Meetings are broken. It's time for a meeting doomsday.

rebecca hindsRebecca Hinds
August 10th, 2023
2 min read
Abstract image depicting the ways meetings don't always align
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This article was originally published on Inc.

Meetings are one of the biggest time sinks in organizations today. They consistently sabotage employees' productivity—especially in our new era of hybrid work. Why? They've become the panacea for many other activities—coffee chats, brainstorming, happy hours, and more. Research by Harvard Business School professors found that as the pandemic unfolded, employees added 13 percent more meetings to their calendars. 

As a leader, the shift to remote and hybrid work gives you an opportunity to hit the reset button on unproductive meetings. Yet meetings are an intrinsic part of your organization's culture. So, if you want to change the status quo, you need to think outside the box and shift mindsets—not just behaviors.

Take a look at your calendar. If you or your employees are scheduling the vast majority of your meetings weekly, and for 30 minutes, something is wrong. Each meeting has a different purpose, so if most of your meetings are the same length, you haven't thought enough about how your meetings ought to be designed to maximize productivity.

At my workplace, Asana, we recently conducted an experiment to help employees boost meeting productivity

I worked with one of our internal teams to cleanse employees' calendars of meetings that had become less productive over time. The experiment was inspired by an activity that Bob Sutton and I studied a few years ago—but updated for our hybrid work era. I call it meeting doomsday. And it's an experiment that you, too, can perform to make your meetings more productive and regain wasted time. 

Here's what a meeting doomsday looks like: 

1. Conduct a meeting audit

Many employees don't know how much time they squander in meetings. They often happen at different cadences—like every week or every six weeks—which can distort employees' perceptions of how much time they actually spend in meetings. 

The first step of doomsday involves conducting a meeting audit. Each employee evaluates their recurring meetings and identifies which ones lack value. For us, we discovered most of these meetings were once productive but had grown in size or scope and needed to be reevaluated.

To assess whether a meeting is valuable, ask: Did the meeting help advance your work forward more quickly than you would have been able to do asynchronously? 

2. Schedule your meeting doomsday

Simply conducting an audit and offering some platitudes about reducing meetings won't lead to meaningful change in your company's meeting culture. 

This is when the best part of doomsday happens. During this part of the process, have your team delete all their recurring meetings from their calendars. 

Employees often feel that if they delete meetings, other attendees will take it as a personal affront. An official doomsday will give employees permission to delete their meetings without feeling guilty. We gave participants a blurb to share with cross-functional meeting participants to explain that doomsday was coming—and the intent behind it. 

After deleting their meetings, have your employees sit with their newly cleansed calendars for 48 hours. Then, have them repopulate their calendars, but only with those meetings that are valuable—according to their own meeting audit. 

We found that when employees were given the freedom to step back and assess, they changed many of their meetings to be shorter, unconventional lengths (like 15 minutes). They also changed the cadence of meetings to be less frequent. 

3. Celebrate the time savings 

No experiment is complete without measuring the results, and a doomsday is no exception. Be sure to carve out time to crunch the numbers. Have each of your employees calculate how much time they saved by comparing the time they spent in meetings after doomsday with their initial meeting audit. 

For us, the results were impressive. Over the course of the one-month experiment, participants saved 11 hours per month, on average, by redesigning meetings that were no longer productive. That equates to each individual's saving 17 workdays over the course of a year. That whopping time savings could be reallocated to doing more meaningful work or taking time off—the time savings was equivalent to a three-and-a-half-week vacation. 

Embracing a meeting doomsday 

Your employees have preconceptions about what meetings should look like. They often don't spend enough time evaluating why meetings are on their calendar, or if they've been properly designed. 

Even at workplaces that are highly productive, too many unnecessary meetings can sabotage anyone's day. I recommend that doomsday be conducted at least once a year. The more teams that participate in doomsday the better, because there will be more horsepower aimed at eliminating wasteful meetings. 

Now that you've gone and cleaned up that calendar clutter, you can focus on doing the work that matters most.

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