We’ve all been there:
Leaving the conference room at the end of an hour-long “catch up” thinking:
This could have just been an email…
While the average amount of time spent in meetings a week is around four hours (not so bad), more than 15% of us are spending 12+ hours, and 5% are even exceeding 20 meeting hours a week. That’s literally half the workweek!
It’s only fair to ask the question, then:
Could I be just as (or more) productive with fewer meetings?
If you have even a slight inkling that the answer to that question might be yes, then you’ll want to read on.
We’ve pulled together eight easy-to-implement yet incredibly powerful solutions for reducing meetings, improving productivity, and driving better team alignment and collaboration.
How too many meetings drain employee productivity
In many cases, a meeting can be a very positive thing.
Some things can’t be handled via Slack or email. Sometimes it's better to deliver the news personally or get a group of people together to speak openly and brainstorm on a new idea.
However, unless you pay careful attention to the number of meetings you’re having each week and the value attendees are getting out of them, you might end up draining productivity as a result.
Time consumption: Every meeting represents an opportunity cost, as all of the people involved could have used this time to advance other work.
Decreased autonomy: Having too many meetings can lead to an employee feeling as if their autonomy is restricted (depending on the content of the meeting), reducing their sense of ownership and demotivating them.
Meeting fatigue: Meetings themselves tend to be psychologically draining (known as meeting fatigue). Several back-to-back meetings are a dangerous recipe that can lead to exhaustion, burnout, and reduced productivity.
Context-switching: Attending a meeting pulls you out of deep work sessions and forces you to switch context (kind of like multitasking). This has been demonstrated to be incredibly detrimental to productivity.
6 signs you & your team have too many meetings
Meetings themselves aren’t the problem, and they aren’t something we should necessarily strive to eliminate completely. Many employees achieve a healthy balance between productive group meetings and fruitful deep work sessions.
Unfortunately, many also don’t.
Which camp do you fall into?
Here are six signs that you and your team could be having too many meetings:
Crammed schedules: If you’re finding it tough to find a spot on your calendar to add another meeting, you might be having too many.
Back-to-back and overlapping meetings: Meetings that are scheduled back-to-back with no break time in between or constantly overlap are a sign that you’re overbooked.
Lack of preparation: If you and your attendees are arriving at meetings unprepared, this can be an indication that you’re stretched too thin and don’t have enough time to adequately prepare in between.
Missed deadlines: An inability to meet deadlines can be a sign that meetings are getting in the way of your regular work.
Complaints: Pay attention to what your employees and colleagues are saying. If many are complaining about having too many meetings, this can generally be taken as a sign that you are.
Disengaged attendees: A meeting can be valid without it being necessary for all who attend. If some attendees are disengaged at the meeting, this can be a sign that they weren’t required to attend.
Feel like you’ve ticked off too many of the above boxes? Here’s what to do about it.
8 ways to reduce meetings at work
Simply declining all of the meetings you’re invited to probably isn’t going to fly.
Here are eight more effective and productive ways to reduce the number of meetings you’re having:
Switch to asynchronous communications
Make agendas a non-negotiable
Review the need for recurring meetings
Become comfortable with declining meeting invites
Block out “deep work” time on your calendar
Pay attention to the value of meetings you do attend
Merge meetings where possible
Record meetings you can’t attend
1. Switch to asynchronous communications
Asynchronous communication occurs when two or more people communicate but aren’t together at the same time.
Email is asynchronous. Slack can be async (depending on whether responses are immediate or not). Meetings are not (they are synchronous).
The best way to reduce the number of meetings you’re having without diminishing the value you would otherwise receive from the conversation is to use asynchronous communication.
Let’s say that you want to communicate a brief update to your team.
Rather than pulling them out of deep work and into the boardroom, you create a short Loom video with all of the key information you would otherwise cover at the meeting.
Team members can then absorb the video when they have time (and even speed it up a little) and then comment, react, or even respond with their own video if they have further questions.
