How to Reduce Meetings at Work

4 minute read

Ever opened up your calendar to see that you have so many meetings that, after the preparation and follow-up, you’ll only have about 30 minutes to do any actual work that day? Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common scenario. It’s a sad fact that the more senior you become in your career, the more meetings you’ll be invited to.

Anyone working in the charity sector will know that it can be particularly meeting-heavy. Yet it’s obviously important that all resources—including time—are used as efficiently as possible.

We’re not saying meetings are all bad, far from it. A timely, well-organised, outcome-focused meeting can really help to move your work along. But when the volume of them threatens your productivity (and, quite frankly, your sanity!) then it’s time to take action. Whether you’re meeting via video call or in real life, here are our top tips on how to reduce meetings at work.

Take back control of your calendar

In most organisations, people book meetings by looking at calendars to see when attendees are available—so our first tip to reduce meetings at work is to block out any time that you might want to keep free, such as the very beginning or end of the day. Try to reserve a good chunk of time each day (or at least each week) for your most important tasks or ‘deep’ work. You could even agree with colleagues to keep meetings to only certain parts of the day, so you all have some hours of uninterrupted work.

Don’t forget to protect your lunch hour. Taking a break is also really important for your productivity—especially in winter, so you have a chance to get outside for some natural light.

Have meeting free days

If possible, ask senior managers to enforce at least one meeting free day per week. This gives employees a proper chance to power through their to-do lists. This can work well, but it’s worth having some ground rules around it. Everyone needs to agree to respect the rule, or covert meetings will end up happening anyway. You also don’t want to have a completely unmanageable diary on some days, just to free up others.

Group of people in a business meeting

Make sure meetings have an agenda

To reduce the number of meetings you go to, if a meeting doesn’t have a clear agenda and purpose, don’t go. An agenda will help you understand which meetings are relevant to you and worth your time. It will also allow you to judge whether someone else could go on your behalf, if you could leave it early, only join for a certain part or just ask for the notes afterwards. If you don’t receive an agenda with a meeting invitation, then ask for one before you consider accepting.

Encourage good meeting hygiene

A successful meeting is productive in terms of moving a project along, and useful for everyone there. For that to happen, some best practise should be in place. Each meeting should have a clear organiser/leader in charge to run it and be responsible for keeping to time.

Make sure everyone can contribute by sending any documents in advance. Then people can bring their questions and points ready for discussion, rather than being caught on the backfoot and desperately scanning the papers at the start of the meeting. This is especially important for video calls where you may need to speak in order to avoid people talking over each other.

It can also help to limit the number of people invited to a meeting—the more who are there, the less productive it tends to be.

Taking notes or minutes can seem time-consuming, but brief summaries of the key takeaway points and decisions made can be really useful. It makes sure you don’t go over old ground and stops people who only need to know the outcome of a meeting attending unnecessarily.

If your colleagues need a reminder of these points, then it could be worth the time to organise a workshop on how to hold effective meetings, so everyone can learn the skills to keep them productive.

Close-up of laptop showing three people in a video call

Reduce meeting time

Ever had so many back-to-back meetings that you’ve not even had time for a loo break, or to grab a coffee? This tip is for you! Make sure meetings are generally organised for half an hour, unless they really need a whole hour. You can also change your default calendar settings so appointments last 25 or 50 minutes. Meetings tend to take the time they’re scheduled for (or longer!) so cutting them by a few minutes will keep everyone focused, as well as allow a breather before the next one.

Having standing meetings is also a good strategy for reducing meetings at work, as it tends to make them shorter. This one is a bit tricker for video meetings though!

Share ideas other ways

Charities are, understandably, very collaborative places. While this can be great, sometimes the cost of reduced time for your individual work outweighs the benefit. Effective meetings involve making decisions or moving a project forward. Status updates or pure information dissemination can be done by email, or by using shared project management software like Trello or Miro. This will reduce unnecessary meetings.

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Learn to say no

Never just accept a meeting without considering whether it’s worth your time. If it feels irrelevant, unnecessary, too long or it’s happening too often, then find a polite way to decline. Depending on your level, you may need to check this with your line manager, but you shouldn’t feel obliged to go to inefficient or disorganised meetings that just distract you from actually getting things done.

Hopefully these tips on how to reduce meetings will help you take back some control over your working day. But if an ingrained meeting culture at your organisation is holding you back, then it could be time to find a new role.

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