my calendar unless I share it, so they just see busy, tentative, free. I let my direct reports & my manager see the details so they can tell when I have an actual meeting vs when I’ve blocked the time out & can be available if they need something.
    We have a reasonable culture around meetings, cameras are typically off, and if you need to leave early then a simple ‘I have to join another call’ dropped in the chat works.

  63. Kristy*

    My company gives us the option with an hour in between meetings. This was mostly when we shared Skype accounts but now everyone has teams but the rule hasnt changed.

Comments are closed.