3 Ways to Lessen Meeting Fatigue
Updated: Sep 23, 2020
We’re not sure if you’re experiencing what we are these days (although our bet would be ‘yes’)- the impacts of day upon day, hour upon hour of endless meetings; Zoom, and otherwise. Upfront, let’s say ‘woohoo’ for the fact that we’re actually doing business again. Anything beats the alternative. But the stress and strain of having our days eaten up with back-to-back meetings is wearing on people more than ever before, because now it’s layered over safety protocols, pre-meeting screenings, remote camera challenges, and all the other uncertainties of navigating today’s new world.
Over the years we’ve both experienced working within organizations whose meeting cultures were unproductive, to say the least. We constantly asked ourselves why it had to be this way, and how on earth we were expected to get our work done with all the meetings? Those questions have become even more relevant now as we watch our clients continuing to struggle with these same issues. And magnified by the pandemic.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way! Without overthinking things, there are lots of small changes you can implement to lessen the frazzling of nerves, frustration, drops in productivity, and mental fatigue of running (literally or figuratively) from one meeting to the next. To be clear, we’re not saying that all meetings are bad or unproductive. What we are saying is that there are simple straightforward ways you can proactively ensure that you and your teams have the time, energy, and focus required for your jobs, while still being able to add value and productivity during meetings.
3 Ways to Lessen Meeting Fatigue:
1. Allow for Transition Time: This one seems so obvious we shouldn’t even have to say it out loud, but unless you can teleport from one location to another in the blink of an eye, you need traveling time. So, whether it’s moving from one meeting room to another down the hall or leaving one Zoom call and teeing up the next, back-to-back meetings are insane if the concept is to begin and end each gathering promptly and prepared.
The solution is as simple as setting the expectation that your team/organization will follow the practice of scheduling one-hour meetings for 50 minutes, or half-hour meetings for 20 minutes. Rather than losing those 10 minutes anyway to people who are joining late and flustered, it minimizes the stress by allowing time to transition from one meeting to the next.
Note- It will take time for this new habit to take hold, so as managers you’re going to have to set the example consistently with your own meeting scheduling. When you receive meeting requests following the old timelines from others, gently suggest that transition time be built in to ensure everyone has time to get from A to B. And if you find yourself unavoidably booked into back-to-back meetings, notifying the organizers that you will have to leave early or you will be joining late, minimizes the disruption to their agendas.
2. Block out Time in Your Calendar: There was a study done by the University of California Irvine where researchers shadowed workers on the job to study their productivity. It found that on average, it takes someone approximately 23 minutes to get back on track with their original activity after being interrupted. It varied based on the type of interruption and how closely related it was to the original task, but nevertheless, think about the implication to the productivity of a workday with multiple meetings scattered throughout.
By taking a breath to be thoughtful and proactive, you can minimize the impact of these interruptions by blocking off time in your calendar to ensure you are able to concentrate on your priorities without having to deal with the constant start and stop of meetings. It could be 2 or 3 days a week set aside as workdays without any meetings at all. Or it could be blocking off mornings only, so you are fresh to concentrate on your tasks and accept meetings in the afternoons. The point is that rather than having meetings scattered throughout the day, with disruption time building up from each, you can earmark uninterrupted chunks of working time first, and then accept meetings where it makes sense.
3. Be Selective: It’s impossible to get your job done well, if you’re booked into meetings all day long. So, identify what your priorities are for the day (or week) and then be selective about how many meeting requests you accept. Ask the organizer for an agenda, if it’s not included in the invitation, and then decide if the topics and desired outcomes are relevant and worth setting aside time for. If not, it’s okay to say, “I appreciate being included, but I will have decline.” You’re not doing anyone a favour by sitting in on a meeting and being distracted by trying to do multiple things at once, or feeling guilty and stressed about attending in the first place, while important responsibilities are slipping even further behind. Both leave your focus split, and you aren’t giving either one the attention it deserves.
Somehow multitasking has become not only culturally acceptable and encouraged but a badge of honour in the office. Our perspective on the healthier approach is to acknowledge that we’re human and truth be told, our brains are not actually equipped to multi-task without a drop in quality. It may be in everyone’s best interests to not be double and triple booked. And it’s perfectly acceptable to say “I’m sorry I won’t be able to attend this meeting, but please feel free to follow-up with me on the outcomes of the conversation.”
The message we are getting at is that for the good of ourselves and our teams, we should take a breath from the frenetic pace of life and work and choose where and how to expend our energy. We have a finite amount, and so it’s in our best interests to direct it to where it can have the most positive impact.
Before you schedule or accept your next meeting request, ask yourself the question “Is this meeting necessary?” And be honest with your answer.
If the answer is ‘no’, shake off the guilt, and focus on what is.
If the answer is ‘yes’, take a look at what you can do to free up your schedule on either end of the meeting, so you can be fully present and contributing to the best outcome.