Less meeting, more thinking

My last post on this topic is now nearly 3 years old. My view on this topic has evolved quite a bit and here are the main differences:

  1. Bad meetings are rampant everywhere and they incur significant cost in time and effort
  2. The faster the world moves, the more crucial “thinking time” is for executive
  3. There is a vast difference of opinion on how much time should be spent on meetings but it’s good to start somewhere
  4. Meeting best practices are there but it takes discipline to follow through

Badly run meetings cost more than $37B per year

According to this research, executives spend about 40-50% of their time (23 hours) on meetings per week. Out of that, about 8 hours per week (1 day) are unnecessary and poorly run.
In the US alone, on an annual basis, this leads to an estimated cost of about $37 billion.
90% of people are daydreaming in meetings some times and more than half find meetings to be unproductive.

Thinking time is more crucial than ever

In an ever increasing chaotic, fast-moving world, it is even more important for managers to allocate time to think.
It helps them to differentiate signal from noise, to identify, review and adopt the best course of actions to achieve medium to long term strategic goals. It is not new news to many of us regarding the 80/20 rule where a few ideas/projects can have a disproportionate impact on the business.

During a recent conversation with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria, Yuval Harari said that the one thing he would recommend to fellow European leaders “to have more free time to think” because of great challenges ahead.

But my calendar is busy all the time and people just put new invites constantly?
Well, Dorie Clark has a few suggestions which can help in the article “how to get out of meeting you know will waste your time” or “do you really need to hold that meeting” from Elizabeth Grace Saunders. It is basically about instituting a company-wide culture to articulate clearly why the meeting should happen, what decision we are trying to make and what specific contribution each person will make in the meeting.
Some meetings are more to build the relationship and you need to treat them differently of course.

How much thinking time is ideal?

It depends on who you ask. If you ask Warren Buffett, he hardly has any meetings. “You know, I had every minute packed and I thought that was the only way you could do things,” says Gates. But, he says, Buffett taught him the importance of giving yourself time to think. Berkshire Hathaway has close to four hundred thousands employees yet Buffet has less than 4 planned meetings per month. Buffett makes decisions very quickly though, deals worth tens of billions of dollars are often concluded after 1 or 2 meetings, within a few days.

If Buffett recommendation is a bit too much for you and you feel anxious to suddenly reduce the meetings to such a small number, Neil Pasricha suggests a more practical answer with one day per week.

For me personally, I have “Chandler Monday”. It simply means I allocate at least half a day every week on Monday afternoon to sit down and think. I block it from my calendar every week. Some weeks I have to move it due to business travel but otherwise, it stays.

Monday afternoon works best for me as it helps me to gather all context from other regions (US, EMEA) and review at my priorities for the weeks, months ahead.

Meeting best practices are there but it takes discipline to follow through

Yes, I hear you and I am trying my best too. It takes continuous effort to ensure that meetings are set up properly, especially with senior stakeholders. But like most things in life, change or adaptation needs to start from somewhere and there is no better place than yourself.

One thing to keep in mind is the size of the meeting. A research from Stanford suggests that perhaps 8 is the maximum number of people you should have in a meeting. While 8 attendees can be a maximum for a meeting if you want to solve an issue or make a decision, there is an 8-18-1800 guideline that you can take a look. “If you want to brainstorm, then you can go as high as 18 people.”


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