Big Meetings and Better Choices

There are few things more costly than large, group meetings. Whether we realize it or not, they are the greatest expense of a business. More than salaries, benefits, or a physical building.

More than utilities, inventory, benefits, or a physical building. They may be needed, but it’s a tall order to make sure they are worth it.

They disrupt the day, occupy limited time, and become bottlenecks to productivity. If Deep Work is where we experience a state of flow and professional achievement, large meetings usually impede that progress.

Here are some strategies to build better meetings.

Choose smaller blocks.

There are plenty of cases where large meetings are needed. Whose says they have to be long? Many businesses default to one hour block. Unfortunately, stuff expands to the space you give it. How different might a meeting flow if everyone knew there was only 30 minutes? 15 minutes? There is nothing magical about an hour, though it seems to be a common interval. For an average work day, 1 hour meeting consumes over 10% of your time.

Review priorities regularly.

As I mentioned in weekly rituals, priorities are constantly evolving. Coincidentally, some meetings are scheduled weeks or months in advance. Before blindly attending, evaluate it’s relevance and have the courage to cancel if it’s no longer necessary. Not only does this free up precious time, but it also respects the time of other attendees as well.

Keep them small.

Other than a demo, I’m skeptical that a meeting with more than 6 people is useful for everyone. Meetings should block as little time as necessary and involve as few people as possible.

Come prepared.

Meetings should have an agenda ahead of time and all parties should come prepare with their contribution. Nothing is more useless than a directionless meeting or one in which everyone isn’t prepared to contribute.

Opt out.

‘Do you need me in this meeting’ is a fair question. Imagine if you don’t understand why you were present you would have permission to leave. More people would welcome this than you might expect. Excusing yourself is more noble and respectable than merely staying because you were invited.

Protect your schedule.

I’ve found meetings work best when they bookend larger chunks of heads-down time. Rather than slicing a 3 hour block in half with a meeting, you’ll have more uninterrupted time if you schedule the meeting at the beginning or the end of that time.

Introduce a Reschedule Limit.

If a meeting gets rescheduled more than twice, perhaps it wasn’t that much of a priority in the first place. When considering how many people are impacted, the act of finding an opening on everyone’s calendar is an even greater drain.

Batch productive time.

Allowing mental space to do great work is important. Identify key days that can be free from meetings. These prolonged strengths of work can often become an oasis from otherwise cluttered schedules. At Polar Notion, we start sprints on Wednesdays and end on Tuesdays. This makes Tuesday and Thursday crucial days in making progress. These days should be as clear as possible.

Shoulder to shoulder

Mentorship and learning is one exception. Meetings that fuel a deeper understanding, rich decision making, and professional development are crucial. We’ll try to invite team members into meetings where they could learn something new or practice a skill they are developing. If you see a particular meeting as a learning opportunity, speak up, make sure you’re in the room, and make sure it was worth it.

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