In the past year, you’ve probably looked at your calendar and already felt exhausted by all the meetings before the day has even started.
At first, I flocked to my virtual meetings—I was desperate to see colleagues, catch up, even did Zoom karaoke. But after a few months I realized this wasn’t working, and I started taking concentrated steps to eradicate meetings from my schedule.
Now, it’s impossible to get rid of all meetings (nor would I advocate that), but I’ve begun experimenting with several ways to make sure that my schedule is filled only with the meetings that are valuable, and as the Zappos team would put it, deliver happiness. What I’ve learned is the secret is that we need to rethink our meetings: how we schedule them, how we replace the ones we can, and how we mix up the ones we keep.
Of the many things I’ve tried, here are the tips and reflections that have had the biggest impact and that anyone can implement to fight off meeting fatigue.
Evaluate based on social energy (not minutes passed)
The biggest change I’ve made is to start thinking in terms of “social energy,” not minutes. Not all meetings are draining for me in the same way. And at times, even meetings I enjoy can be exhausting. Moreover, not all meetings are created equal. There are big meetings where someone else is presenting to a large group, where I can sit back and take on the role of listener. There are others, such as small group brainstorms, that require a lot of participation from me. These meetings don’t take the same amount of energy, despite taking the same amount of time.
Take this variety of commitment levels into account when scheduling your meetings. I’ve started to think less in terms of time slots and minutes, fitting things in where I can, but really evaluating the social energy cost of each meeting. My days are more balanced, and I make sure that I don’t group the most draining meetings together, so I can keep my social energy in the right place and at the right level throughout the day.
Ditch the weekly check-in
Whether it’s for project check-ins or weekly team meetings, I fall into the habit of scheduling a lot of recurring meetings. However, when looking back at past weeks, I found that almost always the meetings that were most exciting and energizing were one-off meetings. Take a look at your calendar, and it’s likely you’ll find the same thing.
There is definitely a place for recurring meetings, but these days the repetitive meeting is the first obligation I look to trim from my schedule. Most of the time I find that there are a lot of check-ins where I can get the information in other ways (ergo “that could have been an email”).
Try scheduling more one-off meetings, those that are scheduled intentionally for a particular topic or discussion, and keep the recurring meetings only to what’s absolutely necessary. For me, this helps me keep my schedule to what energizes me most.
Emphasize inclusivity for greater output and time
Welcoming the right people in a meeting is important. When I was working for a large tech company as a product manager, there was nothing more frustrating than figuring out next steps or reaching a decision, only to have a surprise blocker later from someone who wasn’t involved. In my quest to cancel more meetings, within a new remote environment, a lot more of my collaborative work is happening in writing—and this poses new challenges. A lot of my career (and company) has been focused on uncovering how language patterns can exclude and alienate people. With remote work, it’s not just the words we use, but also who we actively invite to participate. Some people are very comfortable jumping in via writing, and others may need to be asked for their input more directly.
Like I would during an in-person meeting, I don’t just pay attention to which voices I’m hearing, but I look for the ones I’m not and actively engage them. When I haven’t done this, collaboration has suffered, and the meetings that were meant to be replaced, creep back into my schedule. It’s hard to find energy from a meeting that’s dominated by just the loudest voices, and the same is true in written conversations.
Don’t underestimate location
You aren’t going to be able to cancel every meeting, so mixing up the ones you do have will keep your energy up. Never underestimate the power of changing your location. Many of us have been holed up inside our homes that were never meant to be an office, school, home, or playground, especially not all at once. It’s easy to fall into the same routines in small spaces. For a time, I took every meeting from my kitchen table, but now when the weather permits, I’ve started taking some of my one-on-ones on the phone while taking a short walk outside.
For those meetings where I’m interacting with a single person, this technique works well. Being in motion helps energize me, and the change in scenery leaves me refreshed when I return to other meetings. I used to get a lot of joy from a particularly productive meeting. And with this series of steps, I’ve been able to recapture some of that feeling I had in the office.
As we head back to a more hybrid working environment, now is the time to prioritize your social energy in your schedule. With work becoming more flexible, you have the power to exert the control you need to bring joy back into your day.
Kieran Snyder is the CEO and cofounder of Textio, an augmented writing platform that helps businesses communicate more inclusively in their hiring and brand content. Kieran has previously held product leadership roles at Microsoft and Amazon and has a PhD in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania.