Ten percent may not sound like much, but think of it this way: if you have a team of 10 people and each person could reclaim four hours a week of wasted time, you’d collectively have an extra 40 hours per week—roughly the equivalent of an additional team member. But reclaiming time is even better than adding a hypothetical new person; it boosts the capacity of your most valuable players.
Dan Harris, in his excellent book 10% Happier offered this possibility: meditate for five minutes a day; become 10% happier.
We offer this possibility: invest 20 minutes a month; free up 10% of your work week to focus on what matters most.
Game to give it a try? The secret is to change the way you treat recurring meetings. Instead of defaulting to what’s on the calendar, challenge each occurrence. Far too often recurring meetings consume lots of organizational time talking about the work, rather than advancing it. Many, if not most, can be eliminated.
A prime example is the deadly status meeting, which can be replaced with a project dashboard or Slack channel. Others can be shorter, smaller or less frequent. There are two ways to go about this exercise we advocate: Clean Slate or Assess and Adapt.
When Peter Deng became the director of product at Instagram, he cancelled every recurring meeting. He hypothesized that they were a solution to a problem at some point in time—but were now dragging down the team’s capacity and creativity. Of course, meetings made their way back on the calendar, but they were purpose fit for what the organization needed at that moment.
To go this route, ask your team to cancel every recurring meeting. Then, in the space that’s created, take a step back to consider:
- What conversations are essential to the value we create?
- How often and with whom do we need to have those conversations?
- What do my employees need from me to perform, develop and thrive?
- What’s the best mechanism to address those needs?
Based on the answers, selectively add recurring meetings back on the calendar.
Assess and Adapt
If the Clean Slate approach seems too extreme, launch a light process to solicit feedback from attendees of each recurring meeting and adapt based on what you hear.
Use the next instance of every recurring meeting to ask attendees two questions:
A. Could we eliminate this meeting without a negative impact to the business?
B. How would you rate the quality of the meeting from: 1 (I dread it) to 5 (it’s one of the best meetings of my week) and why?
Based on the responses, take action:
- If the unanimous answer to A is “yes”–cancel it. You can always add it back if needed
- If the answer to A is “no,” but the answer to B is less than a 4, improve it:
- Clarify the why–why must this meeting happen?
- Refine the what–what subjects are covered and to what end?
- Decide on the who–add or eliminate attendees based on who is required to achieve the purpose
- Decide on the when–adjust the frequency and length based on the purpose
Once your team has completed this process, add up the cumulative number of hours saved annually. For example: eliminating a weekly two hour meeting of 7 people = (7*2)*50 = 700 hours; reducing a weekly one hour meeting from 15 people down to 5 = ((15-5)*1)*50 = 500 hours.
Communicate the results to the full organization and use this as an opportunity to remind everyone that time is your most strategic asset and to invest it as wisely as possible.
Recurring meetings do have a way of sneaking back on the calendar, so every month or so, have your team review their calendars and look for opportunities to replace low-value meetings with high-value work.
And speaking of wise use of time, try using some of that new capacity for a five minute meditation—why not be both happier and more productive?