thoughts and reflections from the CSA Faculty

Are You Overwhelmed by Meetings?

Written by CSA Supervisor Julie Johnson

Did you know that time spent in meetings has gone up an average of 10% every year since 2000? (Doodle, State of Meetings Q2 2020)

It may or may not surprise you, but the topic of managing one’s meeting participation comes up frequently in coaching conversations. Attending too many unproductive, back-to-back, long meetings can be overwhelming. Managers have increasingly pointed to meetings as a major source of stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. In these times of COVID-19, add in the impact of pandemic ‘screen fatigue’, and you’ve got a recipe for burnout. Finally, companies are keen to stop holding meetings that are a waste of time and money.

Over the years, my coachees and I have co-created a number of useful meeting tips and solutions. I’ve gathered them here, in this month’s Coaching Cube. May you find this to be a treasure chest. I do!

Should You Attend the Meeting … or Not?

  • Attend only the part of the meeting where your presence is needed or useful.
  • Delegate attending some meetings to your direct reports (win-win: great experience for them, more freed-up time for you).
  • Consider refusing to attend a meeting that doesn’t have an agenda and objectives.

How Should You Start and End the Meeting?

  • Arrive early as host, to be professional, and to engage in some relationship-building chit chat.
  • Start smaller meetings with a check-in – “How are you arriving?” – to ensure that participants are fully present, and to get to know each other better.
  • Schedule the next meeting during the last minutes of the current meeting – to lighten everyone’s calendar management task.
  • End smaller meetings with a round of “What went well?” and “What could we do better or differently next time?” in a bid to improve meeting efficiency.
  • To end a meeting on time, shift your speech to the past tense: “This was a very productive meeting.”

Don’t Do Back-to-Backs Because of the …

  • Discomfort of having to excuse yourself from a meeting that’s running over.
  • Stress of arriving late to the next meeting.
  • Reputation you can develop of being someone who is stressed and late.

What Can You Do With ‘Down-Time’ Between Meetings?

  • Complete the small tasks you just promised to do (send a document or an invite, summarize the meeting discussion in an email).
  • Plan when to do the larger tasks you promised to do.
  • Take a bio break.
  • Shift gears and prepare for the next meeting.
  • Reflect on the objectives you have that are not on the agenda of the next meeting (relational, connecting).
  • Prepare yourself mentally to arrive focused and present.
  • Verify your meeting technology.

How Can You Manage the Meeting in Advance?

  • Set up an (auto) reminder a few days before the meeting.
  • Agree upon breaks beforehand for longer meetings.
  • Mention up front that you have a ‘hard stop’ at the meeting’s ending time (and stick to it!).
  • Do not schedule start- and end-times on the hour and half-hour. Try timing like 10:15 or 11:45, instead. This can help you and others to build in breaks between your meeting and meetings planned before and after your meeting, which ARE often scheduled on the hour and half-hour.
  • Plan shorter meetings – this will communicate that it will be ‘down-to-business’.
  • Provide or request an agenda.
  • Invite only those who need to be there, and only for the portion of the meeting that pertains to them.
  • Prep and plan, communicate in advance, and let others know what their role is.

Block Half- or Full-Days as ‘Meeting-Free Zones’ to …

  • Get important (strategic) tasks that need your uninterrupted attention … done.
  • Implement some self-care (exercise, reflection, chores, family).
  • Be available for important last-minute meeting requests.

My hope is that by dipping into this treasure chest of meeting tips and solutions, you can be a force for changing your company’s meeting culture into something less overwhelming and more productive. And that is a triple win – for you, for your colleagues, and for the company!

With a career in coaching and leadership development that began in the early 1990’s, Julie Johnson is among the most experienced coaches and facilitators in Europe. She has worked with thousands of individuals from over 50 countries across six continents. She teaches leadership at Rotterdam School of Management’s Executive MBA program.