It's easy to find yourself with too many meetings in a week. Each one has a purpose, but they accumulate until all gaps in your schedule are full.1 (1 Apparently I think about meetings a lot because I previously wrote The Cost of Meetings, which is similar in spirit.) When gaps remain, they're too small to get focused work done, so they end up being used for email and Slack triage.
A high number of meetings can be a sign that a team has room to grow in working asynchronously. It's easier to schedule a meeting than capture the problem and potential solutions in writing, get everyone's full attention, and arrive at a decision. Working in that way requires practice and persistence.
I'd love to see calendar tools help teams move to asynchronous work. A great place to start is with meeting limits.
Each person sets a limit on the number of meetings per day or week. They could also be set for specific days of the week, such as not allowing meetings on Tuesday and Thursday. Another option is limiting the number of hours spent in meetings per day or week.
The most common solution is to block time on your calendar, like the morning for focus work. It works fairly well, but requires keeping the schedule current and resisting requests for exceptions.
With meeting limits,2 (2 Calendly and CalendarHero support daily meeting limits. I think of them as primarily for scheduling with people outside of your company, but perhaps they work well internally, too.) if someone attempts to schedule a 4th meeting on a day that's limited to 3, or the 16th meeting on a week with 15, they'd see a message that the person’s meeting limit has been reached and to try another day or the next week.
Meeting limits3 (3 If you’re thinking, "This sounds like Kanban work-in-progress limits", you’re not wrong!) are great because:
- They're more definitive than blocking time. It’s a bigger ask for someone to exceed their meeting limit for the week than "I know you blocked 9:00-12:00, but can you spare 30 minutes at 11:30?"
- They make it easy to experiment. Try setting 2 days at 0 or the whole week at 10 hours.
- They make it possible to slowly break the meeting habit. If you currently average 20 meetings a week, set the limit at 19 and lower it each month until you find your sweet spot.
If the calendar supports defaults, a company could set limits to encourage the meeting culture that fits the way they work, such as specific days without meetings or the maximum anyone should have in a week.
A side effect of meeting limits is they encourage us to reflect on how much time we spend in meetings and whether it aligns with our priorities. Introducing friction increases the chances that each meeting is valuable.