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I'm invited to a lot of "meetings that should be emails". I'm currently doing a lot of unpaid overtime because of, among others, that. I have a list of tasks to complete. In a typical workday I can't start even one of them since I spend time in not necessary meetings planned with a very short notice.

So colleague Sam (my peer) schedules a meeting in 4 hours with title "Current situation" or "Project - next steps" or something similarly vague. No description.

I've no idea what the meeting is to be about and judging by who proposed it there's a huge chance he didn't invite the right persons or he will want me to "explain him AWS" (he has a non-technical role on a technical project. He wants to be explained a lot of technicalities).

When I ping him and ask what the topic of the meeting is, he says, he wanted to get diagram A and ask about the process for B. I say: "Let me send you the diagram. I haven't even started designing a process for B, so I really can't say anything about it". I propose that we cancel the meeting if that's all.

He accusses me of not being a team player and working in silos.

How should I cover my ass in this case? I'm trying to help everyone, but my workload is currently unbearable and useless meetings that shouldn't happen contribute to that.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Jul 16 at 19:28
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    For the repeat offenders... have you tried asking them to start with an email request instead of a meeting? Some people think that everything needs to be a meeting to get your full attention and get their stuff done on time (with less importance on interrupting your work schedule).
    – JeffC
    Jul 16 at 21:05
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    There are other similar questions/answers on this site; maybe you'll find some of them useful? workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/3485/…, workplace.stackexchange.com/a/137156/98765, workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/126168/….
    – zmike
    Jul 17 at 19:49
  • The title mentions "people" in plural getting angry, but your example is only one person. I think it is important to know whether it is a single person that is difficult or the whole company culture being meeting heavy.
    – Helena
    Jul 18 at 9:19

10 Answers 10

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  1. Talk to your manager. Make sure you are aligned on your meeting load AND the impact it has on your deliverables. Ask for advice on how to respond to meeting requests that are (in your opinion) not useful and how to reduce number of meetings to the "target".
  2. Stop the unpaid overtime.
  3. Block out work time on your calendar. Make sure there is not more time for meetings available then you are willing to spend on meetings. You can always make room for something important if needed.
  4. You can decline meetings, but it's best done "politely". Example Thanks for the invite but I currently have a tight deadline on project X. Can this wait a bit? In the meantime here is the documentation for A. I haven't done anything on project B yet, maybe we can meet once there is something to actually review
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    I recently blocked out 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM on my calendar, every week day. People saw my calendar being empty around lunch time, so they kept scheduling meetings during that time slot. I use that time slot to check my email, get real work done, sometimes run errands, and occasionally have a nice lunch so I don't get hangry with my coworkers. I still get scheduled for (and accept) meetings in that time slot, but not nearly as many as before I blocked it out. Jul 15 at 12:56
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    Blocking out a chunk of time is a great idea. It makes people think. You'll still have to occasionally accept meeting invites during that blocked-out time, but at least they'll ask. "Dave, I really need to have a meeting with you, and the only time I can do that is noon tomorrow." My response will be "Okay, fine. But please don't make a habit out of it." Jul 15 at 13:06
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    Someone told me #3 and I wish it happened years sooner; it's truly incredible how simple but effective it is at improving your productivity. I'll also add: you can set your status to "Busy" during those blocks and have notifications suppressed so you have uninterrupted time to think and work. Jul 16 at 1:07
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    #2 is a "world view" solution. In the US, a certain amount of unpaid overtime is expected of white collar/salaried/exempt employees. Sometimes, it's even scheduled/demanded by management (often accompanied by company provided dinner) to get through a critical project. It's often (somewhat) offset by more flexibility in hours (knock off early on a Friday after a long week, take a whole day off w/o taking PTO, leave for a personal appt w/o PTO, etc - usually prompted by a reasonable manager). That said, working 7am-9pm or more, especially for long periods, is ridiculous.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 16 at 12:03
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    @FreeMan I think that is important to the answer of the question. Is the OP salaried/exempt? If not, then stop working unpaid overtime. In some jurisdictions, and for some customers, it's illegal. If the OP is, then it's not 'unpaid overtime' it's work, deal with it, and change your mental viewpoint to match, or quit and be employed as hourly or non-exempt.
    – CGCampbell
    Jul 16 at 14:13
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The problem is not the meetings per se, the problem is that you are doing unpaid overtime work because you are unable to complete your tasks during normal working hours.

