When the meetings pile up

photo-431When I tell people I write about time management and productivity, they often assume that I schedule something every minute of the day. This is not true. I may be a “J” in the Myers-Briggs taxonomy, but I love completely open work days when I can work on whatever I want, whenever I want. With NaNoWriMo I’ve been trying to engineer more of those days, as my preferred fiction writing mode is total engagement with fingers flying. I love really getting into it.

So I’m always interested to see the contrast with many of the corporate time logs I receive. People will quite easily have 6-8 hours of meetings a day. Since a mere 4 phone calls back to back makes me want to lie in a little puddle on the floor (or go into turtle position, like this photo), I’ve been pondering how people stay engaged through such a day. Maybe they don’t! But presumably some do. How?

I’ve gotten a few tips. One is pro-active schedule triage. Once you sit down in a meeting, it violates all sorts of social norms to stand up and walk out. Better to figure out ahead of time if the meeting is unnecessary (whether for everyone, or just for you), unfocused, or too long. People with heavy meeting schedules get in the habit of looking over the next day’s calendar (or even the next week’s) and figuring out what needs to happen and what doesn’t, and what they must attend, and what’s going to extract too high a cost. An open hour that turns 8 hours of meetings into 7 can make a day feel far more doable.

Another is converting as many smaller meetings as possible to walking meetings. You can’t walk well with more than 3 people, and if there needs to be a lot of note-taking or reviewing documents, it won’t work, but walking adds to your energy levels, rather than subtracting. When you don’t have breaks, a walking meeting can serve as the functional equivalent of one.

Of course, you can also build in breaks. A full day of meetings can create a domino effect; one runs late and then everything runs late. Some people set a watch or phone alarm to beep at a certain point. Ideally, all meetings have incredibly detailed agendas, but sometimes people need a reminder to get to the point. If that happens at about the :42 mark in an hour long meeting, you can get done what needs to be done by :50 and get 10 minutes of space. Try not to use the whole 10 minutes checking email. Deep breathing or stretching deserve space too.

Good note-taking helps with engagement. It’s easy to think in any given meeting that you’ll remember what happened, but three meetings later it will be gone. You can take 20 minutes at the end of the day (or at night after the kids go to bed) to review notes and action items.

And when all else fails, there’s coffee. Lots of it. The necessary bathroom trips will then force breaks into the day.

I’m very curious what strategies readers with heavy meeting schedules have come up with. How do you manage your energy? How do you prepare and keep the various meetings straight?


9 thoughts on “When the meetings pile up

  1. I have some days where there are extensive, hours long meetings and there is absolutely no way to get out of them. What I try to do is look at the week holistically. If I have a very long meeting day, the following day I keep clear of meetings. That way, I can recover and keep the energy/motivation up all week long.

    1. Agreed. I work as a counselor every Wednesday, which means up to eight hours of counseling sessions, sometimes back to back. I love it, but I know to go to bed early Tuesday night and to keep my Thursday mostly free to recover.

      A few months ago I moved into a new office and it doesn’t yet have a clock. I started setting my iphone alarm to give a 5 minute warning for the end of the session. It is very helpful in alerting me and my clients that our time is wrapping up. Sometimes the visual clock was sort of ignorable. The sound of the alarm is not, and I have ended my sessions in a more timely way ever since. This gives me the ten minutes between sessions that I need for notes, stretching, or a snack.

  2. I work in higher education for my day job, and last week I counted up 16 hours of meeting in a 37.5 hour week. I’ve found that bringing a water bottle into meetings helps me stay focused during the meeting AND gives me a “legit” excuse to stretch my legs with a trip to the restroom.

  3. I tend to have 4 hours of meetings on average each day. Some days go up to 6 hours, some day go down to 3, but rarely I have open days.
    I think many people go to the meetings because they are invited and do not leave because they do not want to seem rude. Plus, in a corporate setting people get invited for all sorts of different reasons. So many times people quietly disengage and start working on their laptops. Often it is obvious because few people participate in the conversation. I do it too, I always carry my laptop and switch tasks if the topic is boring or outside of my focus.

    1. @Mina – The idea of being invited to a meeting as a currency is so strange to me. I mean, I get it — people want invites because they are seen, and they feel “in the loop.” But still. Going to something that didn’t involve me would drive me nuts. Even if I had my laptop!

      1. I agree it is not fun, but political reasons are just as important to accept the invitation. It is not just the issue of being seen or heard. It may be that another department head will invite you just to show they are not hostile to your dept and you should show up to give your support, or you get yourself invited because the project being done by the other dept may impact your work negatively so you better go, keep an eye on what is going on. The latter is a bigger issue, people get very nervous if different projects will derail their own. Of course being seen is another huge reason. Luckily sometimes a meeting really solves a problem for you and gets your full attention 🙂

  4. I love that you and your American readers have so much consideration for the tracking of time during the meetings. I’m French and this means that I assist regularly to meetings without precise agenda taking place in beautifully arranged rooms where the clock hasn’t worked for decades. See this post of an Irish assisting to French meetings for much appreciation of this cultural twist : https://researchfrontier.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/academic-meetings-what-are-they-good-for/. The main battle during these meetings is not to keep energetic but to overcome frustration…

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