A company’s attitudes towards meetings can make or break a business.
Meetings are silent killers.
They take up between 30 minutes to 60 minutes, or longer if you’re unlucky. Each participant in a meeting costs the company money to attend. If meeting minutes were thought of as revenue, then meetings would be banned.
Most meetings could be an SMS at best or an email at worst. I’ve spent most of my corporate life sitting in meetings wondering why I’m being forced to attend to make someone feel good.
Attending meetings out of guilt feels terrible. It took me years to learn the subtle discipline to say no meetings, so I could get my life back and get productive work done again.
Here are a few ways to think about meetings and get your life back.
“Let’s have a strategy session.”
The answer is no. The market has already moved since the calendar invite was sent out to all the recipients. Execution beats strategy.
“Can I pick your brain?”
The answer is no. Your mind has enough to worry about without some stranger picking pieces off your brain’s surface.
“Can I pick your brain” is code for no agenda, or rape and pillage of your mind.
“All we need is one hour.”
An hour is a long time. If we skipped the intros, didn’t ask about everyone’s weekends, cut out the complaining/blaming, could we not do it in 15 minutes? Probably. I’m a simple man.
“Such and such is joining the company and we’re having a meeting.”
Joining a company doesn’t make you special. What you’re able to achieve and how you make people feel is what counts.
Ceremonies to welcome new job titles to a company are pointless.
Make it an email with a link to their LinkedIn profile. Or if you want to get really personal, a link to their blog. People care what you can do for them — not how senior you are on the never-ending career ladder to nowhere.
“This meeting would be better as drinks.”
What if not everybody drinks alcohol because they like to be hydrated and not embarrass themselves by getting drunk? “Drinks” enables an oversharing culture that leads to HR issues.
“We’re having a Zoom coffee.”
Don’t you freaking dare. Booking time in my calendar right before a long weekend and calling it a “coffee” is a crime against humanity.
Coffee catch-ups happen in cafes with real coffee. Rarely does anyone bring a coffee to a Zoom coffee. Who are you fooling?
“I will send you a recurring calendar invite.”
For the love of almighty don’t make this meeting a membership. Recurring invites are a huge drain on everyone’s time.
Most meetings barely need to happen once — let alone every week. Or even worse, every morning.
If you fill up your calendar with enough recurring meetings you’ll have no time left to breathe and play ping pong. Don’t do it. It’s a trap. You have a gym membership already; you don’t need a meeting membership to punch you in the face regularly.
Solutions to meetings (to save your life)
Time is all you have before you die. You want your time to spend it doing things you love and hanging out with your family.
Don’t allow time thieves to piss your time up against the wall. Here’s how to save your life from meetings.
I’ve done this with my day off each week. I don’t work Thursdays because I write. If anybody calls me or messages me on that day then I have set an expectation they won’t get a response.
The upside of this strategy is that when people know you’re missing for a big chunk of time they respect what time they do have with you to get stuff done.
It has helped me to set expectations about meetings in advance. Like if I have a customer conversation right before a meeting then I let people know I’ll probably be late. The customer pays my salary, not the meeting.
Expect people to value your time and they will.
Show up only if there is a clear outcome
The outcome can’t be a discussion either. A discussion isn’t an outcome; it’s a rant. Ideally, if a meeting must be held, there is a decision to be made.
What is the decision you want? It shouldn’t take a series of meetings to reach an outcome. Apply the MVP approach to meetings.
The decision won’t be perfect so let’s pick one and see what happens.
Fill your calendar up with private events nobody can see
This is a pro hack I learned off a serial meeting avoider. Meetings with yourself are glorious.
You can set meetings with yourself so that your calendar looks full. Then all you do is set those meetings to private so people assume you’re busy but have no idea why. Those time slots are where you can schedule productive work: coding, speaking to customers, making stuff, changing the world, etc.
Why am I here? If you don’t know, run.
I’ve asked myself this question every time I’ve attended a meeting in the last few years. Am I there making up numbers or is there a reason?
Most of us don’t need more information. Email and instant messages are already a full-time job to manage.
If you have nothing to say, then get the meeting notes
A speaking role at a meeting is a good sign of whether you even need to be there. If there isn’t a speaking role then you can just get the meeting notes and read over what everybody said.
Could the meeting have been an email? 9/10 times: yes.
The separation between meetings an emails has been lost.
Most meetings can be an email.
Next time you go to set up a meeting, ask yourself: “Can this meeting be an email and give everybody back time?”
Learning to respect other people’s time will help you excel in your career and get more time back to do what you love (for me, that’s writing).
If you’re forced to attend: checkout with your phone
There are some meetings you can’t escape no matter how hard you try. Even productivity expert, Tony Robbins, gets sucked into pointless meetings.
I have the answer: you can do the fashionable thing and checkout of a meeting by looking at your phone. A meeting can be a time to check emails, reply to direct messages, and do real work.
Pretending to be in a meeting is the punishment for setting up a pointless meeting. Everybody’s doing it. Why not you?
Have the polite discipline to say no
When you have the discipline to say no to a meeting and don’t say why, most people will never ask you why you can’t attend. It’s brilliant. Act busy and pretend to be important in front of meeting schedulers. They’ll eventually assume you’re not open to random meetings.
Don’t be an ass either. Say, “sorry I can’t attend but thanks for thinking of me. Hope the meeting goes well.” *Walks away smiling politely*
You don’t have to feel bad for saying no to meetings. It’s your life after all.
Saying no to meetings isn’t about making people feel bad or being a smart ass. Saying no is about getting your time back so you can do work that produces outcomes. Meetings have become a lazy way to waste time.
In the old days when I was bored, I’d set up a meeting so I could socialize. It made me feel better. The meeting was a disguise for my loneliness. Getting out of meetings can be hard at first. But when you become an expert at escaping meetings you get so much more work done.
Use discipline, meetings with yourself, expectation setting, and the art of looking at your phone to get out of meetings. Your life will be better for it.
This article first appeared on Medium.