Meetings are a part of every job. Yes there are meetings that should probably have been an email but you never know until you actually attend the meeting.

It's great to be a team player, but not at the expense of your time or your job. If you have assigned tasks that need to be done, then decline any meeting invites that would prevent you from completing your tasks during normal business hours.

If the meeting organizers have any issue with this, you can direct them to your manager and let your manager decide if your time is best spent in a meeting or actively working on your tasks. Under no circumstances, however, should you be working unpaid overtime to complete your tasks. If you cannot complete your tasks during normal working hours, due to a meeting or anything else, you need to speak with your manager and let them know why the proposed deadline is unfeasible.

If you are expected to do unpaid overtime at this company, it may be time to start looking for a new company to work for.

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    It's two separate problems, right? If OP had not mentioned the unpaid overtime, we would be addressing the unneeded meetings issue directly.
    – Corey
    Jul 15 at 14:02
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    @Corey Not necessarily. "Unneeded" is a subjective term; one person's "unneeded" meeting could be another person's "mission critical" meeting. A number of years back, I was working at a company where our processes were completely FUBAR, and nobody had any idea what was going on. In particular, the developers (me) were getting new requirements from PM every day because the customers kept changing their asks. So one day, I called a meeting between my team, PM, my boss, and the customers, to hash out the details. After the meeting, the lead customer emailed me to say how productive...
    – Ertai87
    Jul 15 at 14:48
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    ... and great that meeting was and how much we got done. PM agreed, and so did my team. My boss, on the other hand, called me into his office and told me how terrible and how much of a waste of time that meeting was and how nothing got accomplished. It's definitely a matter of perspective.
    – Ertai87
    Jul 15 at 14:49
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    @Ertai87 OP is asking specifically about unneeded meetings in the objective sense. There is nothing to indicate that perspectives are out of alignment. I have worked with this type of offender before, and we created policies that targeted his behavior specifically. Let's take OP at their word.
    – Corey
    Jul 15 at 15:17
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    @Corey There are plenty of threads on this forum where an OP says something is "unnecessary" or "unneeded" but when you drill into what the OP is actually talking about, it turns out those "unneeded" things are actually very valuable and the OP is working off a bad premise. I'm going to choose to not take OP at their word on this one. "Unnecessary" is a subjective term. (I'm also not going to discount OP's claim; they may be right, but without more information I would not say that OP's meetings are blanket "unnecessary")
    – Ertai87
    Jul 15 at 15:29
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You are conflating a handful of problems. You can solve them and still be a team player. You are also experiencing a communication problem that is being masked by your current specific problem.

Too many meetings, can't get anything done

  1. Block your calendar for focus time. You could even get buy-in from your manager. "Boss I'd like to devote 50% of each day to focus time. If that's alright with you I'll block my calendar."

Sam needs to get better at some things

  1. Sam could use some guidance on scheduling meetings in a way that better respects people's time. Completing async tasks outside of meetings, More notice, really good descriptions, more attention to invite lists. You could provide this feedback directly and/or to his boss. I prefer one effort at direct then escalation to management.

  2. Sam is asking you to train him. Is that your job? Some explanation is reasonable, too much is not. Does his job role require that he know AWS. Perhaps he needs to train up. If he lacks knowledge he needs, you could help, you could point him at training resources, you could suggest to his manager that he could benefit from specific training.

Too much

  1. You may have more work than can be completed in normal working hours. Perhaps you could offload some of that along with guarding your time for focus hours. Doing so could free you up to both complete your tasks and be a team player. Everybody likes a team player.

Big picture you need closer relationships so you can safely have difficult conversations.

