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Sometimes it becomes difficult to work a normal work week because you are in meetings for so long during the day you have minimal time to actually work during the day.

For example, if you have no meetings, you have 40 hours a week to work. If you have 10 meetings a week at an average of 1.5 hours each you are down to only 25 hours to work. There are many jobs where you have 20+ hours of meetings a week. Unfortunately, it is so common some of these meetings are not overly valuable, well led, or intentional, which can lead a difficult situation where you must work more time to make up for meetings which are, at the very least, seemingly a waste of time.

In situations where meetings fill your schedule, what are appropriate ways to try to manage your work/life balance other than simply working more hours?

  • 5
    The only real solution to 20+ hours of meetings in a single week is stop going to most of those meetings. You should not be expected to work pass the typical 40 hours of work in a given week because you are sitting in a conference room 20 of those hours. I am not saying you should not get "work done" but that seems like a little overkill. – Donald Aug 28 '12 at 16:05
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    Never work overtime due to too many meetings. The only way people will realize the meetings are taking too much time is when the project deadlines start to slip. – HLGEM Mar 4 '13 at 16:04
  • What I see most people do is to simply bring a laptop to the meeting and work during it. – Juha Untinen Apr 16 '18 at 9:57
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There are several reasons someone might hold unnecessary meetings or invite unnecessary people:

  • Insecurity. This is the most usual cause for someone new to a leadership position. Meetings help them feel more confident about their decisions. Counteract this by being proactive in providing them the information and feedback they need in other ways. For example, if someone's having too many status meetings, send them a ton of status emails instead.
  • Courtesy. A lot of times your presence is not required, but because of your position or expertise you will get invited as a courtesy. I usually invite my manager even when I'm almost certain he won't be able to make it. This gives him an opportunity to provide input beforehand and ask how it went afterward. If he's unsure how useful his presence will be, he comes and asks me how I intended for him to contribute to the meeting. Sometimes that results in him feeling like he really needs to be there, and sometimes he just gives me a couple thoughts for me to pass along to the team. If you think you're just being invited as a courtesy, ask.
  • Ignorance. Sometimes people just don't realize their meetings are ineffective. In those cases, it's best to talk to that person privately and see if you can come up with a better way to accomplish the same goals.

Some meetings really are necessary. If you're getting flooded with these, you can try:

  • Give your input to the organizer via a private conversation or email, for them to pass on.
  • Ask if your part of the agenda can be handled first, so you can leave.
  • See about getting large meetings split into smaller parts, so people can more easily decline ones they don't need to attend.
  • Constantly look for opportunities to take discussions off line. This is easier if you're running the meeting, but anyone can do it. If two people end up talking to each other and excluding the group, suggest they continue the conversation after the meeting. If incomplete information causes a discussion to go back and forth with hypotheticals, suggest someone take an action item to find out, and to continue the discussion when you know more. It can be difficult to recognize a tangent when you're the one going off on it.

You don't need to be worrying about working extra hours to make up for your meetings. After you have a certain amount of experience, sharing that experience at meetings is often more valuable to the company than working alone, because you are helping prevent several others from wasting time exploring in the wrong direction.

  • Most meeting software I have seen allows the use of "Optional" invitations, which are usually used in cases such as "courtesy" involvement, or if you just want to let your boss know "hey this happened" – user2813274 Aug 7 '14 at 17:05
  • @user2813274 It is very rare to find someone that can effectively use that feature. Most of the time the meeting organizer is too impatient to figure it out and just lumps everyone into the required category even if it's not the case. If I had a dollar for every time I've showed up to a required meeting and asked "Why are you here?"... – Foosh Oct 29 '14 at 17:12
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Discuss a couple of things with your supervisor:

  1. How many hours are you expected to work?
  2. A way to prioritize meetings.
  3. Consider meetings with the priorities of your tasks and determine which is more imporant at that time.
  4. Schedule time on your calendar to work on tasks if your company has an open calendar policy so everyone knows when you are available. Hopefully your supervisor will respect this as well.

I just think more people need to say no to meetings.

5

First, meetings are not a distraction from work. If you are being asked to attend meetings, they are part of your work. So treat them with the same professionalism you bring to your other work tasks.

