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Are Endless Meetings Hampering Your Productivity? Schedule a 'No-Meeting' Day

by Julie Compton /
Image: Man sitting in Design Office Looking Out of WindowShannon Fagan / Getty Images

Don’t bother inviting IT consultant Laura Earnest to a meeting unless it’s absolutely necessary. And if it is, keep it short.

“Employees are hired to do a specific job and if you are pulling them out of that job to go to two to three meetings a day, you’re losing that time when they aren’t actively doing their job,” Earnest tells NBC News Better.

If your productivity is getting strangled by meeting-happy colleagues, you can avoid them with a ‘no-meeting’ day, recommends the Whole Life Productivity founder.

“A no-meeting day is when you set aside every hour on your schedule to work on projects that you have going,” Earnest says.

“You use that time to work on projects that require more in-depth concentration or more in-depth effort,” she explains.

Dealing with the “clueless scheduler”

If your colleagues are scheduling lots of unnecessary meetings, they may have been schooled in the belief that more meetings equal greater productivity, explains Earnest.

“If you’re in a lot of meetings, people think you’re important, and so many managers will schedule a lot of meetings just so they look busy and important to those around them,” she says.

Earnest recalls working with one manager who held mandatory status meetings with his team each morning for an hour.

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In meetings, we’re usually there to be informed, not to give feedback. That can usually be achieved through email.

In meetings, we’re usually there to be informed, not to give feedback. That can usually be achieved through email.

“He blew everybody to bits,” she says. “And it was very horrifying as a consultant to watch him run his employees down like this. But he did it every single morning, and this was his way of making sure everybody knew he was in control.”

But meeting-crazed colleagues aren’t always malicious, she explains. Often, they’re just clueless.

“I had a co-worker who routinely scheduled meetings at 6:30 in the morning,” says Earnest. “Face-to-face meetings, and none of us got in until 8 [o’clock].”

If the clueless scheduler is your boss, there might not be much you can do. But if it’s a co-worker, you have more leeway, according to the blogger.

“I don’t get many of them anymore, I will tell you that, but if [a no-meeting day] is scheduled like that and somebody schedules the meeting over, I will just politely decline,” she says.

“If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile”

In meetings, we’re usually there to be informed, not to give feedback, observes Earnest. That can usually be achieved through email, she says.

“I’m not suggesting people take an hour meeting and replace it with a 12 page email, but I think that a lot of things can be summed up and meetings should be used sparingly only in collaboration so you can pull out the brain power of everybody and get them involved in the meeting,” she says.

Earnest says no-meeting days allow her to get “a wonderful amount of work” done.

“It’s that period of time — usually 3-4 hours — where I can just set everything aside and dive deeply into the work,” she says. “It’s amazing how much you can get done if you really concentrate and allow yourself to get into it.”

But Earnest warns that in order for no-meeting days to be effective, you have to be willing to say no to those clueless schedulers.

“People, if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile,” she says.

What if you’re the one who needs a meeting?

Sometimes meetings are necessary, according to the consultant. If a problem can’t be solved with an email or phone call, then it’s time to meet face-to-face, Earnest says. But she notes that meetings should be kept as short as possible with respect for everyone’s time.

“Generally, it’s an impromptu meeting, but it’s quicker to get the answer if you’re dealing face to face, particularly if you’re asking a question that you may not understand the nuances of,” she says.

Earnest recalls another manager she worked with who held daily meetings with his six employees. The meeting only lasted 10 minutes and each employee had two minutes to talk.

“He already knew what we were doing, but what he wanted to know was what was blocking our progress and what could he do to make sure that we got past it,” she says.

Good managers already know what their employees are working on and will use meetings to find out what they can do to help, the writer insists.

“But the meetings will never last for more than 15 minutes, unless it’s a brainstorming session where we’re really trying to flesh out a product and see where it’s going to go,” Earnest says.

How to save your productivity with ‘no-meeting’ days

  • Take a day to focus on what you need to do. Block out your calendar for several hours or even an entire day to ensure you have enough time to get your work done.
  • Start declining meetings in favor of a phone call or e-mail. If the person inviting you to those unnecessary meetings is your boss, there might not be much you can do. But if it’s a coworker, politely decline and suggest an email or quick call instead.
  • Know when to call a meeting. Sometimes meetings are necessary. If it can’t be solved with an email or phone call, it’s time to meet face to face. Keep the meeting short in respect of your colleagues’ time, and use it to focus on solving problems.

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