Conquering Meeting Fatigue: How organizations can help leaders reclaim their valuable time

October 13, 2023
Women over computer, looking fatigue and stressed

One of the biggest challenges facing leaders today is meeting fatigue and the epidemic of unproductive meetings. When you ask any leader about their calendar these days, the response is often, "My calendar is unmanageable." It's not just back-to-back meetings, but sometimes two or even three meetings happening at a time.

Some leaders find themselves juggling multiple screens and logins, taking multitasking to the next level, but is it really?

In my own corporate experience, I spent hours upon hours in meetings, but I had an executive assistant who could help protect some small slivers of time each week on my calendar. 

Navigating the Meeting Maze

With the ever-increasing speed of change and the rising expectations for urgency, how can leaders be at their best? They plow through the day, switching contexts like crazy, leaving little room for actual work…or leadership!

As companies require their leaders to bring new thinking to the table, keep up with emerging trends and technologies that significantly impact strategy, and lead differently to meet the new expectations of a post-COVID workforce, leaders struggle to find a moment for a bathroom break or lunch.

Of course, we all have the opportunity to hold ourselves more accountable for our own time, our most precious resource. I've recommended and walked leaders through tools like the Eisenhower matrix, "start/stop/continue", and time tracking. These excellent approaches enhance focus, prioritize tasks, and manage time better. However, we've reached a point where companies need to more actively support their leaders in these efforts and in breaking the meeting culture.

We can delve into what's holding us back from setting boundaries or saying no. Still, it's less effective if leaders aren't provided with encouragement or examples of how to do this.

I've spent the last three weeks with three different clients in three states, discussing various leadership topics. The common theme that emerged across all these leaders' experiences and occupied the minds of everyone I spoke to was TIME — specifically, finding time on their calendars to do more: more of what's expected, more of what their teams need, and more of what makes them feel fulfilled and alive.

Leading with Intention in a Time-Starved World

How can I find time in my day to lead ...and lead like I really want to? The desire to lead with intention is there, but stepping off the hamster wheel and making that desire a reality is incredibly challenging.

Shopify recently confronted this problem head-on by installing a calendar app to track the number of hours spent in meetings and their associated costs. By simply being aware of this data, they are on track to save $322,000 in meeting time costs in the first year alone.

During a discussion and facilitated brainstorming session about strategic priorities this week, one of my clients decided to focus on meeting and email overload as a strategy in itself! 

Sometimes, awareness is all that's needed to drive change. Leaders are crying out for help as they feel conflicted, unprepared, and unsupported in giving their best in today's workplace. If we ask leaders to lead differently in this ever-changing world, organizations need to do something different to support them and their teams in this endeavor. 

Support them in pushing back, support them in changing the trajectory of where we're headed, and support them in prioritizing the true value they bring to the table.

Practical Steps to Combat Meeting Overload

Here are four actions to consider in the fight against meeting fatigue at your organization:

  1. Survey your organization to gather facts: Conduct a comprehensive survey across your organization to quantify the extent of meeting overload. Ask employees how many meetings they attend regularly and how valuable they perceive them to be. Gather insights into common pain points and frustrations related to meetings.
  2. Implement technology to track meeting time and costs: Leverage technology solutions similar to Shopify's approach to track the amount of time employees spend in meetings and calculate associated costs. This data will provide valuable insights into the financial impact of meetings and highlight areas for potential optimization.
  3. Establish meeting-free zones in your calendar: Encourage leaders to designate specific time blocks in their calendars where no meetings are allowed. These meeting-free zones provide leaders with uninterrupted periods to focus on critical tasks, engage in strategic thinking, and prioritize their most important work. This practice helps prevent burnout and fosters productivity.
  4. Implement Meeting Purpose and Agenda Guidelines: Encourage the adoption of clear meeting purpose and agenda guidelines within your organization. Require meeting organizers to define a clear purpose for each meeting and share a well-structured agenda in advance. This ensures that meetings stay on track, focused, and result-oriented, reducing unnecessary meetings and time wastage.

What other ideas do you have to help leaders dig out of the meeting culture of today?

If you are ready to navigate these challenges and invest in your leaders, let’s connect.

Tricia Manning © 2024 All Rights Reserved.
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