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Too Many Meetings? How to Scale Back and Achieve More

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It’s 9:15 a.m. and you’re just getting into the rhythm of your day. The phone rings, and on the other end of the line, one of your colleagues unexpectedly asks you to attend a meeting that starts in 45 minutes.

Although you respect your colleague and would like to support her, you had plans for your morning and are getting closer to a few deadlines of your own. How would you respond to the meeting invitation?

  1. Stick to your existing plan and graciously say “no.”
  2. Be a “team player” and let your colleague know that you’ll attend the meeting, but clearly set a boundary that you won’t stay longer than one hour because of your own deadlines.
  3. Ask a few questions about the anticipated goals and importance of the meeting, then evaluate whether your own priorities match and if the specific contributions you could make are likely to impact the outcome of the meeting. Make a committed yes/no decision based on those factors.

If you chose response one or two, you may be an over-collaborator. Response three is the preferred answer because it focuses your decision around two critical factors: your highest priorities and your value-added contributions.

To get more done at work, these are the two factors that can help you escape the inertia of unnecessary collaboration and join your efforts with others only when it counts.

Routine collaboration drains time

Of course, collaboration by itself isn’t bad. Problems occur when routine collaborative efforts and unclear mandates produce a toxic sludge known as meeting soup. On a bad day, we may view meetings as the biggest waste of time in our working lives. On a good day, we may look at meetings as the chance to connect with people and discuss important matters.

The reality for most of us is that the quality of our meetings falls somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. According to most estimates, managers and employees spend anywhere between 25 and 80 percent of their time in meetings. (Click here to tweet this stat.)

For a full-time employee, this translates to time spent in meetings that ranges from 520 hours to 1,664 hours (or 65-208 full working days). What’s the rationale for all the meetings? It’s the “need” for collaboration.

Selective collaboration boosts performance

To reduce your meeting clutter, make it a priority to collaborate in the right way, at the right time, with the right people. This kind of selective collaboration is about intentional partnering that boosts the chance of success by aligning the required strategic skill or resource with the essential contributors in the simplest way.

Think of selective collaboration as a career move for you, not just a chance to escape the unproductive, routine meetings and conversations that fail to push your goals forward.

Moving away from routine collaboration — even when professional or cultural norms dictate it — can deliver a greater return on your efforts because it aligns with your highest priorities and features your value-added contributions. Getting great work done by delivering clear and consistent contributions is one of the best ways for you to stay at work.

The first step is learning how to choose when, how and who you collaborate with. Yes, you’ll have to learn how to say no. Yes, there may be some short-term negative reactions to this. But your elevated contributions to top priorities should ease those concerns quickly.

Instead of relying on partnerships that are dictated by circumstance and opportunity, you’ll seek out collaboration opportunities that serve a specific purpose.

Sometimes the missing piece is motivation, and that can be found through a partnership with some individual or group who’s driven, focused and inspired. Other times, the missing piece may be technical, strategic or organizational. In these instances, the mix of skills, abilities and access to resources serves as the driver for selective collaboration.

Selective collaboration gives you a tool to accomplish tasks that otherwise wouldn’t be feasible alone. The restraint of choosing high-potential collaboration allows you to avoid wasting time when collaboration itself is a substitute for lack of creativity, vision or accountability.

There’s reciprocity with this as well. When invited to collaborate with others, accept the invitation only when the best mix of skill and contribution can be aligned in an effective way. It’s not about being selective because you “have better things to do”; you choose the moments where your impact can be the greatest.

When in doubt, you can use the following list to confirm the opportunity for selective collaboration. If you can agree with each item, it’s time to schedule a meeting.

  • I have identified a clear learning and performance outcome for this collaborative effort.
  • The outcome will clearly support one of my priorities.
  • I know what I can contribute to make the collaboration a success.
  • I understand what my collaborator(s) can deliver and their contributions make it better than going it alone.

Jesse Sostrin is the author of Beyond the Job Description. He writes, speaks and consults at the intersection of individual and organizational success. Follow him @jessesostrin and visit his site here.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

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