Meetings Are Work Too

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So Many Meetings

I’ve said it. We’ve all said it.

I can’t get any work done today, I’ve got so many meetings.

I need to be reminded on occasion that for most of us, the meetings are work too. They are part of the job and we need to think of them as such.

But I get it. I’m a technical professional. If you’re reading this blog, you probably are too. We feel “productive” when we’re actually putting fingers to keyboard, marker to whiteboard, “making stuff.” Being in meetings doesn’t feel like we’re doing anything to move things forward.

TL;DR: Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.

Necessary But Ill-Timed

We need to have these meetings. They’re where consensus is reached on cross-team projects and decisions are made about timelines. They’re where we communicate to people outside our teams what’s happening. And sometimes, they’re critical for transferring knowledge to others. These are all part of the job. For better or worse, they are a nontrivial portion of The Work.

Looking back at some of the daily schedules that led to me saying the above, I came to realize that the statement needs to be reframed.

The gaps between my meetings are not productive time. This is causing me to not make progress on the big tasks that need to be done.

Let’s say your schedule looks like this:

Time 08:3008:4509:3009:4510:0010:1511:0011:3011:4513:0014:00
Event MeetingOpenMeetingOpenMeetingOpenMeetingMeetingOpenMeetingOpen

With the exception of a lunch break, the most time this schedule has between meetings is 45 minutes until 2 PM rolls around. If it takes 23 minutes to regain focus after a distraction, that leaves precious little time to do work that requires deep focus.

I would much rather have an entire morning of meetings stacked back-to-back than have these little gaps between them.

So instead, what do we do? Consider the whole block a loss. Now we’re 4-5 hours into the workday and finally can settle down and get some “real work” done.

I can (and do) get some good stuff done in those last 3 hours of the day, but it comes at a cost. If I’m not careful, I’ll work too long and sacrifice time I should be using for other things, like helping to prepare dinner or hanging out with my family.

What’s a Maker To Do?

  1. Push back on meetings. Do you have to be in every meeting that you’re invited to? Do these meetings have to be 60 minutes? Can it be rescheduled to another time, or made shorter? Remember that a meeting invite is a request, not a demand and the “request” is “I would like to impose myself on your day’s plans.” If an agenda isn’t included in the invite, ask for one before you accept or decline.

  2. When you’re the one booking meetings, keep them short and squeeze them in between your other meetings. Fill those “unproductive” time gaps.

    But before you book that meeting, think carefully. Could it be an email? Or even a group chat in Slack/Teams?

  3. If your organization uses the Viva offering in Microsoft 365, switch on Focus Time and let Viva automatically book focus time for you. This will put events on your calendar to prevent other people from “stealing” that time from you.

    But here’s the critical piece: you have to defend that focus time. Don’t just accept meetings that are scheduled for those blocks, shrug, and delete them from your calendar. Ask for a reschedule, or decline it entirely (see above).

Accepting Imperfection

As “makers”, we won’t always be successful in separating our meeting time from uninterrupted building time. We won’t be able to stack all the meetings so that we don’t have those “useless” breaks between meetings. We have to learn that that’s OK, and adjust expectations accordingly - both with the people depending upon us to get those projects done, and the expectations we have of ourselves.