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[I found several questions to reject meetings in special situations, but not a general one. So I'm asking this.]

I'm infected with meeting overload. Meetings often take up 80% of my weekly working hours. I don't have enough time to execute discussed actions. At this point there is no other solution than just rejecting meetings. I cannot take things off-line or take initiative otherwise.

I need a quick way to reject many meetings without upsetting people.

I thought about setting up a standard response which explains the situation, but I'm still searching for a good wording. On one side I don't want to create the impression that I don't value their work, on the other side I want to avoid that my explanation is used to argue why I really need to join this one time.

Out Of Scope

  • We're just too few people to handle the work, that can't be changed in short term.
  • I know which meetings to reject. These meetings probably wouldn't changed much, if I don't attend. Often they have an informational character and I would be fine to read the summary. No advice is needed here.
  • I already read other posts about general strategies to avoid meetings. Here I want to focus on rejecting completely.
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    80% meetings would probably be a heavy meeting load even for a manager. I think you need to do more than just reject meeting invitations... – a CVn Jan 9 at 22:38
  • @aCVn: I know that and I'm trying, but please focus here on rejecting meetings. – Chris Jan 9 at 22:45
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    @JoeStrazzere: I consider each request, but don't want to justify every time I reject it. – Chris Jan 10 at 6:40
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If these are meetings scheduled in Outlook or some other scheduling software, you can simply decline or ignore the meeting request with no explanation. In many cases, no-one will come to you and ask for an explanation. Declining is nicer, and should be done if there is any chance they need a headcount for the meeting.

If you do get asked for an explanation, just say

In order to complete my work, I have to decline all meetings unless I am an essential participant. Unless you absolutely need my input at this meeting, and cannot proceed without it, I cannot attend. I'm simply doing triage - trying to get as much done as I can as efficiently as possible.

  • For Outlook-scheduled meeting requests, you also have the option of sending a reply which you can prepare in advance or edit case-by-case, which is an easy way to include your suggested explanation when declining. – Upper_Case Jan 9 at 22:42
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    @Upper_Case True. But often, when you give an excuse or explanation, people tend to push back. A decline with no reply can get less resistance in many cases. – thursdaysgeek Jan 9 at 22:44
  • +1, usually people will just see the attendee list and if you declined without any reason, they'll just move with the meeting without you. Though ignoring said invites may be another matter, as some people would actually email, call or go to your desk and ask if you will be attending or not, so I advise declining the invites instead. – Basher Jan 9 at 23:22
  • You have a good point. Not giving a reason at first will give less working surface. Maybe I was overthinking it. – Chris Jan 10 at 6:52
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I need a quick way to reject many meetings without upsetting people.

In similar situations, I've blocked out large chunks of work hours each day on my shared Outlook calendar.

Then when I rejected meeting requests, it was always simple and easy to understand because "I'm busy with other work at that time." If anyone was upset, I never learned about it.

That works unless your boss is requesting the meeting.

  • 1
    Oooh, I like this one better than mine. – thursdaysgeek Jan 9 at 23:35
  • I used to block days when a certain amount of meetings was already scheduled. It's common that we share our calendars, so that people tell me they saw my blocker but theirs is an important meeting and invite me anyway. – Chris Jan 10 at 6:43
  • @Chris You can set your calendar to be "unblocked" only by you manager. So unless he insist on your presence no one can book you. They can invite you but get reply of non attendance. – SZCZERZO KŁY Jan 10 at 8:50
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    Adding to this, Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule seems relevant. Basically Paul Graham details how we reserves one half of the day for back-to-back meetings and the other half for actual work. – rath Jan 10 at 15:33
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First of all, establish if you're required by your role or superiors to attend these meetings.

If you are, you need to find ways to condense them, possibly by merging or shortening some (if you have the authority to do so).

If you need to attend but can't fix the amount and length by yourself you should inform your manager that your work is suffering from this.

Besides, are you the only one who has this problem ?

It helps to advocate for change in meeting culture if a group of people suffer negative impacts.

If you're the only one, you need to find the reason, especially if you're not in a lead or supervisor position.

Meetings serve an important purpose and should not be superficial, nor should they be ignored or rejected unless the topics discussed have absolutely no relation to your work or responsibilities.

If people plan too many redundant or unproductive meetings, this needs to be flagged with management.

Don't single out a person or meeting but keep your complaint general to avoid alienating colleagues.

After all, it is in company interest that you finish assignments rather than sit around talking without measurable results.

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