Picture This: Fewer Meetings

fewer meetings

If you’re bogged down by too many meetings–and pretty much everyone is–start saying no.

One of the first things Peter Deng, head of product at Instagram, did when he joined the company from Facebook was to cancel recurring meetings.

“Momentum is a really powerful force, and at first it’s fed by all of these meetings,” Deng said in a recent interview with First Round Review. “But then you have all of these routines and habits that form, and before you know it, you’re just going through the motions.”

Meetings are designed to improve process, but most meetings accomplish little. That wasted time takes a financial toll. A 2013 study by Altlassian estimated that companies spent $37 billion in salary hours on meetings. Employee morale takes a hit, too. Studies show not just that employees feel they spend too much time in meetings, but that the number of meetings they feel obliged to attend dampens morale. It makes sense: people feel good and confident when they accomplish things, and meetings interrupt progress on a task.

As Deng noted, most recurring meetings were set up in the past for projects and problems that are no longer front-burner. Instead of automatically continuing those meetings, Deng suggested that managers determine what specific problems the meetings were intended to solve, and to look for more flexible and immediate solutions. If you find you still need to call a meeting to update your team, a 30-minute session that tackles any obstacles in the process should be the goal.

If meetings are zapping your morale, or your teams, declare you own war on wasted time by changing how you and your team handle meetings.

The 3-Step Meeting Reduction Plan

Limit the meetings you schedule.

  • Use meetings only for discussions and decisions that must be made face-to-face, and within a short timeframe.
  • Create an agenda. If you find there’s not much on it, don’t have the meeting.
  • Give people time to respond to the agenda. Sending it out an hour before the meeting isn’t helpful. Remember the goal is not just to reduce your own wasted time, but your team’s. Allow people time to offer input on the agenda items and enough information that they can decide whether they need to attend.
  • If you do hold a meeting, take notes or ask someone else to do so, and send them promptly to the people who didn’t make the meeting. Any follow-up decisions or actions should be clearly noted and people should be given deadlines to respond.

Limit the meetings you attend.

  • Before clicking “attend” the next time you get an invite, ask to see the meeting’s agenda. You may be able to comment instead of attending the meeting itself. And it will get people in the habit of setting agendas.
  • If anyone from your team is also invited, ask them to communicate your input on the agenda.
  • Reply to invites with a request to get a follow-up email or notes on the meeting if no one from your team was present or you want to follow any discussion or decisions.
  • Give clear explanations of why you are declining an invitation.

Manage the impact of these changes on your team.  

  • Make it a movement. Meetings are so ingrained in corporate culture that it is not only hard to change people’s habits, but some might feel slighted or uncomfortable. Get everyone on board with the idea of saving everyone’s time.
  • Pay extra attention to how you communicate. Be sure people understand your decisions and allow people to offer feedback in how changes are impacting their work. Some people enjoy meetings, and others may need to find alternative ways to be heard and give and received feedback.
  • Evaluate the impact of the changes on process and projects periodically, and eliminate or add meetings as needed. With a fresh perspective, the meetings you do call should be more efficient than those that had become habit in the past.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and, among others.