The Advantage of “No Meeting” Days

Chances are, you have too many meetings. Atlassian found that on average, 31 hours are spent in unproductive meetings a month (and that’s per person!). In a summary of this and other studies on the Hubspot blog, the list of side effects is pretty disheartening and includes lost productivity and wasted time at a cost of $37 billion. Not to mention burned out and overworked employees. They have to work extra to make up for all those hours lost in meetings, after all.

In general, the data says that businesses have too many meetings, and the ones they do have are inefficient. For our part, we don’t want to kill meetings altogether—they do often help us get work done and make decisions. But we can all agree the current model for meetings is a little broken. So once you’re aware of this issue, how do you address it?

Give your employees “maker’s time” without meetings

Given the above list of downsides, it’s understandable that there’s been a backlash when it comes to meetings. Startup culture has been cutting down on meetings since at least 2012, with Facebook having a no-meetings Wednesday.

Paul Graham’s essay on maker’s schedule vs. manager’s schedule came even earlier, in 2009. His argument: while meetings aren’t as disastrous for a manager (though this is arguable, given the evidence that’s been collected since), they’re truly awful for people who spend their day creating things. When you’re coding something, and you’re in the flow state, and you get interrupted, it takes 23 minutes (on average) to get back into the groove of what you were doing before. If you look at a maker’s workday and it’s scattered with 30-minute meetings, with only an hour or so in between them, you see how this can ruin a worker’s productivity.

Running a business without meetings can seem daunting. But having a strict no-meetings policy isn’t the only way to go: many successful companies compromise with a one-day-a-week no-meetings policy.

Follow the leaders

Facebook and Asana (which was founded by a Facebook co-founder) both have a company-wide policy of no meetings on Wednesdays. Highfive also avoids scheduling regular meetings on Wednesdays. And 37signals tries to cut down meetings as much as possible.

In fact, it’s becoming a more and more popular choice to restrict meetings to certain times or days. Moveline, an online moving company, has a “Maker’s Day” on Tuesdays, when the product team isn’t available for meetings. Instead, they focus on one big problem they’re trying to solve. At mobile team communication platform Talko, they have Do Not Disturb days and endorse a policy of scheduling meetings adjacent to one another.

Jackrabbit Mobile, an Austin-based mobile design & development agency, has adopted two no-meetings days a week—Tuesday and Friday.

Not only does this make it easier for employees to concentrate on the no-meetings days, it actually makes it easier to schedule meetings during the rest of the week, since the employee schedules are in sync. And “everyone is pretty focused on collaborating on meeting days,” says Jonathan Rosenberg, partner at Jackrabbit. Indeed, having focused meeting time should help with the 73% of people that are doing other work during meetings and the 91% that are daydreaming (stats from Atlassian).

How to make no-meeting days part of your culture

Okay, you’re convinced—less meetings equals more maker time. What’s the best way to make it work for your business?

Adapt the spirit to suit your team set-up and style. If your team is largely remote, then having a no-meetings policy one day a week is a good place to start—but you can add on to that. Maybe make it a “don’t expect an immediate answer when you ping a teammate on Slack” day, too. Or “email only in case of emergencies.” You get the drift.

Similarly, instead of having a no-meeting day, you can do blocks of time each day where meetings are banned. Choosing one of these tactics depends on your employees’ preference and your company culture. One possible downside of having no meeting times (instead of days) is that the natural time for meetings would be either in the morning or towards the end of the day, to allow more of the day to go uninterrupted. Morning is many peoples’ most productive times (so being in a meeting might be a waste of that productivity), and having meetings in the evening might make for tired, unfocused attendees. Test each approach and see what works better with your team (and creates better work from your team).

Last but not least, try to have better meetings when you do have them. We’ve got you covered, with a how to on making your meetings more meaningful anda list of tips on better meetings from the VP of Platform Development at Zazzle.

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