Getting out of Meetings

Meetings are critical to dynamic, collaborative interactions, and yet for many people they are a dreaded part of the day. Too many meetings and inefficient meetings are cited as top reasons why employees aren’t accomplishing their goals. If your chronic back-to-back meetings are preventing you from getting other critical work done, it’s time to look at how you can extricate yourself. I teach four strategies to free yourself of meetings.

Don’t go – This sounds more drastic than it is. In reality, you often don’t go to meetings that you’re invited to. Maybe you had a doctor’s appointment, or a conflicting meeting. Maybe you had a training or maybe you just spaced out – it happens. And when you didn’t go to the meeting, everyone lived. The fact that the world didn’t end when you weren’t able to make a meeting is evidence that (due respect) you’re not always critical to the meeting.

Negotiate format – When you have a meeting on your calendar that is really just an update or a quick connection with colleagues, negotiate the format to keep it quick. When there is a “meeting” on the calendar and everyone gathers and sits, the energy goes down immediately and the meeting will last longer than it needs to. For updates or quick connections, agree to a strict, short time frame, and stay standing. Better yet, have the meeting while doing a 15-minute walk around the building. If it’s a virtual meeting, do it on phone instead of video conference so you can still go for a walk.

Propose alternate participation – If you’re looking at the agenda and realize that you don’t have to BE there to contribute to discussion, but that the group needs something from you (or you need something from the group), propose that the exchange of that information happens in an alternate format either before or after the meeting. Use email or mail to exchange the necessary data, images, reports or documents, and skip the meeting.

Offer partial participation – If, as you review the agenda, you realize that you DO have to be there to contribute to discussion, but only for a specific item, offer to be there just for that item. The group can call (or zoom you in) when they get to that point in the meeting, or they can move it to the beginning of the meeting so you can leave immediately afterwards.

I challenge you to look backwards at the past few weeks of meetings, and consider which of these strategies you could apply to which of those meetings. Extracting yourself from even one hour of meetings each week will give you more than a week’s worth of additional productive time. How much could you get done with an extra 40+ hours!?

When you DO go to a meeting, be all the way in. Don’t read emails, scroll through your phone, watch a ball game on your laptop. Choose to be where you are. If you are fully present you will be a better participant, can help move the meeting along, and may discover that if you’re paying attention, you get more out of the experience than you’d anticipated. Plus, you’ll be happier – research has demonstrated that people produce more positive neurotransmitters when they are thinking about what they’re doing. Paying attention to a meeting while you’re in the meeting literally will make you feel better than trying to get something else done with your brain while your body is in a meeting.

Good meetings are an incredibly valuable tool for productivity. Go when it matters. Just be intentional and strategic about your attendance so you allow yourself time to do other work as well.

Let me know what changes you make.

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