Managing your meeting workload is a critical skill as you get beyond the trainee level. Learning how to run an effective meeting is a skill beyond price.
Meetings fall into several categories and handling them appropriately depends on the category. For example:

Client Meetings (including internal clients)

It is very difficult to avoid these meetings once you start getting invited to them. However, these meetings are precisely the ones you want to attend if you want to influence what will be done in a project. These are the meetings where you will make the client aware of how good you are and earn their trust. Anyone who can earn the trust of a client and sell them more of your product as a result is priceless. Therefore effectively attending these meetings is a good career move.

So don't blow these off or spend them working on code or other tasks. Pay attention, speak up when there is a chance to say something worthwhile and make sure the client gets a good impression of you.

If the client calls too many of them though, the best defense is that you need to be working on XYZ which has deadline of ASAP. If you are doing something that is clearly to their benefit, they are more willing to let you out of the meeting. Another tactic that the less senior person can take is to say that they will be available for consultation during the meeting period if the client needs information from them. That way you can work and get added into the teleconference if something comes up that only you can answer and you don't have to listen to the rest of the meeting. Another tactic is to ask to cover your information first, so that you can leave to go work on their deliverable.

I have found it is far easier to escape unneeded client meetings once you have won their trust. Part of why they are calling so many meetings is that they don't trust you to deliver their product on time and meeting the requirements. So start by paying attention and figuring out why they are unhappy. Then start to take the initiative to fix whatever they perceive as wrong.

General Business/HR meetings

These are generally timewasters that you can avoid unless they are made required. Really, if you don't have any questions about the new health insurance plan or how the 401K works, you can escape. A good way to escape is to tell your boss that attending will have an impact on delivering the XYZ product by ABC date and that the schedule would need to slip as a result.

General team, department, division meetings are often required as a vehicle to pass out corporate news, although if you don't abuse it you can often get the manager to give you a quick briefing after the meeting if you are involved in a project with a close deadline. Generally to keep our billable percentage of hours up, we aren't allowed to spend more than a half an hour a week in these kind of general team meetings. So you can use that as an argument to limit the time you spend on them if you need to.

Scheduling a client meeting at the same time (It was the only time they could meet) will work wonders in getting rid of some of these too.

Ones with no announced subject and no notice that are required are another matter, these generally fall into the category of the announcement of a layoff or a major business change (outsourcing or being bought by a another company) that could affect your day-to-day operations. Further, your lack of attendance will be noticed. And really after some of these meetings whatever you were working on becomes irrelevant anyway.

Technical design meetings

These are the kind of meetings that can actually be fun. You get to influence more than just your small part of the project. You get to hear other people's ideas which may teach you some new tricks. Generally these are less formal and involve a lot of writing on a whiteboard. Try to get invited to these. An hour of tossing around ideas before you code can save a lot of time down the road when it is time to start coding. Regular invitations to these sorts of meetings shows you are respected as a professional in your field. If these start getting out of hand, start volunteering to run the meeting. Then you can keep it on track and keep the time down to a reasonable amount.

Progress meetings

The bane of our existence. Pretty much everyone, except senior managers, hates progress meetings. However, without them, it is sad but true, many projects would never make any progress. SCRUM requires daily stand-ups just for that reason. Not only do you know everyday where the project stands, you can easily see who isn't making progress or get people reassigned to areas that need help. If you have to attend these (and chances are good you will have to if you are involved in any type of project work), then at least pay attention, you might find that George is doing something that will affect what you are doing. Now just because you aren't the person who called the meeting doesn't mean you can't step in to lead it if it is going off into the weeds. Almost everyone will appreciate someone who puts the meeting back on track and gets them out of there. Keep a stock list of phrases that will help move this stuff along such as:

"Joe and Mary, you two clearly need to work out some details without the rest of us, why don't you two get together after this meeting and report back at the next meeting."

"Can I go ahead and talk about XYZ now as I need to go to another meeting after this one?"

" I think we have gotten off track, we are here to discuss XYZ, let's stay with that. Bill if you need to discuss FGH then please call a meeting of the people involved only in that later today."

A well-timed request for a bathroom break can give you the opportunity to realize that this critical email came in while you were in the meeting and that you must leave to attend to that urgent issue. Sometimes, just asking for a bathroom break will allow everyone to say they need to continue at a later, unspecified time. Don't do this in a meeting that has gone on less than an hour however.

