Daily Back-to-Back Meetings Have You Fried? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I manage a small team in a big company. Here is my problem. I start my day at 7 a.m. with a meeting, and then my entire day is back-to-back meetings. Almost every meeting generates work for me to do or to delegate to someone on my team—which requires another meeting.

When am I supposed to get all my work done? After ten hours of meetings, I feel like that’s when my real workday starts. But by then, I’m fried.


Meeting-ed Out


Dear Meeting-ed Out,

This is a perennial problem for almost everyone. Unfortunately, substantially changing anything will probably require a shift in company culture. There has been so much written on this topic. You might think about collecting the facts and presenting them to HR to see if you can garner support for changing the collective habits in your company. If you are suffering, everyone else probably is, too.

But hey, trying to shift culture will result in—more meetings. Just what you don’t want or need. So what could you do short of that?

Some of what is required in your situation is a shift in mindset. Right now you are accepting any and all meetings. You might need to harness your courage and take control of your time. No one can do that for you. Here are some ideas that might work for you:

  • Review your meetings and take a hard look at which ones are yours or your team’s. Those are the ones you have the most control over. Challenge yourself to see if any of them can be consolidated, shortened, or moved to bi-weekly.
  • At the very least, you and your team could agree to implement “no-meeting Fridays.” We have implemented this in our organization, and it has made all the difference.
  • Another thing you can do with your team is to make all meetings 30 minutes. It’s very easy to fill time, but there’s no law that says meetings need to last an hour.
  • Patrick Lencioni wrote a great book called Death by Meeting. In it, he says there are four kinds of meetings: Daily check-in meetings, which should last 10 minutes max. Weekly tactical meetings: 45 to 90 minutes, max. Monthly strategic meetings: 2 to 4 hours. Quarterly off-site reviews: 1 to 2 days.

I’m not saying these rules are the only ones to follow, but at least Lencioni provides a framework that can show how some meetings are not necessary or could be better run.

  • Look hard at all the meetings you are in. Do you really need to be in all of them? Can you send someone else on your team? If you are delegating, is it possible that the person you are delegating to should be in the meeting instead of you? If so, make sure they send you the bullet points about any decisions made in the meeting or actions to be taken as a result of the meeting. If you’re worried about perception of others, or being judged, share your reasons. You might start a trend.
  • Request that any meeting you are invited to have an agenda sent out in advance. If there’s nothing on the agenda that requires your input, decline—and request that you be sent a transcript of the meeting.
  • Block off focused work time on your calendar, and don’t accept meetings that are scheduled over that time period. You don’t have to explain to anyone (except your boss or their boss) why you aren’t available. If people really need you in a meeting, they will find a time that works for you. (Note: This may require some re-training of people who have become used to your being available all the time.)
  • Finally, challenge yourself to use technology. Zoom now has a feature that can transcribe meetings. Almost all companies have technology you can use to have a quick chat, delegate tasks, etc. Not everything has to be a meeting.

This situation probably crept up on you over time. And it will take some time to unwind it. Be bold, be fierce, and be relentless, so you can get your brain and your life back.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

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