How to Avoid Meeting Burnout

Here we are in September again and I’d swear that some unwritten, “let the meetings begin” policy has automatically kicked in. Much like the potted mums that magically appeared last week outside every grocery store and garden center, workplace calendars are suddenly blossoming with meetings and conference calls—through to 2016!

Annual Mum Carnival, Internet Archive

If your calendar is getting over-crowded with all the meetings you’ve booked (or been booked into), you might want to consider these tips for avoiding meeting burnout. They fall into two broad categories: eliminating unnecessary meetings and making necessary meetings more effective.

Before meetings:

  • Determine whether any of the meetings you’ve scheduled are superfluous and can easily be replaced by a quick call or email. Sharing a simple status update, for example, can be a frustrating reason for a meeting.
  • Find out whether you’ve been included on any meeting invitations “just as a courtesy.” Perhaps there are some meetings you don’t need to attend (make sure to request meeting notes/minutes if you want to stay abreast of meeting outcomes.)
  • If you believe a meeting is the best way to accomplish your objective—be clear on that objective! Know the purpose of the meeting and what you hope to accomplish. Let participants know what you expect from them. If you are a participant, ask the person who called the meeting so you can prepare accordingly.
  • Circulate (or request) an agenda in advance and encourage participants to add their own discussion items that relate to the meeting objective.

During meetings:

  • Make sure the meetings you do have are productive and substantive. Share updates, background information and administrative details outside of the meeting time and focus “face time” on collaborative efforts and strategic discussions.
  • Set a positive emotional context for the meeting. You might, for example, greet everyone as they enter; have upbeat music playing in the background until the meeting officially starts, offer refreshments, choose a comfortable meeting room, etc.  Other ways to ensure a more positive emotional context for meetings include:
    • Starting the meeting with a positive check-in that allows people to share a positive experience they’ve had recently.
    • Ironing out any personal conflicts separately before the meeting rather than allowing them to erupt during a meeting, negatively affecting the group.[1]
  • Start and end meetings on time and stick to the agenda. If someone comes in late, keep the interruption to a minimum. Don’t make everyone sit through a recap of what the latecomer missed.
  • Document meeting decisions and who is responsible for acting on them.

After meetings:

  • If necessary, after the meeting breaks up, bring latecomers up to speed on critical information they missed.
  • Promptly share whatever form of meeting minutes or notes you’ve taken with all meeting participants (and other interested parties). Make sure to document decisions that were made and any assigned action items and deliverables; including completion deadlines and who is responsible for completing them.
  • Ask for feedback on the meeting and meeting process and incorporate suggestions for improvement into subsequent meetings.

Meetings can be a powerful tool for collaboration, problem solving and relationship building. They can also “leave you filled with an overwhelming sense of dread and your stomach in knots.”[2] If your response to a calendar full of meetings is the latter, you may be a candidate for meeting burnout. Before this season’s crop of meetings gets you down, take a stand. Start with some judicious pruning of meeting deadwood, and then cultivate for high-yield by making essential meetings both vital and productive.


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[1] Susanne Gaddis, PhD. Managing Meeting Burnout – How To Take Your Next Gathering From Worn-Out to Wow!
[2] Ibid.

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