All of the same value is occurring, but you’re not interrupting anyone’s day by adding yet another meeting to the agenda.
2. Make meeting agendas a non-negotiable
A fantastic way to make for more effective meetings is to make agendas required.
An agenda defines the topics that will be discussed at the meeting and what you’d like to achieve with the discussion, plus a space for action items to be completed post-meeting.
You can use a simple agenda template for each meeting that’s easy to fill out in advance.
If, the day before the meeting, you see an empty agenda, you can go ahead and cancel it. There’s nothing to discuss, so there’s no need to attend.
3. Review the need for recurring meetings
Recurring internal meetings are a major cause of low productivity. Common culprits here include:
Weekly team meetings
We’re not saying that you should remove all regular in-person meetings from the calendar. Rather, you should simply ask the question:
Is this meeting really necessary to have every week (or day, or month)?
In some cases, the answer may be “yes.”
A team gathering might be a great way to fortify a remote team once a week and remind everyone that names have faces, helping to remove the disconnect that often comes when workplace communication largely takes place via instant messaging.
But we’ll go out on a limb here and bet that, more often than not, you’ll deem that recurring meeting to be a waste of time.
4. Become comfortable with declining meeting invites
You’re not always going to be the one scheduling meetings. To avoid having your calendar at the mercy of everyone else who wants a piece of your valuable time, you’ll need to get comfortable with declining meeting invites.
Be clear in your reasoning for declining
Give as much advance notice as possible
Consider asking the meeting owner whether your attendance is truly necessary
Offer to send an asynchronous update
Dive deeper with our guide: How To Politely Decline a Meeting Invite [With Examples].
5. Block out “deep work” time on your calendar
Blocking out time on your calendar for deep work sessions is the perfect way to avoid unproductive meetings and win back some productivity.
This will prevent others from booking a meeting during that time. They’ll see that you’re busy and will respect the fact that you’ve committed to diving deep into work without distractions.
At Loom, we’ve taken this a step further by implementing a meeting-free day. Each Wednesday, live meetings are prohibited.
Read about how successful this initiative has been here: How we started a No Meeting Day at Loom.
6. Pay attention to the value of meetings you do attend
We have nothing against meetings, we just want them to actually be productive.
Every time you do attend a meeting, pay close attention to the value you and other attendees receive.
At the end of the meeting, ask yourself:
Was this a valuable use of my time?
Then, share your feedback with the meeting organizer. This is a great strategy for determining whether or not recurring meetings are necessary.
7. Merge meetings where possible
Look for opportunities to merge two meetings into one.
Yes, you want to avoid having too many people present at a given meeting (hosting more people generally leads to longer, dragged-out discussions).
But a lot of times (especially in organizations that have a traditional meeting culture), you find yourself in a meeting to prepare for the next meeting.
These are the kinds of time-sucks you’ll want to avoid by merging.
8. Record meetings you can’t attend
If you can’t attend a meeting, but it's still going to take place without you, consider asking the organizer to record the meeting and send you the video later.
This will allow you to still get the value out of the meeting, but on your own terms and at your own time.
You can watch the video on 1.2x or 1.5x and even skip through parts that don’t concern you.
If the video was recorded using Loom, you can access a video transcript, which provides you with two additional time-saving hacks:
1. Use Command + F (Ctrl + F on PC) to search for key terms
2. Throw the transcript into ChatGPT and ask it to create a summary of what was discussed
The ultimate way to reduce meetings: Asynchronous communication with Loom
Let’s face it:
Meetings can easily consume your calendar and bog down your team.
They’re draining, they force you to context-switch, they take you out of deep work, and they’re often unproductive in and of themselves.
There’s a better way:
Asynchronous communication with Loom.
Just record a short Loom video in lieu of a live meeting, send it over to those who need to see it, and let them watch, react, and respond in their own time.
Put some time back on your calendar.