Dark Side of Meeting Addiction
Top tips to run better meetings and increase productivity
I recently discovered my 11-year-old son is addicted to Prime, the energy drink promoted by famous YouTubers KSI and Logan Paul. But he’s not the only one because whenever I go to my local supermarket, the shelves are empty. A few weeks ago, I found a local shop capitalising on this addiction who were selling Prime for £10 a bottle. That’s 300% more than the recommended retail price!
Speaking of addiction, things could be a lot worse and he could have Hyalophagia (a compulsion to consume glass) or Trichotillomania (the urge to pull out one's hair). But there’s an addiction that nearly every professional in the world is facing, but I can’t seem to find an official name for the condition. This addiction is zapping our energy and reducing our ability to be productive. I’m talking about our addiction to meetings. If you were to open your calendar right now, I bet it would be full of meetings. Worse still, they are probably back to back like Lego blocks with no windows of opportunity to actually do your work.
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What does the research on meetings tell us?
If we go as far back as 1976, the Harvard Business Review estimated American workers had 11 million meetings a day. But today, it’s more than 5 times that number at around 55 million meetings a day. More importantly, that equates to an annual cost of around $1.4 trillion dollars, based on the average wage of professionals according to Salary.com.
Research conducted by software company Lucid Meetings indicates that team members meet an average of eight times a week. That number is even higher for management staff at around 12 times per week. And senior leaders at the C suite level practically live in meetings their whole working week.
So was Peter Drucker right when he said “Meetings are a symptom of bad organisation. The fewer meetings the better”?
Why are meetings useful?
I’m not advocating we stop having meetings. Well, at least not all of the time. They are extremely useful for a whole host of reasons:
We are social creatures so having team interactions are extremely important.
Diverse thinking helps us open our minds to new perspectives and ideas.
Well-run meetings help us achieve key outcomes.
However, it’s important to appreciate that the world around us has changed considerably over the past few decades. Yet the meeting format seems to have remained the same as it always has been.
Top tips for better meetings
So let me share my top tips to supercharge your meetings and run them with impact:
Stop recycling meeting agendas
Recycling is great for the planet, but not for agendas from your last meeting. Create fresh agendas that are specific to the meeting. For example, we typically see agendas start with introductions, some bullet points in the middle and a concluding any other business section at the end. Instead, try turning the talking points into questions we are hoping to answer. For example, what 3 products do we want to prioritise for this year? Formulating a question triggers curiosity amongst our attendees and switches our brains into problem-solving mode. If you have colleagues that love puzzles then this can be a great way for us to better engage that brain power.
Find your peak performance times
One of the leading researchers on attention spans, Gloria Mark, concluded that we are at our peak performance around 11 am and 3 pm during the day. If we require our attendees to use some of their valuable brain power, then it’s worth aligning problem-solving meetings to those times. We should definitely avoid lunch times or those few minutes leading up to lunch. This causes people to think irrationally which is definitely a bad move if we require big decisions to be made during the meeting. For your teams, their peak performance times may be different, so by spending some effort to understand their preferences, we can schedule invites accordingly.
Schedule shorter meetings
Gloria Mark’s recent research found that our attention spans have shrunk from 2.5 minutes in 2004 to just 47 seconds in 2021. This research has been validated by other researchers such as Microsoft Research who found average attention spans to be around 50 seconds. But when we open up our favourite scheduling apps like Outlook, by default we are given a 1-hour slot. Or we see our colleagues scheduling 1-hour meetings so automatically we do the same to align with the culture of the organisation. But Parkinson’s Law tells that work will expand to fill the time allotted for its completion. So if we allocate 1 hour, then we will ensure we use up the entire time for the task. Marissa Mayer, formerly an executive at Google and CEO of Yahoo was famous for advocating super short meetings of just 10 minutes. At times she would attend over 70 meetings a week. That sounds like hard work to me, but on the positive side, it meant you had to be laser-focused in setting the agenda and she could be way more responsive to employee needs.
Implement no-meeting days
Probably my favourite tip of all is the no-meeting day rule. Professor Vijay Pereira and his fellow researchers conducted the most in-depth research study to date, to identify the impact on productivity by implementing no meeting days. Over 70 companies took part consisting of over 25k employees. They had to be a multi-national or international (in 2 or more countries other than their base location) organisation and employ at least 1000 people. The companies had to agree to implement at least 1-5 no-meeting days for 1 year. Some of the key findings concluded that the optimum number of no meetings was 2 days a week in order for productivity to peak. Teams that adopted these rules felt much more accountable since they had a better sense of urgency during the days when meetings were scheduled.
So maybe my son’s addiction to Prime isn’t so bad after all. It makes my wallet a little lighter but it does keep him hydrated and doesn't impact his productivity.
The research in this newsletter was inspired by the books Surprising Science of Meetings by Dr. Steven Rogelberg and Attention Span by Gloria Mark.
Want more practical tips on running better meetings?
In episode 49 of the Superpowers School podcast, I spoke to Dr. Steven Rogelberg about the science of running better meetings.
You can check out the full episode here: