Most people I meet complain about too many meetings and too little time to work. One study showed that people managed to work on average 1.5hours per day. In one organization I had to book meetings at least three to four weeks in advance if I wanted everyone to participate. This caused lots of delays in decisions and problem-solving, but it was also a clear indicator that people didn’t have time to do actual work.
The challenge grows even bigger when the time you have to work are small chunks of time spread out over the day. Then you will be able to finish small and simple tasks, but larger tasks requiring more thought and creativity will never get done.
Paul Graham explains it really well when he says there are two types of schedules; manager’s and maker’s schedules. Manager’s they can work in 1-hour chunks where they fit in their meetings into calendars, while Makers need at least four-hour chunks to get anything done. This usually creates a conflict when the manager looks into the schedule of a maker and sees a huge slot of time and put a meeting right in the middle because it suits her or his schedule.
Solving the symptom
I have seen a lot of strategies to give people more time to work and reduce their meetings. The problem with them is that they usually focus on the symptom and not the cause:
* Blocking off part of the day
* Booking your calendar to work
* Limit meeting time
Blocking off part of the day
Meetings get banned from mornings or afternoons. This can cause a lot of annoyance and frustration if it is not implemented in the whole organization as people will try to book you in meetings anyway. But I think it is the only way to guarantee that you get time for doing complex and creative work daily.
Booking your calendar to work
This works on a smaller scale, but people around you have a tendency to find out and will start booking you during those times anyway. Especially if the rest of your calendar is full. This is a smaller version of the first version and it will only give you smaller chunks of time and not the consistency that is needed to work on complex and creative tasks.
Limit meeting time
Some organizations have also started to set limits on how long meetings should be and asked people to reduce the time of them. I think it is a good idea to think about the length of the meeting and stop as soon as you have produced the output you want. An extreme of this that I have seen in some places is where a decision is made to only book meetings for 25 or 50 minutes because then people have time to move to the next meeting. A good idea, but the problem still remains: too many meetings.
Solving the problem
The real problem that needs to be solved is that many meetings have no clear goal and outputs. When you are not clear of what you are trying to achieve or what problem you are solving, then you will invite too many people and spend a lot of time discussing the wrong things.
To solve the real problem you need to make sure that people clearly define the problem, outputs and goal of the meeting.
When this is done they need to ask themselves. Who are the minimum number of people needed to do this? You can’t invite everyone. Most people will be silent and it will be much harder to have a good discussion. My suggestion is to limit the number of people to 6, which I will write more about in a coming post.