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08 Jan

Have fewer meetings by prioritizing accurately

Datum: 2024-01-08 09:16
Graduates in ceremonial robes are gathered, some holding flags, during a graduation ceremony.

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.

Do this

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?)

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