  1. I had a colleague who once answered my question with "I know the answer to that, I also know that you know where to look it up." I really appreciated it because it taught me how to find the line between expedient and dependent. We could only have such a candid conversation because we trusted each other. You may wish to work at building rapport with Sam so you can have candid conversations with him. If this were me I'd buy him a beer. Talk about other things, but the important stuff will surface. With a little bit more mutual empathy y'all can start to have the important conversations: "Bro, I'm slammed. I can't be in 6 hours of meetings every day and you're not helping", to which he might say "Bro I can't get anything done on my end because I'm waiting on info from you." at which point you might be able to meet in the middle.
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Filling your calendar with time slots allocated to important tasks works wonders in a situation like yours. Say, you have an important task A which you have to finish by the end of the day, and it takes 4 hours. First thing in the morning, find a 4-hour slot and book it in your calendar with "Working on A" event.

Now, if Sam needs a meeting with you during these 4 hours, it will be very clear to everyone that you will attend this meeting at the expense of A not being completed today. If Sam asks you to reschedule this "Working on A" event, you honestly try to find another 4-hour slot, and if there is none left, write an e-mail to the stakeholder of A saying:

Hi boss, Sam needs me on his meeting, which means A will have to wait until tomorrow. Is that OK?

Or, if the stakeholder of A is not very responsive, you can ask Sam to get the stakeholder's approval before you accept, so that their unresponsiveness would not be your problem anymore.

If the stakeholder says yes, you can do A tomorrow, no reason for overtime. If they say no, forward their reply to Sam and deny Sam's invitation.

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    What's your recommendation if the "boss" doesn't reply to the conflict inquiry (in time)? Jul 16 at 15:44
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    @DanielR.Collins I usually put it on the inviter... "Inviter, Sorry but I've been assigned Project A as my highest priority. Your meeting conflicts with my ability to complete Project A on time and so will need to be run by my manager. Once you get my manager's approval and they inform me that I can attend your meeting instead, I'll accept." or something like that. Now the inviter has to explain the meeting to my boss and get my boss' signoff that their meeting is more important than me doing tasks towards my high pri project. I've been using this successfully for years.
    – JeffC
    Jul 16 at 20:53
  • @JeffC Good idea, I'll add this to the answer. Jul 17 at 11:43
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One of the most powerful words in our lexicon is "No".

Inform your colleague via email that your work takes priority and you don't have time for these additional meeting requests scheduled outside the normal work day which you don't believe add value to the company. Make sure your manager is CC'd on the email.

You work for the company, not your colleague.

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    @speciesUnknown People who can't handle blunt facts are generally people it is best to ignore or sideline.
    – Ian Kemp
    Jul 16 at 9:31
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    That depends entirely on who they are. Don't make my mistake and let it become an HR issue. Jul 16 at 9:40
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    @speciesUnknown A colleague demanding meetings outside of work hours without even asking if you have time for said meeting is not being reasonable. Jul 16 at 9:48
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    @user1666620 in the comments the OP says their manager schedules meetings outside of work hours Jul 16 at 9:54
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    Trust me. You have to sugar coat things - I've recently discovered that being blunt is grounds for an HR complaint. Jul 16 at 10:04
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Stop overtime.

You set no location so I don't know if at all possible, but unpaid overtime is not mandatory where I work.

Keep your boss up to date with your progress (or lack of it) and the reason (long hours in meetings) and let the people in charge decide.

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    Some amount of unpaid overtime has been pretty much expected with every employer I've worked for. People have been dinged for not providing enough UOT. Jul 15 at 12:52
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    @DavidHammen I guess you're talking about the US? As a counterexample, the notion of "unpaid overtime" does not exist at all in the labor laws of some EU countries. As the answer says, we don't know the location.
    – TooTea
    Jul 15 at 13:16
  • @TooTea Since the OP wrote about unpaid overtime, we can pretty much guess that the OP does not live in Europe. As you wrote, unpaid overtime is illegal in much of Europe. On the other hand, unpaid overtime is standard operating procedure for salaried employees in much of the US. Jul 15 at 14:41
  • @TooTea The OP mentioned in comments that they are sometimes scheduled for 7:00 PM meetings, and that their boss sees them online at 7:00 AM and 9:00 PM. That would never happen in Europe. It often happens in high tech companies in the US. I'm assuming US, and probably somewhere on the west coast. Jul 15 at 14:49
  • @DavidHammen This happens in the US, but I do not believe it is common. Regardless of location, it is dumb - even if it is legal.
    – emory
    Jul 16 at 0:34
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The others answered what you should do: Speak with your manager.

