Drained from the influx of online meetings? Hopping from meeting to meeting every day without ever making real progress? Welcome to the world of meeting fatigue, where the video chats keep coming, but no outcomes get actioned.
Your meetings may be stuck in a rut, but it’s a fairly easy shift back to productivity. How?
Let me start with an example. Recently a friend sent an invite to a webinar about creating a culture of belonging during the crisis. These days it feels like there are 10 times as many sessions online, so one has to be picky.
The webinar made the cut because I felt it was relevant, ties to my passion and I anticipated actionable insights. Fast forward a few days and I discovered it is a pretty intimate group, everyone was on video, and I soon found myself in small breakout sessions with strangers put to work. Initially, I was unsure. What did I sign up for? Who was looking at me? What behaviors should I manage?
In hindsight, it was a great presentation with solid content and met my expectations plus spawned new relationships. However, it also brought some tangible discomfort, greater energy demand, and highlighted a lot of the challenges related to juggling online meetings across all sides of our lives.
It was a surprisingly engaging and productive meeting, which got me thinking about the everyday meetings that are less so.
Recent estimates by MIT suggest we spend seven years of our life on wasteful meeting time! Let’s be clear, meetings are necessary and effective to brainstorm, dig into issues, make decisions, inform, and engage. Simply put, they are not going away.
Studies show managers should spend 6 hours weekly with employees to increase inspiration, ideation, and motivation, which comes most richly in the form of direct meetings. Like the Yin and Yang life principle, we feel opposite pulls and must strike a balance that works.
How can we make online meetings valuable and engaging instead of a wasted hour? Here are some effective meeting strategies to manage through this struggle:
Start by applying some quick filters before you hit “accept”! Our tendency is to confirm, clear our inbox and move on. Particularly when it comes from a person in authority, many people feel they don’t have the choice of declining a meeting. You do, and you should.
Everyone has their own priority lists and gets pulled towards things outside that. How often do you say “no” to a meeting invite? If your decline rate is 0%, this is an area to work on.
To see if a meeting is worth your time, check if there’s more than a subject or title, or if there’s something in the body or an attached document, something to review ahead. Next, look at the attendees. How big is the audience? Is everyone required? Would your participation be redundant?
The responsibility of outlining a meeting sits with the organizer but, it is your duty to help them. Raise some key questions with a direct reply 1-1:
Tip: The way your structure and write your email will have a direct influence on receiving a response. Don’t just streamline the meeting process, streamline your communications – here’s how to write great emails that cut through the noise.
On the flip side, when you are in a meeting, be fully present, concise, say what you mean, and stay on point. Especially when it comes to virtual meetings where it is easy to get distracted by life around you, stay committed to achieving the results set out in the invitation.
There are endless lists of time management tactics, but when it comes to meetings and experiencing overload, blocking can be your best defense. I’m not suggesting you go and fill your diary with a swath of placeholders of recurring or vague items.
Rather plan your week out, thinking what your three to five key objectives are, how long might they take, and what time of day is ideal to work on them. Then schedule it out! On top, enable your calendar to be public so people can sense your priorities and true availability.
One added benefit from this method is how easy it is to account for what you should have worked on versus what happened. Your calendar is key to hold yourself true to important work that matters.
Our attention spans only last so long. Even worse, if we begin to blend topics with multiple attendees, the likelihood to get into things that are less relevant or that all members can affect will increase undoubtedly.
For whatever reason, we seem to default to 30, 60, or 90-minute meetings. Why? Every minute counts! Let’s think in smaller blocks of at least 15-minute intervals.
This ties to the first point, if the agenda isn’t thought out, it’s likely time got minimal attention too. Any meeting of an hour or more will have multiple topics. Why not split it up and re-evaluate the necessary attendees?
Similarly, avoid booking back-to-backs where possible using scheduler views (most tools have this). People need time to document and take necessary immediate actions after meetings which may otherwise be lost if everyone is just meeting hopping.
Internally, everyone leaves meetings with a gut sense whether it was good, average, or bad. How often is that rating shared with qualitative feedback?
Context matters for sure, “one-off” meetings have more variables than recurring strategic or operational sessions. Regardless, feedback may be the most important and valuable part to move things forward and improve.
Depending on the meeting size, regularity, and other variables, this could take the form of a quick survey or rapid around the horn. Either way, this practice is foundational to build trust and determine how to better meet people’s expectations.
In general, we’re working right now through extremely stressful times because of the COVID-19 crisis. Everyone is experiencing different hardships: lost family members, childcare, job loss, reduced hours or income, the absence of normal physical activities, and lacking in-person social interactions.
It’s for this exact reason why it’s even more important to manage our time, meetings, and the stress to avoid burnout. Now more than ever it’s essential to understand just how much more taxing these times are for those you’re sending an invite to. Make your (and theirs) time count with effective meeting strategies!