During the break in the middle of a lecture I held the other day, one of the participants asked me: ”But what about all the meetings? They just keep adding up. How am I supposed to have time for working on all my other tasks?”
For you who prefer listening to reading, this post is also available as an episode of the “Done!” podcast:
Yes, that is definitely a common situation for many of the people I meet in my work. The number of meetings keeps increasing, and so the time for other tasks proportionally decreases — tasks such as the ones we during the meetings decide to do before the next meeting.
The highest priority right now
Meetings tend to be given precedence and the highest priority, since they are tied to a specific interval of time on a certain date. If we accept an invitation to a meeting, we decide long before the said day and time that at that very moment, we will prioritize the meeting — almost regardless what else we might have on our plate at the time.
Sure, we sometimes cancel a meeting right before it is about to start since something more important that we need to attend to showed up, but this is more of an exception than a rule.
”To meet” is a verb just like all others
Let me emphasize that I am not saying there is something wrong with having meetings. Working together with others at the same time in the same room is of course the most efficient way to get certain things done.
But, if we are participating in more meetings than we actually have time and energy for, we do need to decrease the number of meetings. We want to get rid of some and keep some, which sounds like classical prioritization, and as it so happens, that is exactly what it is.
All the things we do during our days, all the verbs that we ”do”, can be considered to-do-tasks that we either do the moment we come to think of them or sometime later, after having parked them on our list for a while. We call, we email, we send, we report, we send invoices — and we meet. And ”to meet” is also a verb.
We prioritize the tasks that are the most important, meaning the ones that contribute the most to reaching the goals we are responsible for.
In the same way we can prioritize the meetings that can be considered important since they contribute to our goal attainment as well.
Once again, the goals determine what’s what
When we are prioritizing amongst other tasks, or other verbs, a classical method is to place how urgent something is on one side of the scales, and how important it is on the other side, and allow the combination of these values to determine how we prioritize. With regards to meetings, we keep the ”weight of importance” in one of the weigh bowls, but we do not necessarily always put ”urgency” in the other. Instead we can for instance place how crucial our participation is to the one who summoned us as a counterweight.
In order to avoid filling your days with meetings that you then wish you had not agreed to attend, evaluate how important and relevant the meeting is to the goals you are responsible for, and not just by how urgent or how much the person who called the meeting together wants you there.
If you want to, have a look in your calendar right now. What meetings do you have scheduled for the next weeks ahead? To what extent do they contribute to attaining the goals of the business which you are responsible for making progress in?
Are there any meetings you could refrain from attending since they would take up time which you could and should be spending on the tasks that bring you closer to your goals?
The next time someone asks you to attend a meeting, ask yourself if it will contribute to you reaching your goals, and consider your answer when making the decision to accept the invite or not. If attending actually won’t bring you closer to attaining your goals, you are of course still allowed to go, but will then attend it fully aware that it is actually time wasted in relation to what you are responsible for accomplishing in your work right now.
Get more of the right things done
If you prioritize your meetings not only by urgency or other people’s preferences, but also by how important they are in relation to your goals, you will have more time to do the tasks you primarily need to get done — the most important ones.
You do not have to postpone the important tasks for evenings and weekends to the same extent as you otherwise would, and you no longer have to sit at pointless meetings feeling stressed and thinking about all the important things your are not getting done by being in the meeting instead of working.
Do you have other criteria?
How do you decide what meetings to participate in and which to say no to, out of the steady stream of meetings we are asked to attend? Do you use other criteria than the ones described above? Tell me!
(By the way, do you know that there’s a cure for unfocused meetings?)
There's more where this came from
If you want more tips on how to create good structure at work, there are many ways to get that from me - in podcasts, videos, books, talks and other formats.