How to Reduce Your Back to Back Meetings (2022)

A one-hour meeting quickly becomes two―a complete time sink. Here are some ways to avoid having back-to-back meetings

4 day work weeks can lead to increased productivity and less meetings. People spend 7.75 hours per week in unproductive back to back meetings on average―a full day of work that could have been dedicated to more meaningful pursuits. As the Ancient Greek philosopher Seneca writes, “it is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it”. Words to live by.

Here are 8 actionable steps to reduce time spent attending back-to-back meetings to make the most out of your work days.

People organize meetings for all sorts of reasons―sometimes trivial ones. But it’s important to remember meetings serve a single purpose: to synchronize the tasks and expectations of individuals within a team.

Actual work happens outside meetings, and so when you reduce time spent in meetings, you increase time doing work that adds value to the company. Having less meetings boosts productivity for everyone.

As Deep Work’s author Cal Newport puts it:

to produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction […] Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging”.

Meetings are logistical nightmares. You don’t just need to attend them, you also need to prepare for them beforehand and share their outcomes afterwards.

Developing more asynchronous ways to work makes everyone’s calendar more flexible and lightweight. You don’t have to ask for your colleagues’ availability, so you can take back control of your time to do great work.

More control means less stress, so happier and healthier staff with better work-life balance, less sick days, and increased employee retention. What’s not to like?

Great companies like Stripe developed a culture of written communication to make teamwork more efficient. Messaging tools like Slack and collaborative documents like Notion pages or Google Docs are the new normal for questions, updates, and brainstorming sessions ; replacing the need for most meetings.

Making the most out of these tools is another story though―effective writing is not innate:

  • Write short & simple sentences: Fancy words and jargon won’t cut it: good communication is clear communication―the easier it is to understand you, the less clarifications you’ll need later and the less meetings you’ll need.
  • Trace statements back to goals & objectives: Messages and documents easily get lost in the flow of information, so you need to remind the reader of the context: why are you writing this? When and where is this relevant? Who is concerned?
  • Structure your thoughts: Clear writing is clear thinking. Breaking down your message into bullet lists and digestible paragraphs goes a long way.
  • Use emojis: Better than pictures, emojis make it easy to make casual writing more engaging.

With the rise of remote work and async messaging tools like YAC, it’s never been more mainstream to use audio and video messages in lieu of back to back meetings.

Yac is the way to do async meetings for product teams

With written text, you’re losing on a ton of non-verbal cues and depth of conversation. Humans are social animals, and body language has been an integral part of our evolution. Audio and video help to fill this void, bringing back warmth and empathy in our day-to-day interactions online:

  • Use audio messages for announcements: As long as they aren’t too long, audio messages are great to express atomic ideas in a more casual way, or just think out loud.
  • Use videos to record your screen and provide feedback: Again, online collaborative tools make it easy to work together without having to meet face to face or even be present at the same time.

You probably don’t need to attend every meeting. Not only will it save you time, limiting the number of participants will make the meeting go smoother. With the right methodology, you won’t even miss out on what’s been said:

  • Assign a note taker: Sharing meeting minutes with the group makes the workplace more transparent and inclusive. Even if people can’t attend, they will still be able to read the report and add comments to have their opinions taken into account.
  • Use the Pareto principle: 80% of results come from 20% of efforts. Assessing the level of priority of each meeting using a prioritization framework like the Eisenhower Matrix and not attending the least relevant ones presents huge time gains at no productivity costs.
Important vis not important, urgent vs not urgent box

You can sometimes have meetings scattered over the day or the week that are similar in nature. Grouping them together is an easy way to reduce their number. Take daily stand-up meetings to discuss the tasks each one is going to take on for the day for example, can they become bi-weekly meetings instead? If tasks take days to complete, having the same things repeated two days in a row is probably not the best way to use everyone’s time.

  • Eat the frog: Instead of having meetings scattered over the day, schedule them next to one another to keep longer periods of uninterrupted time―first thing in the morning, for example.
  • Batch-process similar meetings: For example, instead of having two one-on-one meetings over the span of two hours that require planning on both sides, schedule an office hour every day at the same time for people to come to you instead.
  • Use compressed work weeks: Another possibility is to compress your meetings over a single day, even if it means working longer hours on this particular day, to be able to do more deep during the remaining days.

Remote work can get lonely, we get it, but it’s not a valid reason to justify having more meetings.

  • Use Direct Messages: Reach out directly to coworkers, send memes, and invite them for lunch or something.
  • Create dedicated watercooling channels: The beauty of online workspaces is the ability to have clear boundaries between professional matters and casual tongue-in-cheek conversations, so energize communication with channels targeting this need.
  • Organize dedicated events for team building: like team retreats once or twice a year, or office parties once a month.

In the case where you absolutely cannot pass on a meeting, you can at least make it shorter.

  • Limit meetings to 30 minutes: Parkinson’s Law states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion, so it’s primordial to time-box your meetings to keep them as short as possible. 30 minutes is the equivalent of one Pomodoro session and is usually enough to process single topics.
  • Use finger rules: Finger rules leverage body language to make the flow of meetings smoother. Replies, remarks, clarifications, agreement, disagreement… all have their own simple gesture for meeting facilitators to more easily structure conversations.
  • Use stand-up meetings: Having people standing up is a surprisingly simple way to keep meetings short―nobody likes standing up too long.

Ensuring quality meetings with clear objectives, a structure, and expected results is just as important to avoid the need for more meetings down the road.

  • Write an agenda: Agendas are a must-have. Not only will it set expectations and allow for preparatory work to make the most out of the session, it will also prevent digression and off topic rants. Include objectives, points to discuss, and space for the note taker to fill in with action plans.
  • Pick a facilitator: Designating a rotating facilitator is vital to reduce preparation time and increase the efficiency of back to back meetings. Facilitators are responsible for gathering items for the agenda, schedule a time and place for the meeting, and structure the flow of the conversations to keep them under control.
  • Come prepared with the intention to add value: Quality meetings cannot happen without participants with the right mindset. Give a way out for people who don’t feel like attending―it will only bring the mood down otherwise.

Lastly, you can also make it a work policy to limit meeting time. You might have heard of initiatives like Flex Fridays where companies ban meetings for a day and encourage staff to either take the day off or invest in self-development.

  • Introduce meeting-free days: Make it a company-wide agreement to avoid scheduling meetings on a specific day to leave more time for deep work.
  • Limit the number of meetings per week: Let’s face it, some people will go to great lengths to do anything else but work. It’s the managers’ responsibility to not feed this habit by paying attention to the number of meetings one attends within a week and propose more productive alternatives.

This article was original posted on 4 day week — remote jobs with a better work life balance 🎉

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Phil from 4 day week

Phil from 4 day week

Founder @ 4dayweek.io - jobs with a better work / life balance.