• Dany Spencer

The Hidden Reason You’re In Too Many Meetings


How to stop to them from filling your day and draining your energy

I once read a story of a college professor who became stranded in the desert after Google Maps directed him to turn left – onto a non-existent road. He obediently followed and ended up stuck; for 11 days. This was a professor! I’m guessing that those reading this are thinking, how ridiculous!

You’d never do that, right?

Maybe not with Google Maps, but what about meetings? Have you ever blindly accepted a meeting invite?

At the start of a workshop a couple of years ago, I opened by asking what had brought the attendees there that morning. One woman joked “my calendar!”, which was followed by knowing laughs from her colleagues. Following a hunch, I asked how many other people had automatically accepted the meeting invite to be there that morning. Hesitantly, nearly half of the people put up their hands.

Much like the professor who blindly followed the Google Maps directions, these intelligent, busy, senior leaders automatically accepted a two-hour meeting invitation simply because it was in their inbox. This example isn’t an isolated incident.

Excessive meetings are consistently named as one of the most prominent organizational vitality drainers. Studies suggest as high as 73% of people say that they attend too many meetings too often.

In our research at BrainAMPED, we have found that there are two primary reasons people automatically accept meetings.

First, because they feel that they don’t have a choice, believing the meetings are mandatory.Supported by research that suggests that the busier people become, the less choice they feel they have, even if they have the authority to say no.

Or secondly, they feel they don’t have the time to make a different choice at the moment, so they default to automatically accepting the meeting. Put another way, people believe that it would take too much time and effort to decline or negotiate their attendance, so they make the most straightforward choice available at that moment, which means simply saying yes.

Though understandable, each of these tendencies will leave you spinning in a self-created, negatively reinforcing meeting vortex. More meetings leave you with less time. Less time leaves you feeling like you have less choice. Less choice and less time will drive you to automatically accept more meetings – spin and spin.

So how do you ensure you don’t get stranded in the meeting desert even when your calendar is trying to divert you that way? Here are two strategies to break out of the meeting vortex.

#1 When you feel like you don’t have a choice, turn on your high beams.

Typically, your car’s automatic daytime running lights are designed to show the objects on the road in front of you. When you turn on your high beams, it illuminates the objects around you.

Depending on your company culture or role, there are undeniably specific meetings that you are expected to attend. That is the road in front of you.

However, what possibilities on the periphery do you have some discretion to make decisions around? If declining a meeting isn’t an option, then take control of how you manage your energy, actions, and time around those meetings.

Perhaps, you go in and block the hour following a group of back-to-back meetings. This predetermined time block ensures you can address follow-ups while things are fresh in your mind. Or maybe you pre-plan some portable snacks to take to meetings to keep your energy up.

I like to put my favorite kickboxing class on my calendar at the end of a day filled with meetings. This commitment forces me to leave my work and helps me clear my mind. I am always more efficient the following day or if need be, later that evening, if something urgently needs to be addressed.

Push back on the feelings of meeting overwhelm by turning on your high beams to see where you can take deliberate control of your choices around future meetings.

#2 When you feel like it’s easier just to accept, create a fork in the road.

This strategy is meant to force you to slow down, analyze the terrain ahead, and make a thoughtful choice before automatically accepting a meeting invite.

The decision fork is derived by asking yourself a series of questions before accepting the meeting. Examples of the ones we use at BrainAMPED when helping our clients deal with meeting depletion include:

  • Are you clear on the purpose and what is expected of you in this meeting?

  • Do you have the physical time and energy to be fully present and effectively contribute?

  • How will attending this meeting impact on your productivity and critical priorities?

The goal of the first question is to help you take personal accountability in collecting critical information.

Too often, people complain about meetings without taking action to change them. If you don’t have these necessary details, graciously ask for them before accepting it.

Remember, the meeting organizer has included you; assume they see you as a valued attendee. In your request for details, acknowledge that and let them know that your questions are to ensure you can contribute best to the success of their meeting.

The goal of the second question is to push you to be proactive with your time and energy management.

Take a step back and look at where this meeting falls within your calendar. Consider both that day of the meeting and perhaps that entire week. How many meetings do you have?

For example, maybe you need to let a meeting organizer know that you are in back-to-back meetings in different locations, so you will be late or may need to leave early. This clarification can help them proactively adjust the agenda so that you can still contribute or be present for decisions critical to your work.

I often choose a different location to take a conference call to decrease distractions. Challenging yourself with these considerations motivates you to manage your time and energy.

The goal of the third question is to help you to think about goals and workflow more strategically.

When you feel overwhelmed and time-deprived, your brain disconnects from strategy and future consequences. Instead, it defaults to over-focusing on the most immediate, and often low-value tasks that are directly in front of them (hence the meeting vortex). This question forces your brain to consider a broader range of essential decision-making variables by refocusing on the bigger picture, differentiating the important goals from the immediate requests, and helping you to prioritize your energy and productivity.

If the answers to these questions suggest that your attendance isn’t ideal from a business perspective, now you have a thoughtful conversation template to have with the appropriate people.

And if it turns out you still need to attend, go back to strategy number one and turn on your high beams.

Reframe the first part of the question to “What can I do to ensure”…I am clear, I have the time, and it has the best impact possible on my productivity and priorities. You will be surprised how creative you can be when you make intentional decisions.

Whether Google Maps or meeting invites, you always have some choice, so double-check before proceeding. It will surely help ensure you don’t end up stuck somewhere you shouldn’t be!

Sara Ross is a leadership expert, speaker and the Chief Vitality Officer at BrainAMPED, a leadership strategy firm she founded to redefine how people succeed at work and thrive in life. Through their research, workshops, coaching and keynotes, Sara and her company help organizations build their Leadership Vitality Quotient to create high capacity performers by strengthening their skills of energy management, emotional intelligence, and resilience.

You can find out more about Sara Ross and her work at www.brainamped.com or www.sarajross.com.

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