Do not work overtime just to make up for lost time due to meetings. Adjust the project schedules if meetings take up too much time. This step alone will make people more aware of the impact of too many meetings.

If you feel you are invited to meetings you have no need to attend, then ask the person in charge of the meeting what he or she expects you to bring to the table. Sometimes a five minute conversation before a meeting can get you out of it.

Also, if the people keep inviting you when you you don't think you should be there, then get your boss involved in getting you out of those meetings. Remind him that every minute you are attending a meeting to discuss why it might be nice to do ABC next year, you aren't making progress on DEF that is due right now.

But if he says ABC is a higher priority, then it is. Just don't enable managers by working an extra 20 hours to make up for the lost 20 hours of meeting time. If they say the meeting is the priority, then it is the priority and the other work will slip just like when they add a new important feature and the less important one gets bumped down the list.

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    I'm not really sure why this for downvoted... – enderland Mar 3 '13 at 13:09
  • @enderland I imagine the reason for the downvotes is the very first sentance. – MrFox Mar 5 '13 at 19:21
  • @MrFox, that would be my guess as well. Doesn't make it any less true though that some people don't want to hear it. – HLGEM Mar 5 '13 at 19:34
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    Political reasons makes it work. The trick is not to try to work 40 hours on top of the meetings. If they think it is more important that you be in a meeting, then that is where you spend the hours. Working overtime to make up the time is what makes people think they can overschedule you in meetings. – HLGEM Mar 5 '13 at 20:03
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    You're assuming a non-dysfunctional organization that acts rationally :). In my case, for example, we had different groups interally fighting for funding. There is nothing that my direct manager could do for me to protect me from it, and it was within all of our interests to win 'the fight'. I imagine that a lot of people work in large companies that spend a lot of time infighting and the technical people will sometimes get dragged into it. BTW I did not downvote your answer and I think it is mostly good. It's just that that first little part doesn't jive with my experience. – MrFox Mar 5 '13 at 20:19
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  • Stop going to/decline the least important meetings.
  • Work with your boss to explain that you're getting very little done because you're wasting so much time not working. Let them work on that.
  • Find an environment where people actually do business efficiently. 20+ hours of meetings is not that common.
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    Your boss should be the first step here; a big part of his job is removing the barriers to your productivity. – KeithS Aug 28 '12 at 23:44
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This is a really hard problem if the culture is meeting oriented and often it is the supervisor who creates these meetings.

While I think that directly addressing the problem (as others suggest) is worthwhile if you can pull it off, there are some other things that you can do also:

  1. Send or use a proxy for your presence. If your contribution is peripheral, you might be able ask a meeting attendee to debrief you on the items from the meeting that are pertinent to you/your-team and then follow-up as needed. Alternatively, have members of the team offer to take turns attending meetings for each other and debriefing pointedly.

  2. Decline the meeting and ask for meeting minutes instead. Why not? it would show that someone actually reads these things, and if there's a lot of fluff in the meeting the short minutes will make that excruciatingly clear.

  3. Finally, and I think this is important, make your own meetings short, small, effective and to the point. Providing a clear example of how to not waste time will do far more than any amount of argument about how meetings are taking too much time.

1
  • Involve your boss; tell him that there are not enough hours in the week to attend 20 hours of meetings and still do your assigned work. Your boss is there to remove things that hinder your productivity, and excessive meetings are one of them.
  • Decline the least important meetings, or the ones being organized by the people you know have the least amount of organizational skills. Inform your boss before declining if the odds are good he'll hear about it anyway; he may have a better suggestion for a meeting to decline than the one involving his boss' boss, or at the very least he'll appreciate the heads-up.
  • Change the expectations of your job title. If you really are expected to participate and contribute to 20 hours of meetings a day, you may have become more important for your knowledge than your code production. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the people who pay you must have a similar outlook on the situation. If you're expected to code, clear your calendar and code. If you're expected to sit in meetings, then commit your code for someone else to work on and sit in meetings.
  • You can't be expected to work 60 hours a week for a salary calibrated to 40-45 hours. Any such expectation is unreasonable, and you should push back. If you get slapped down, leave; it's not worth it.

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