Is your calendar full of video conferences and other meetings? You’re not alone. According to a survey of more than 500 knowledge workers by the engagement app Polly, we’re spending five times more time in meetings than we did before the pandemic.
We’ve noticed the same trend — and signs of meeting overload — internally. While Boomer Consulting, Inc. was a fully remote firm long before the pandemic shut down many offices, the number of hours our consultants and team members spend in meetings each week has gone up dramatically. And while meetings can be productive and valuable, spending too much time in meetings makes it tough to get work done and can lead to burnout.
Signs your team is suffering from meeting overload
Here are three signs that you’re attending way too many meetings.
You feel the need to be always available. While remote work offers many advantages, it can also create an “always available” environment when the barriers between your home- and work-life are thin or nonexistent. Before you know it, you’re accepting meetings from clients and colleagues in other time zones that require you to wake up hours early or miss out on family dinners.
Fear of missing out. When you see a meeting on a colleague’s calendar, do you wonder what they’re talking about or why you weren’t invited? Do you spend a lot of time in meetings you don’t need to attend? Do you worry that your voice won't be heard if you aren’t included in every meeting? “Fear of missing out,” or FOMO, can lead you to feel anxious about meetings you’re not attending.
There’s no time for anything else. When a huge chunk of your working hours are filled with meetings, there’s little time to carry out your normal day-to-day responsibilities. As a result, you find yourself working early mornings, evenings and weekends to get stuff done.
You multitask during meetings. You’re a master multi-tasker, so you can glean all the necessary information from a meeting while checking email and completing other work tasks. The problem is, at the end of the meeting, you haven’t taken a single note and would be hard-pressed to summarize the conversation. (It’s not just you. A study conducted by Stanford found that multitaskers consistently perform poorly compared to non-multitaskers, and heavy multitaskers perform worst of all.)
Meetings are impacting firm culture. When meetings are badly run, instead of improving communication and collaboration, they undermine those traits and leave people dissatisfied with their jobs.
Burnout. You spend a large chunk of your day staring at a screen during video meetings, leaving you feeling disengaged and exhausted. You may even lose focus during meetings or feel physical pain from being forced to sit in the same position for extended periods of time.
Strategies for overcoming meeting overload
If meeting overload is taking over your firm’s culture, it’s not too late to reverse the trend. Here are our strategies for regaining control.
Audit your meetings
Review your calendar and ask:
Is this meeting the most appropriate approach to what we’re trying to accomplish? Would an email, instant message, or task in your project management solution be a better choice?
Are the right people (and only the right people) invited?
Is there a defined and relevant reason for the meeting?
Could this 30 minute or hour-long meeting accomplish the same goal in 15 minutes?
Eliminate unnecessary meetings, uninvite unnecessary people and trim down overly long meetings. Everyone will appreciate the time saved.
Never schedule a meeting without an agenda
We used to have a rule at Boomer Consulting: you were free to decline if someone invited you to a meeting without an agenda. That rule forced the person scheduling the meeting to think about the meeting’s purpose and length. That rule fell by the wayside at some point in the last couple of years, but we’re reviving it.
Without an agenda, your meeting doesn’t have a structure to follow, and it quickly falls victim to tangents instead of purposeful conversations.
Block meeting-free time on your calendar
Being able to view and schedule on your coworker’s calendar or have clients book meetings with you via an app like Calendly is a lot more convenient than sending dozens of emails back and forth trying to schedule a time that works for everyone. But left unchecked, your days can quickly devolve into back-to-back meetings with no time for getting actual work done.
Ensure you have time to prepare for essential meetings and accomplish important tasks by blocking out time. At Boomer Consulting, we do this in two ways:
Focus time. This is time we need to work without interruption.
Buffer time. This is time added to another meeting or engagement. Adding an extra five to 10 minutes gives you time to decompress, take a break, finish up notes or prepare for your next appointment.
When we block out focus or buffer time on our calendars, nobody can schedule meetings over it.
Leverage a project management tool
Many accounting firms use a workflow solution to manage tax, audit, and other client engagements. But what about all the other projects and tasks that make up your workload? These projects tend to require more emails and meetings without a project management tool.
Whether you expand the use of your existing workflow solution to accommodate other kinds of tasks or use a different system like Asana or Monday, look for ways to better leverage these systems. You may be able to make a serious dent in the number of meetings on your calendar when team members collaborate on projects asynchronously using these tools.
Fighting burnout and improving work/life balance should be a top priority for every firm leader right now. One of the ways you can do this is by preventing meeting overload from taking over your firm culture. Meetings won’t and shouldn’t go away for good, but taking steps to eliminate the unnecessary ones and make the crucial ones more productive will foster a happier and more engaged team.
Is your firm ready to stop wasting time on inconsistent and bloated processes?
Boomer Process Consulting can help you create a lasting process improvement strategy that frees up the capacity to deliver higher-value services to your clients. Schedule a discovery call today to start seeing real results.
As the Director of Project Management for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Erin plans, organizes, secures and manages resources for the firm’s many service and program areas, including providing assistance and constant communication with clients and sponsors and serving as an even liaison. Her primary duties include overseeing and managing the specifics of all Boomer Consulting, Inc. communities, such as the Boomer Technology Circles, CIO Circle, Managing Partner Circle, Advisor Circle, Talent Circle, Lean Circle, NextGen Circle and the P3 Leadership Academy.”