Overscheduled and Overwhelmed: My Battle Against Meeting-Mania

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Overscheduled and Overwhelmed: My Battle Against Meeting-Mania

Meetings, meetings, meetings. As a CTO, my calendar gets jam-packed with what feels like back-to-back meetings from dawn to dusk if I’m not vigilant. Don’t get me wrong — I know meetings are critical. But as an introvert, too many meetings drain my energy and make me anxious. At times, I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of meetings.

My Meeting Reality

Let me give you a peek into my current meeting load. I have 3–4 standing project meetings each week with various teams. These span 2+ hours typically! That’s nearly 10 hours a week spent in project meetings alone.

These project meetings are probably where I should focus my efforts. I’m considering delegating them fully to a colleague. I’d just read transcripts and notes afterward to stay informed. Many parts are better suited for asynchronous communication anyway. Though occasionally, hashing something out live does have value.

According to a Harvard Business Review study, the average knowledge worker spends over 50% of their time in meetings. With back-to-back meetings, it’s no wonder I feel overwhelmed and unproductive.

Why Remote Workers Get Bogged Down in Meetings

As a remote worker, I’m supposed to be free from the office meeting overload. But unfortunately, remote work comes with its own unique meeting challenges. Here are some of the top reasons we, remote workers, end up spending too much time in meetings:

Lack of Clear Communication Strategies

Many companies adopt a “remote first” work policy without implementing clear communication strategies. Without guidelines on when to use chat vs. email vs. meetings, people default to more meetings to share information. This quickly fills up calendars with unnecessary meetings.

At one company I worked with, the motto was “When in doubt, hop on a call.” We had nearly twice-daily standups, numerous recurring syncs, and constant ad-hoc meetings. A more intentional communication strategy would have saved hours of meeting time.

Unclear Roles and Responsibilities

When responsibilities are ambiguous, especially in a remote setting, employees attend more meetings to stay in the loop. Without knowing who owns what decisions, people opt into meetings rather than risk missing something important.

In one case on my team, two product managers weren’t sure who owned a feature launch. This resulted in both attending redundant meetings doubling the meeting time required. Defining clear roles and responsibilities from the start prevents this.

Inexperienced Management

New managers and team leads fresh into managing remote teams tend to schedule more meetings than their seasoned counterparts. They use meetings to manage and monitor remote employees since they can’t physically walk around and check in. This also results in meeting overload.

Training for new remote managers should include guidance on effective communication strategies such as async communication beyond just meetings. This would alleviate some of the unnecessary meeting burden placed on remote employees.

Ways to Declutter Your Calendar

Remote work provides incredible flexibility and freedom. No more wasted time commuting or being stuck in a distracting open office!

But with great freedom comes great responsibility. Without the structure of an office, it’s easy for our calendars to fill up with pointless meetings. Soon, you find yourself in my position, spending half your week on calls, struggling to find time for “real work.”

As a remote worker for the past two decades, I’ve gotten ruthless about guarding my calendar. Here are my top tips for reducing and optimizing meetings so you can focus on what matters.

Kill Status Update Meetings

Do we really need to hop on a call to say “I’m still working on that report”? Replace status meetings with a shared document or a proper project management tool like Linear, where everyone can see progress.

A weekly standup can be replaced by everyone bullet-pointing their top updates in a Slack channel. It saves hours a week, and we still stay informed.

Review Recurring Meetings

Just because it’s on the calendar every Tuesday at 2pm doesn’t mean you actually need it. Audit your recurring meetings to see if they’re still useful.

We often scrap weekly or monthly check-ins on topics that are no longer relevant. With everyone working remotely, we don’t always need a formal meeting to connect. Now, we catch up asynchronously in Slack, which feels more natural.

Divide and Conquer

Does everyone on the team need to attend every meeting? Or can you split into smaller, more focused groups?

For our planning meetings, we used to have 10 people on the call trying to brainstorm ideas and set goals for the quarter. It was chaos. Now, we break into smaller teams of only a few people to focus on specific goals before bringing ideas to the larger group. Meetings are shorter and so much more productive.

Politely Decline

Don’t be afraid to say no (or send regrets!). If a meeting involves something other than your work or expertise, it’s OK to decline.

The backend team used to invite me to their weekly check-ins “just in case.” But with my calendar full, I couldn’t spare the time. I thanked them for thinking of me and asked them to remove me from the recurring invite.

Make Decisions Async

Do quick decisions or updates really require a meeting? A few Slack messages or an email thread can do the job without pulling people into a call.

I always prefer hashing out goals and next steps in writing before hopping on a call when possible. It saves time and gives everyone a chance to gather their thoughts first.

Develop Meeting Etiquette

Make sure meetings have clear agendas and goals upfront so everyone comes prepared. Ask attendees to include discussion topics or questions when they accept the meeting invite.

Share pre-reads at least a day before the meeting so people aren’t coming in cold. And start with a quick role call so late joiners can get caught up.

Following basic etiquette keeps meetings tight and focused.

Shorten Meeting Duration

I reduced my default meeting from 60 to just 30 mins, and will reduce it further. It’s enough time to cover what we need without wiggle room for dragging on.

I’ll still block off 60 minutes for longer standups or working sessions instead, but not two hours as before. The time pressure keeps everyone focused.

Institute No Meeting Days

Protect part of your week for heads-down work. My friend told me that they made Wednesdays meeting-free company-wide.

Having a full day to work on projects without interruptions is amazing. He gets so much more done on those Wednesdays.

I follow his example and don’t take meetings on Mondays. It’s my sacred day for creativity and flow. Try blocking off even a half day and watch your productivity soar.

The calendar clutter struggle is real, but I’m determined to float rather than drown in meetings. I can take control of my schedule with thoughtful tactics like delegating, optimizing recurring meetings, and having asynchronous communication norms.

I may even propose “Meeting-Free Mondays” for the whole team! Now, there’s a mission I can get behind.

The goal isn’t to eliminate meetings completely. Done right, meetings can align teams and drive progress. But used ineffectively, they are huge time and energy sucks. I’m on a journey to make every minute count.

Trim the fat from your calendar, and your week will instantly feel less stressful. You’ll find more time for meaningful work that moves the needle on your goals and projects. Just remember to schedule breaks for self-care, too!

Now, I have three back-to-back meetings starting in 5 minutes. Sigh.

Originally published on Medium.com