Most people would agree that they spend too much of their work week in meetings. Typically this complaint is generated by time spent in ineffective and poorly run meetings. However, there is also a concern about the sheer number and volume of meetings that workers are being asked (and expected) to attend, such that they often have days spent moving simply from meeting to meeting, with no time in between to get any 'real' work done!
What options are there for those whose schedules seem to become consumed by meetings?
The following is a list of suggestions on how to handle a schedule that is dominated by Meeting Overload. Using any or all of these suggestions may help you to survive and remain productive throughout each of those back-to-back meetings.
1. Advance Strategies. Review your schedule and evaluate your planned meetings. Consider which you can Delete, Defer or Delegate. Get picky. There may be meetings that don't require your presence, you just need to be kept apprised of their findings. Perhaps there are others in your department that are better suited to attend, or who could benefit from the exposure or development opportunities attending in your stead would provide. Consider each meeting strategically to determine whether they merit your time or whether you have anything to contribute.
2. Apply Compression. Meetings are often scheduled to be longer than needed. Where you have the ability, shorten the time allotted or narrow the focus of the meeting to allow for a shorter meeting time. Most meetings automatically expand to fit the 'available' time. Reducing the time available simply pushes people to exercise a little more focus in their comments and discussions. This is more efficient, and typically far more effective.
3. Be an Outcome Advocate. Require that Agendas with clearly stated Outcomes be generated for each meeting you attend. If one isn't forwarded, request it. You should know prior to attending what the purpose of the meeting is, what the desired outcomes are and how you are expected to help achieve them. Better preparation on the part of the meeting convener will allow you (and all other attendees) to prep better, helping the meeting to retain focus. Who wouldn't love to have meetings ending early because they were targeted and well run?
4. Work to Hard Stops. Don`t enable inefficiency by allowing meetings to run late. Ensure participants understand the scheduled 'end' for the meeting and work through the agenda items with that end in mind. Don`t allow an inefficiently run meeting to play havoc with the rest of your day. Teach them to respect your time, and increase their meeting management skills, by forcing them to work to the schedule they set.
5. Consider Alternative Meeting Formats. If you have a full day of meetings ahead of you consider whether you can create a 'break' from sitting around one meeting room table after another by scheduling a walking meeting instead. These are perfect for when you are meeting with only one or two others. Getting up and moving not only recharges your batteries, but can also help to spur your creativity. Break the feeling of meeting monotony by switching up the location, the format, the structure.
6. Fuel Up. A day of endless meetings can be tiring, challenging your focus. Often we are left grabbing some food on the go or, worse yet, failing to eat at all. On the days that your schedule is overloaded, become more strategic about what food you are taking in. In this instance you need to use food as fuel, not to simply fill-up. Eat for the energy you want and need to have available for your day. Quality counts!
7. Standing Room Only. If you are looking to help shorten and target meetings more, arrange for everyone to stand throughout the meeting. Leg fatigue can help keep everyone on point and task focused.
8. Engage. The type and nature of your engagement influences your focus. If you are answering emails and addressing other issues... Why are you there? Staying focused on the discussion at hand not only helps to move the agenda items faster, it also serves to keep your energy up while also heightening your visibility and presence.
Meetings are an inevitable and integral part of the business world. However, an overload of meetings can quickly deplete your personal resources if you don't manage them, and your schedule, well. Use the above suggestions to help you avoid feeling overloaded or wanting to jump overboard.