When’s the best time to schedule a meeting? For many managers, the answer is clear: first thing in the morning. Your team is fresh, you make sure you’re all on the same page, and you set yourself up for a productive day.
But there are plenty of arguments against the morning meeting. Before you make it your default option, consider these factors:
In their 2011 book, Willpower, Florida State University psychology professor Roy Baumeister and New York Times science journalist John Tierney write that willpower is like a muscle, in that it gets fatigued from overuse. In the course of the day, as you battle traffic and make decisions, it gets used up. That means our supply of discipline and our ability to focus is best in the mornings. “There seems to be a general pattern that major self-control failures and other bad decisions occur late in the day,” Baumeister says.
So schedule that meeting before decision fatigue sets in, right? Not so fast. First, ask about the purpose of the meeting. If it requires difficult decision making, and will need everyone’s maximum mental capacity, morning is good.
But if you’re just conveying information, or having a simple status meeting to check that projects are going well? Better to give your team members the morning for deep work and projects that require focus. You can get an update later on.
A white paper by researchers working with Johnson & Johnson measuring people’s energy levels throughout the day found we hit our peak right at 8 a.m. That is game time. We are ready to execute. By late afternoon, people drag. No one wants to start anything new.
But here’s something funny about meetings. If they’re scheduled, people go, even if they don’t feel like it. A 3:30 p.m. meeting isn’t replacing anything else because you weren’t going to start anything at that time. But an 8 a.m. meeting supplants a time you would have been motivated to start something big.
To be sure, many teams meet first thing in the morning to figure out what everyone will do that day. But another option is to have that meeting at 3:30 or 4 p.m., figure out the next day’s plan, send everyone home, and then come in the next morning ready to roll.
Even if people are more fresh for an 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. meeting, many people don’t focus on exactly what they need to do to prepare for a meeting until shortly before it. If you schedule an 8:30 a.m. meeting, a fair number of people are going to come in unprepared.
There are ways around that. You can give everyone five minutes to read the agenda and think of an answer to a particular question; or you can schedule the big meeting for later in the morning and give people those focused a.m. hours to prep.
A study done by meeting planning tool WhenIsGood.net analyzed data from thousands of meeting requests. They found that, averaged over the whole week, the 9 a.m. slot had an acceptances-per-suggestion score of 0.347, meaning that if you suggest that time to three people, roughly one person will be available.
Meanwhile, by 3 p.m., the score rose to 0.452–much closer to one in two workers. It’s unclear exactly why that is, but perhaps people recognize that things could go wrong in getting to work by 9 a.m., or they won’t be prepared. A 3 p.m. meeting gives you more breathing room. If all you would be doing then is going out for coffee and a doughnut, you might get that at your meeting anyway. It’s a win-win.