Work Smarter

The Meeting Trap and 4 Ways to Avoid It

Did you just schedule another meeting that should have been a video message?

After sitting through a long meeting we’ve all had that thought, “Seriously, couldn’t this have just been an email?”  We all know time is a valuable non-renewable resource, and yet many of us continue to waste so much of it on a daily basis.


Meetings have their place, of course. A real-time meeting can be an efficient, effective way for a group to strategize, discuss ideas, escalate any issues, drive objectives, and – maybe most importantly – build culture. However, using meetings in the wrong ways, or for the wrong objectives, or simply too often, is when things can go sideways. 


According to a study in MIT Sloan Management Review, senior managers spend nearly 23 hours a week in meetings. A 2019 survey from Korn Ferry found that 67% of respondents agreed that spending too much time in meetings was preventing them from making an impact at work. 34% of the same group said they waste 2-5 hours a week on unproductive calls or meetings, with 15% believe they waste up to 10 hours!


The onset of the COVID pandemic and the larger move toward remote work has likely only worsened these statistics for many. When you can’t pop by someone’s desk to discuss an issue, or huddle up the team to quickly get aligned, more scheduled meetings are likely to take place. Now that these meetings are happening online, we have a new category of meeting ailment referred to as “Zoom fatigue.”


Of course, we’re not arguing that meetings should never happen – but we are arguing that many of us need to rethink our meeting strategy. Here are a few suggestions for improving your thinking around meetings, or potentially avoiding some of them altogether.


  1. Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself: does this issue REQUIRE that we all get together at the same time?


Sometimes there is more art than science here, but a good rule of thumb is: if we need to use our collective brainpower to solve a problem, strategize, or drive something forward a meeting might be necessary. Otherwise, if you’re just sharing information, collecting opinions, or delegating tasks, an asynchronous message like a chat, email, or video is probably just fine.


  1. Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself: does this issue REQUIRE that we all get together face-to-face?


At Kommute, we’re the first to argue that text-based communication isn’t always the best way to get your message across – especially when you have something complex or nuanced to say. Face-to-face conversation conveys so much more than just the words we use, and a lot of meaning can be lost in text alone – not to mention, a lot of misunderstanding can take place. With video messaging, you have the option of sending along all the non-verbal components of an in-person talk, without needing to pull everyone into a room together. When matters are not urgent, an asynchronous video conversation can do everything an in-person meeting can, while allowing people to carry out that discussion in a more flexible way.


  1. Don’t allow yourself to schedule a meeting without an established meeting goal, itinerary, and/or plan for the session.


It’s best to avoid a meeting strategy that is overly “organic” – which is a nice way of saying that you have no plan and are just hoping a productive discussion takes place. A meeting should have an objective, and ideally a plan for how to achieve it. If you can’t come up with such a plan, then maybe you shouldn’t be having a meeting at all.


  1. When scheduling a meeting, send out your objective and plan ahead of time and ask that participants come prepared to do their part.


The success of a meeting doesn’t depend on the organizer alone. Everyone should come prepared to do their part. With some planning and preparation by the organizer AND the attendees, a meeting is far more likely to be productive and even motivating, rather than a waste of time.


Bottom line - don’t meet just to meet. Treat meetings as something to consume in moderation. When you can avoid them, it’s probably best to do so. When you have to have one, be sure to have everyone come in prepared based on the meeting’s purpose and the group’s strategy for achieving a goal. Managing time is one of the most important activities of professional life. Tools now exist that allow you to do that better than ever before. There’s no excuse not to use them.


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