Our shift to remote work has changed the nature of our workday, and as we navigate through new tasks and different boundaries, seeing more meetings on our calendars can add to our stress and detract from our productivity. As Thrive’s founder and CEO Arianna Huffington wrote in her recent newsletter, “We’ve all been there: seeing a meeting mysteriously pop up on our calendar with no explanation, agenda or stated goal. Sitting through a meeting we really don’t need to be a part of. Or reaching the end of a meeting-filled day and realizing we haven’t really done anything.” The reality is, eliminating or minimizing meetings from our calendars can actually help us communicate better and work more efficiently.
We asked our Thrive contributors to share their own best practices for cutting down on meetings that are detracting from their productivity. Which of these will you try?
Schedule “white space” for yourself
“Our schedules feel especially crammed right now, which means it’s crucial to create white space on your calendar. I’ve found that carving out down time in between meetings gives my mind room to process all it’s taking in, and it allows me to see things I might miss otherwise. White space invites forward your creativity, reconnects you with your values, and energizes you so you don’t burn out. Every work day, I’d suggest blocking off at least one hour to let your mind and body rest. Give the calendar entry a different color so it stands out, and a title that evokes its purpose. Mine is in red, and it’s called ‘Reflection Time.’”
—Chris Gaither, executive coach, Oakland, CA
Replace calls with emails when you can
“I’ve minimized meetings that are detracting from my productivity by opting for emails when applicable. I noticed that I had multiple recurring check-ins on my calendar that usually occur in person, but have since changed them to email check-ins to free up my calendar for the time being. Adapting meetings is crucial to maintaining high levels of productivity. Sometimes a short email is more than enough to get a message across!”
—Alyssa Swantkoski, executive assistant, Denver, CO
Color-code your calendar
“One of the techniques I use to eliminate my time spent in unproductive meetings is tracking which recurring meetings are not valuable to me. To do that, I change the color of a meeting on my calendar after I attend if it was not a good use of my time. After a few weeks, you can look back over your calendar and get a sense of which recurring meetings should be cancelled or reduced in frequency.”
—Alexis Haselberger, time management and productivity coach, San Francisco, CA
Keep a “three meetings per day” rule
“After a few weeks of Zoom fatigue, I have been vigilant about scheduling and controlling my calendar. I schedule no more than three video meetings in a day, opt for a phone meeting when possible, and block off parts of the day to be meeting-free. This has resulted in better energy and more productivity.”
—Surabhi Lal, strategist and educator, New York, NY
Only invite necessary attendees
“Taking time to thoughtfully plan a meeting is key. Whether in person or online, I’ve found that it’s important to ensure that the right people are invited to a meeting and that the agenda is clearly stated. Having the right people on the meeting invite will lead to more productive meetings.”
—Marta Chavent, change and management consultant, France
Institute a time cap
“When scheduling meetings, be clear about goals and how much time to spend on each one. Whether you’re deep-diving into a topic or simply touching base to keep a project on track, having the right amount of time for meetings is super important. While I err on the side of shorter 30-minute meetings to maximize efficiency, I may need to double the time when it’s a roll-up-your-sleeves brainstorming session or for a deep dive working session where I know 30 minutes won’t do the trick.”
—Whitney A. White, entrepreneur and business coach, Washington, D.C.
Have a team conversation about expectations
“To minimize how many meetings I attend, I don’t give other people access to schedule them on my calendar, and I also make sure there is an understanding that I may not accept the invitation depending on my plate that week. I try to be clear that I need recovery time in order to show up engaged and effective, and I have the right to decline the first request for a meeting based on my own personal recovery. This needs to be a team conversation ahead of time, but teams appreciate this! When you prioritize boundaries and recovery time, others begin to recognize the benefit, and allow recovery time for themselves.”
—Natalie Johnson, M.S., co-founder and chief visionary, Tampa, FL
Categorize your meetings
“One helpful tip I’ve found is to divide your meetings into categories, and set guidelines for when they can be set up. The category of meeting should also help decide just how many people need to be there. There are some meetings that would be to deal with a big project or big-picture issues. Other meetings might be needed to solve a very specific problem that two people could knock out in fifteen minutes. It’s important to only invite the people who are needed there.”
—Janice Chaka, career coach, Springfield, MA
Establish a “no meeting” day each week
“Setting boundaries is key when it comes to meetings and productivity. I find that establishing set ‘no meeting’ days is a great way to make sure people actually have clear chunks of time when they know they can just keep their heads down and work productively.”
—Janice Chaka, career coach, Springfield, MA
Swap videos for calls when possible
“Being overbooked with Zoom meetings has been a huge trend. The fatigue of screen time combined with feeling a lack of time to actually get work accomplished has taken a significant toll. One thing that’s made a big difference for me is asking, ‘Does this need to be over video?’ And if it’s not completely necessary, making it a phone call instead is just fine. There’s a false sense of needing to see each other to be connected and now, but turning video conferences to calls can help us avoid Zoom overload.”
—MaryBeth Hyland, culture consultant, Baltimore, MD
Create a workweek template
“Course-correcting from too many meetings comes down to three magical words for me: ideal work week. I am very protective of my time, so in order to prioritize what matters to me, I create an ‘ideal work week’ template for myself each week. With this template, I make sure that the things that I know have to happen weekly are pre-scheduled, recurring, and sit at the same time on my calendar. For meetings that don’t need to be prioritized, get comfortable saying ‘no’ or ‘not now.’”
—Tricia Sciortino, CEO, Charlotte, NC
Prioritize screen breaks
“I’ve found that tech fatigue is even more common now that we’re online exponentially more than usual. To help balance all the meetings you’re being invited to, maintain certain hours when you have no screen time, and mark those hours on your calendar. Block off the time as ‘busy’ to let your eyes rest and help protect your well-being.”
—Dr. Wayne Pernell, leadership coach, San Francisco Bay Area, CA
How do you minimize meetings that detract from your productivity? Share your tips with us in the comments.
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