We are in a society of meetings. I spend half of my time in meetings. Meetings that I organise and meetings that I am invited. Most of them are short, between 15 min for my undergraduate students, to 30 min for my 1:2:1 meetings with my staff, to 1 h for research meetings. Most of them are quite efficient. They have a clear agenda and everyone is ready. Yet, I can’t help thinking that my time might be better spent. Could some of those meetings be removed every other week? If so, probably another form of communication would need to be set up to ensure sufficient communication. That could be in the form of emails, of chat app like Slack. In some cases, I setup meetings so that I reduce the traffic of emails that sometimes lead to miscommunication or 3-4 exchanges of emails before we agree on something which would have been easier to discuss directly in a Zoom call. So, it is not clear when I spend too much of my time in meetings.
If we go back 20-30 years ago, I think that meetings were in general less efficient. They did not necessarily include an agenda and end time. The boss would talk and the others would listen. Instead of meeting, people would pick up the phone when they needed to discuss something with someone and that was solved quickly. But most communications were 1-to-1, except for formal large meetings. I feel therefore that we have progressed considerably and that we now use a mix of oral and written communications which suit a wide range of discussions at any time during the day.
So, are we having too many meetings? I think that there is now a tendency to finish the meeting on time, independently if there is sufficient matter to discuss. Also, rarely a meeting gets cancelled because it is not considered worthwhile. But some meetings are there to keep contacts with others. There is an important social aspect in the meetings which is difficult to replicate in other forms of communication. So, a meeting that could be considered unimportant may actually be extremely important emotionally. Or sometimes it is from the empty space given in a meeting that a difficult topic arises and is discussed, leading to a breakthrough in the work or in a relationship.
As you can see, it is difficult to know when too many meetings are too many. It is difficult to establish a rule and try to stick to it. As usual, a balance approach is probably best. Varying the format of the meetings, combining meetings with written communication, and questioning the usefulness of a meeting before starting it are usually a successful approach to ensure that you are not overwhelmed with meetings. And if you are invited to a meeting that you feel you will not make a significant contribution or will not get much out of it, it is always good to ask the organiser whether your presence is really needed. Having a clear and honest discussion about your role and contribution to a meeting is the best way to ensure that the meeting will be a worthwhile event.
Do you feel that you have too many meetings during the week? Are there some specific meetings where your contribution is not necessary or not valued? How can you make better use of your time during meetings?