You seem surprised that people get angry when you tell them this meeting should be an email. So I want to focus on the communication aspect.

Compare these two replies to a meeting invitation.

a) This meeting should be an email, write one.

b) Hey, I have a lot of work and tight schedules right now. Sadly, I don't have time for this meeting now, but I will have next week. I'd appreciate if you write a detailed agenda for this, so I can come prepared. If you don't want to wait, you could email me your questions and I'll try to find a few minutes to answer them.

If this doesn't work for you, please involve my manager so he can change priority of my tasks.

Reply b) is much more likely to be received with understanding. Because it gives the other party choices, they still feel like they have some sort of control. Now your preferred path (email) also has upsides for them: It's faster than waiting and likely less effort than convincing your manager that this meeting is more important than some other task you do.

Your manager should be aware of your tasks and their priority. And if your manager says this meeting can wait, well, you tried to be a team player, right? It's your manager's job to prioritize your tasks and to protect you so you can actually do them. So let him say no for you.

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  • You misunderstood in a very strange way. I have never told anyone that "this meeting should be an email, write one". "Meeting should be an email" is an expression I've used in the title of the thread here.
    – user216856
    Jul 16 at 7:40
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Do not say "No," but instead get the team to say "No."

If the team says no to the useless meeting, then it is the person scheduling the meeting that is not the team player. The problem is that the team has given complicit consent to working ridiculous hours and attending terrible meetings. Since the question is focused on the meetings only for this answer I will be ignoring the working overtime and focus on getting the team on board to saying no to these meetings.

I am assuming not everyone on the team is scheduling these meetings. As such begin having one-on-one conversations with those who are good about not scheduling excessive meetings but get dragged into them. Ask them if these meetings are impacting their work, or interfering with their ability to do things outside of work. The goal is to ask questions that get them to open up and vent about their own frustrations.

If the majority of the team in private is willing to vent about their frustrations about the meetings then at either the next retrospective or equivalent raise this and get the team to agree and say no to any meeting after X time, meetings without fixed and detailed agendas will be rejected, and if the objectives of the meeting are achievable outside of the meeting then the meeting is rejected. At that point anyone who does this is no longer the team player and if you decline the meeting you have the team backing you.

If the team has no concept of a retrospective or equivalent then a special meeting needs to be scheduled to "go over ideas for optimize team performance" or something similarly vague but still meaningful.

Now if the boss' boss is scheduling meetings after 7:00 pm (as mentioned in comments) there is not too much you can do about it. The best course of action is to explain to them how the team is trying to establish things like no meetings after X time and if they can do the same it would set an amazing and great example to everyone (brown nosing and praising them as much as possible if that is effective).

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    Getting buy-in from others is good. But it is also possible some of those others are guilty of scheduling equally useless meetings, and even know it.
    – donjuedo
    Jul 16 at 23:29
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This takes some guerilla tactics. It seems like you are in a situation where other people in the company does not respect your time. They seem to have different priorities from you -- you want to deliver your assigned task, they seem to want something different. And, to speed forward to the last point, your manager is the judge on priorities, not you.

So start by working on the time aspect. You will talk to your manager about this later, but when talking to managers always bring facts.

  1. Become very good at reporting your time. Keep a detailed diary down to how every 15 minutes of your day is spent. Use a program, a notebook or whatever works for you. Maybe set an alarm to go off every one hour and note down the quarters before that. Note down what project / what task or similar and what activity you did. This will take about 5% of your time initially (three minutes per hour), but it will pay back greatly. In the end of the week summarise the time spent (say, 10 minutes every week).

