Researchers estimate that the average professional spends over 60 hours each month in meetings and that over half of that time is wasted or unproductive. Recapturing some of this time would be a huge boon for many but doing so first requires us to reconsider why we have so many to begin with.
I have a friend who did exactly that recently. He told me that until recently he was so overscheduled that he didn’t have time to “get any work done” during the day because he was so tied up in meetings. He knew he had to make a change, so he did some analysis. He said he realized that at least one member of his team was present in virtually all of the meetings he was attending and he couldn’t think why it made sense for him to be there as well: his team members were all capable, highly educated, and well regarded. He trusted all of them to do the right thing and bring him in when necessary. Originally he had started going to these meetings to help bring new people on board or to provide expertise that was lacking. However, those reasons no longer applied, yet he was still going to all of the meetings. He, and everyone else, had just gotten “comfortable” in the routine.
His solution was pretty straightforward: he just stopped going! He spoke to the relevant team members to let them know about his decision and told them they had his support to represent the department. He also told them that if they ever needed him to come back he was happy to do so, but he wanted them to take the opportunity to lead in his place. Eventually, he came up with a simple, two point, decision framework for which meetings he should attend: First was if there was a decision being made that he wanted to weigh in on and the second was whether his boss thought he should be there. Otherwise, he just delegated the authority to his team members. In short order, he recaptured several hours every day on his calendar and his workload became much more manageable.
We don’t always have the luxury to delegate like my friend: He’s a pretty senior executive, and he has both a great team and the discretional authority to decide which meetings he can attend. That said, I think there is an important lesson to be learned from him. I have frequently seen professionals just sink into a comfortable routine and often feel trapped by it. We establish patterns and then often neglect to challenge our assumptions about them or find ways to make change. The important step my friend took in this example is that he realized there was a problem and then took the time to step back from his busy day-to-day responsibilities and question his assumptions. The result was a new approach that helped him recapture a lot of his own time and created an opportunity for a number of his team members.
So if you are overwhelmed by all the meetings you are attending, think about challenging your assumptions by asking what would happen if you stopped going, or more accurately:
- Is my role in this meeting clear and is it necessary?
- Is there someone else who could fill my role?
- Would it be a more effective use of my time to do something different?
If you really think hard about these questions, you might be surprised how much time you are able to “free up” from the time wasted in meetings!