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How to Reduce Meetings: Ways to Have Fewer Meetings at Work

Meetings are where collaboration thrives, but when you have too many meetings, burnout is more likely than teamwork. Below, learn how to have fewer meetings at work.

By  •   March 10, 2022  •   8 min read

Have you ever heard – or said – that there are “too many meetings” on your calendar? At first, it sounds a little silly: After all, meetings are important for discussing goals and project milestones while overcoming unexpected obstacles. That said, holding too many regularly recurring meetings can be a trap. Pull team members away from their desks too often, and good luck keeping their productivity levels high. Here are our suggestions for touching base with your team without calling a meeting each and every time.

Can you have too many meetings? 

Yes, companies can – and often do – have too many meetings. And look, we get it: There’s a lot of ground to cover each day, so it’s not surprising that some managers may rely a bit too heavily on them. But despite how well they keep everyone on the same page and create collaborative environments, excessive meetings can hold your team back. The trick is to make the most out of every meeting you have, aiming for each one to be productive, informative, and as mindful of your team’s time as possible.

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Make every meeting productive by having an agenda sent out in advance so everyone can collaborate and make the best use of time. Try a collaborative tool like Fellow!

How many meetings are ‘too many’?

This question can be tricky to answer. No two companies work in precisely the same way, no two teams face the same challenges, and not every employee has the same attention span. So the number of meetings you can hold while ensuring your staff remains productive and engaged varies by organization and often within the same company. Still, though, employees often find at least some of their meetings unproductive – though you can change that.

A Harvard Business Review survey found that 71 percent of employees regard meetings as wasted time. Well over half of the employees surveyed thought that their time spent in unproductive meetings kept them from meaningful tasks and deep work. Given these viewpoints, it’s easy to see a problem brewing. So then, despite meetings being a great way to align your team and build trust, how can you tell when you’re holding too many?

Signs that you might be having too many meetings

If you’re worried your company is holding too many meetings, you can look for several signs to be sure. These indicators range from the obvious – declining employee productivity – to more subtle clues such as generally poor meetings. Some signs that you’re having too many meetings include:

  • Less productivity. Productive meetings can improve your team’s work, but unproductive ones can do the opposite. Think about it like this: Spending too much time in meetings means spending less time focusing on individual tasks. After all, there’s only so much time in a day to get work done. Spending several hours per week in meetings depletes your team’s time to complete their tasks with any sort of quality.
  • Lack of decisions. While some meetings are purely informational, you’ll hold other meetings to push your team toward action. The idea is to combine a bunch of different perspectives to work toward achieving a common goal. And sure, disagreements might happen, but conflict resolution skills can help there. That said, if your meetings are so fraught you don’t make any decisions, it might be because the tension is burning out your team.
  • Lack of discussion. The most productive team meetings come from a dialogue among participants – the best ideas often come from collaboration. So if you’re the center of attention and no one else participates, then why are you meeting? Your meeting probably could’ve been an email. 
  • No meeting agenda. Your meetings can run into problems if your team thinks they lack a purpose. That’s why you should precede every meeting with a clear statement of what you plan to achieve and how your team can contribute. You can condense this all into a meeting agenda. Without creating one and sending it in advance, your meeting isn’t likely to be productive, and that’s time your team can’t get back.
  • Meeting madness. All these issues are part of something called “meeting madness.” To understand this concept, think about how different employees can handle different numbers of meetings. Well, you could describe meeting madness as what happens when your meeting volume gets past this number. Morale starts to drop, productivity suffers, and your organization starts to lose good employees as they begin looking for greener, less stressful pastures.

Tips to reduce the number of meetings

It’s one thing to identify that you’re holding too many meetings. But how do you actually reduce the number of meetings you hold? You can’t just avoid meetings altogether – they’re still important for collaboration, planning, and so much more. These tips can help control the number of meeting you call for while still remaining productive.