  2. Become better at planning your time. Once a week, sit down and plan the coming week. Write down the priorities you have -- what you expect to deliver or achieve. My suggestion is to have less than 10 points - if you are a developer maybe only three points. Check at the end of week how far you got on your priorities. This will take you about 10 minutes every week.

  3. Become better at forecasting time, both in man-hours and in calender days. Work on breaking down larger chunks of work into smaller pieces. As a developer, a task should always be less than two calendar weeks. Check afterwards how good your assumption was and slowly (months, years) learn to improve.

  4. In order to be able to do 3. you need to allocate your time to tasks. Do not forget to allocate time to things like planning, follow up, meetings and so on. Do this on a weekly basis and check afterwards how the allocation turned out, remember the time reporting in 1. (takes about 10 minutes).

  5. Always prepare for meetings, and always do the paper work afterward. Take at least 15 minutes before a meeting to prepare the things to be discussed (or what you guess will be discussed). Prepare a minutes document. In the meeting, write minutes, detailing how long time each "thing" were discussed. After the meeting take 15 minutes to fix up the minutes document and distribute it to the participants. Store it for later usage. A good way to show the unpredictability of the meeting is to include the invitation exactly as you received it, including the time it arrived. In the minutes be short and factual. Do not blame anyone, never say things like the meeting was unnecessary (an intelligent reader will understand that anyway).

    My experience in physical meetings is that the best way is to open the minutes on a screen seen by all participants and actually write the minutes in the meeting. This will make the meeting go slower, but it is worth it. A few meetings later, people will prepare and distribute material ahead of the meeting.

  6. After about two weeks, it is the time to take the facts to your manager and discuss priorities. Send him the material and questions in advance (be the good inviter you want others to be). Is the time reporting you did the best way to use your time for the best of the company? You now have facts showing what you planned do to, what you actually did, how it effected your deliveries and facts on what contribution the meetings had to the company. Remember you are employed to contribute your full time to helping the company achieve its goals, and you are not aware of the full picture.

  7. There are other tactics to protect your time. One of them is to schedule recurring meetings, say every week. Put the time in the calender, and refer all short questions to these meetings (no need for extra meetings on short notice). In addition to minutes, keep an itemized list on Activities -- what to do, who should do it, when it should be done, and details if necessary. Start each meeting by noting the status on each of the open points. This will seem unnecessary and takes time, but in my experience it actually saves a lot of time. Move closed items to the minutes of the meeting. Be extra careful to always write decisions into the meeting.

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  • Re "write decisions into the meeting": Do you mean "write decisions into the minutes" (or "write decisions in the minutes" or "include decisions in the minutes")? Or something else? Jul 17 at 19:39
  • @PeterMortensen : sorry, I mean write decisions into the minutes.
    – ghellquist
    Jul 17 at 19:41
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I'm currently doing a lot of unpaid overtime

Stop that immediately.

Never, ever, ever work more than your standard 35 hours - ever - for any reason.

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    Where do you live, and in which field of work? There are a number of high tech companies in the US where salaried people are paid for working 40 hours per week but are expected to work 60 hours per week, minimum. There are other high tech companies that poach burnt-out employees from these companies with the promise that they'll only have to work 50 hour weeks. I've never heard of a high tech company with a 35 hour work week. Jul 15 at 12:46
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    @DavidHammen While OP doesn't mention their country, it's entirely possible they are in a first world nation.
    – Studoku
    Jul 15 at 13:48
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    In some countries lunch is not included into your 40 work hours. This means you stay 9 hours per day at work, with 8 working hours and 1 more hour of unpaid time you spend on lunch.
    – Alex
    Jul 15 at 21:27
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    40 hours a week with unpaid lunches is the standard in my part of Canada. But even ignoring the standard hours issue, this answer does not fully address the OP's question.
    – aleppke
    Jul 15 at 21:35
  • @Alex That's very true. In some jurisdictions, having people working on their unpaid lunch break is grounds for overtime payment too Jul 16 at 13:47

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