How to spend less time in meetings
Is time moving faster, or is it just me? Academia Made Easier
Hello and welcome. I am so glad that you are here.
Have you been feeling like time is going really quickly these days? I am not sure if it is getting older, living in Covid times, or simply a lack of mindfulness on my part, but lately I am struck by how quickly my weeks seem to move. Boom, it is Friday again. Boom, it is already Wednesday. Boom, boom, boom, two months of the year are behind me. When time moves like the wind, the idea of ‘time management’ seems comical. How can I manage what I can’t even seem to grasp?
And yet, things continue to get done and I continue to enjoy my days. Over the years I have put relatively hard boundaries on my work time and relatively reasonable expectations on myself for what is possible to get done in my work time. Both the boundaries and the self-expectations have been hardwon, as I am pretty stubborn, particularly with myself, and both required changes in my mindset, which I will discuss in future newsletters. What has pulled me along to this point has been the satisfaction of seeing the positive effect of small changes on my work-life balance.
Speaking of small changes that can create positive effects, it is time for this newsletter’s idea for you to try. I think you will like this one.
One Small Thing to Try Immediately: Trim Your Meetings
While I don’t know if work truly expands to fill the time available (“Parkinson’s Law”), I can say from personal experience that meetings, and particularly online meetings, often drag on until the scheduled time is done. (Perhaps we can call this “Zoom law”?) In our current online meeting environment, this often means clicking out of one meeting at the top or bottom of the hour and then immediately clicking into another. So. Much. Fun.
I say: Enough of this. Most 30 minute meetings can be concluded in 20 minutes with no loss of meaningful work, and most 60 minute meetings can be concluded in 45 minutes with no such loss. The trick is to schedule them for this shorter time in the first place. Here is how:
1. When you are the meeting organizer: Simply schedule meetings for 25%-33% less time than usual. Look at the agenda (you do use an agenda, I hope… more on that in a future newsletter), cut what doesn’t need to be there, and list a clear ‘adjourn’ time. Make sure your calendar invitation is set for the meeting length you want, rather than the default. Give other people the gift of more time in their day.
2. When someone asks you for a meeting: Assuming you wish to accommodate the request, respond positively with a shorter time. Someone recently asked me for a 30-minute meeting, and here was my email response:
It would be my pleasure to speak with you. My availability tends to be best in the late afternoon. Would a 20-minute meeting on Friday at 4 pm work for you?
All the best,
(Note: Recipient’s name changed. But I assume you figured that out.)
3. When you are sent a calendar request: Again assuming you wish to accommodate the request, use the ‘respond with comments’ option to politely ask for a shorter time when you accept the invitation. I sent the following just this week:
I am happy to meet but I am only available until 4:20 pm. If we need to schedule a follow-up discussion next week we can certainly do so!
We had the meeting and covered everything in 20 minutes. That included some social chitchat time. A follow-up meeting was not needed.
4. When someone else organized the meeting: If you feel safe doing so, ask the organizer if the meeting can be shortened. Another example from my life:
I look forward to our committee meeting next week. I noticed it ends at 4:00 pm. Is there any chance we could end ten minutes early? I have a full day of meetings and ending at 3:50 pm would give me a few minutes to catch my breath between zoom sessions. (I suspect others might enjoy the same opportunity.) I understand if this is not possible but I thought I would ask.
All the best,
This sometimes works, and it sometimes doesn’t, but in my experience not asking guarantees that I will not get those ten minutes.
Bottom line: If someone told you that you could easily save 25-33% of the cost of something, chances are good that you would pursue that option. Time is a cost - an energy cost, an opportunity cost - and while trimming meetings by 10 or 15 minutes doesn’t sound like much, the savings add up. In my experience, these small breaks can mean the difference between ending a day exhausted or not.
My challenge to you: identify at least one meeting in your near future that you could trim by 10-15 minutes and see if you can make that happen. Afterwards, please let me know what you think of trimming your meetings. I look forward to hearing from you!
Chipping Away: What I Have Been Up To
A quick update on some of my own activities since my last newsletter, since I have your attention:
I have discovered that the grocery where my daughter works reduces the price of selected cakes by 50% at 7 pm, which is when some of her shifts end. “Enjoy tonight”? Sounds good to me.
Life with our (well-named) kitten Storm continues to add joy and housework.
On the work side, I am working with my team to put together a much-needed strategic plan for our policy school. While leading strategic planning over Zoom as a new leader who has only met some of the team in person is a bit daunting, it has pushed me to find creative ways for engagement and consultation. I feel fortunate that everyone has been positive and constructive. It is exciting to have these discussions.
Until next time…
If you found this newsletter useful, please be sure to subscribe. I would also appreciate it if you would share it with your own network. And if you would like to talk about trimming your meetings or other ideas to make academia just a little bit easier, please connect with me on Twitter at @loleen_berdahl and share your thoughts using the hashtag #AcademiaMadeEasier.
Stay well, my colleagues.
Loleen Berdahl, PhD: I am a twin mother, wife, runner, cat lover, and chocolate enthusiast. I spend far too much time on Twitter and binge-watching television, and my house could be a lot cleaner. During the work hours, I am the Executive Director of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy and the author of University Affair’s Skills Agenda column. My most recent books are Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences or Humanities PhD and Explorations: Conducting Empirical Research in Canadian Political Science.