1 Set aside time for your most pressing tasks

If you find yourself accepting so many meeting invitations you stuff your calendar full, you might struggle to get all your work done. To avoid falling into this trap, block time in your schedule for your most important tasks. A few hours a day, if not more, should do the trick. Make sure you don’t take any meetings during this time. Instead, during these hours, you’ll focus on your work and subtly inform your team when you are and aren’t available. You’ll be grateful for the uninterrupted focus. 

2 Use email and team communication apps

We’ve said it once before, but it bears repeating: A lack of clear purpose typically sinks a meeting. Even if you’re sharing what you think is important information, your employees might become disengaged if you’re not collaborating on a goal of some sort. You might wind up dominating the conversation since nobody else knows what to say. You’ll basically be holding a lecture, not a conversation. And that’s the kind of thing you should keep to email or your team communication tool.

With the right team communication tool – a project management app, an instant messaging platform – you can regularly share updates that don’t merit a whole meeting. For example, if you’ve modified somebody’s coding on your website’s backend, you can share your edits via Slack. Or if their code was line-for-line perfect, you can praise them instead. No need to call a whole meeting – just take the 30 seconds out of your day to appreciate your employee. And then, get back to work.

3 Say no to meetings when necessary 

Sometimes, cutting down on excessive meetings can be as simple as a polite “no.” Yes, some of your meetings will be mandatory, but you can often give your team the option to decline a meeting. And seriously, that’s important. Employees often neglect to view refusal as a real option since they worry they might hurt their standing within the organization. 

You too can decline meetings. Perhaps a client is asking you to meet too often or your leadership is calling you in for ideas you could discuss via email. In either case, respect for your time starts with you. If you don’t start kindly declining meetings and taking control of your work schedule, then outside forces can continue to control your workday. The result is typically unproductive meetings.

4 Suggest having a “meeting-free day”

A zero-meeting day is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a day where every employee agrees to focus all their attention on work. Just one day off from meetings, whether virtual or in-person meetings, can help everyone focus better and contribute more at your other meetings. With an uninterrupted workflow, you and your team will make substantially more headway on your tasks than on a meeting-heavy day.

The best and easiest way to implement a no meeting day is by using a tool that has the functionality already baked in. As part of the Meeting Guidelines feature set, Fellow enables company leaders to set a no meeting day for their organization, so that any time someone tries to schedule a meeting on that day, they will be automatically prompted to find another time.

5 Create an agenda for every meeting

Your most productive meetings will gather your team to work toward a goal. That’s easier to achieve when you write a meeting agenda that defines the objective and talking points. Before every meeting, set aside time to draft an agenda that basically functions as a meeting outline. If you can’t create a comprehensive agenda for what you want to discuss, your topic is probably small-scale enough to keep to email. That’s a great way to avoid too many meetings.

6 Have smaller daily meetings

Yes, we know what you’re thinking: Holding more meetings to hold fewer meetings? How counterintuitive. But trust us – smaller gatherings work wonders. A 10-minute huddle at the start of the day rather than an hours-long conference near lunch can keep everyone informed without disrupting anyone’s work. And – here’s the big one – reviewing status updates every day makes bigger meetings redundant. That’s more free time back for your team.

7 Seek feedback from your team

You can’t know for sure that you’re having too many meetings without asking your team. Even if you think you’re holding just the right number of meetings, does your team have enough time to get work done? Do your meetings help them hit their goals or tire them out? The answers to these questions can help you determine how many fewer meetings you should hold.

8 Use the right tools

Some meetings fail because you can’t effectively communicate their purpose and schedule with your team. That might be because you lack collaborative tools for crafting and sharing meeting agendas, taking notes, assigning meeting action items, and following up afterward. These functions tell your team what to expect at your meeting and how to contribute meaningfully. It’s hard to hold unproductive meetings when everything is so clear and easy.

Meeting up when meaningful

Meetings are key to effective communication and collaboration, but you can definitely have too much of a good thing. If you notice sagging productivity levels and unengaged employees at your meetings, it’s time to make a change. Fellow can help: It breathes new life into company gatherings. With its features for real-time note-taking and collaborative agenda creation – and expertly crafted meeting templates – you can hold just the right number of meetings. That’s how you get the best results.

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