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Too many meetings? You need this.

publishedabout 1 month ago
8 min read

Working in a healthy async-first style starts with becoming better at meetings. People often think async-first work is just about removing meetings, but that's a common misconception. Async-first is actually about using meetings for what they were meant for instead of by default. But you can't switch to this way of thinking if you don't know how to have an effective meeting in the first place.

After working with dozens of clients on this transition for the last four years, I've found the best place to start is with recurring meetings because these ongoing commitments allow you to make the most impact. Recurring meetings can create a lot of problems. They clutter up your calendar with ongoing commitments that frequently feel like a waste of time, go on far too long, and include participants that should have been removed long ago. We shouldn't normalize this.

Here are the three biggest mistakes that people make with recurring meetings and what you can do about them to help you begin your async-first journey:

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Problem 1: Lack of Clarity

Have you ever had a recurring meeting on your schedule where you never knew what to expect? One week you're talking about one thing, the next, something completely different. Emotions tend to run high during these calls because, without an objective or agenda, you throw participants into discussing topics they haven't prepared for. You're not even sure how to help because you don't really know why you're there.

Meetings without a clear purpose become a free-for-all where the loudest people hold the meeting reins and drive without a map. Yes, you occasionally reach your destination, but it comes at the price of wasting everyone's time and energy by going the least direct route.

Solution:

Our goal is to create transparency around what the meeting is for and why each person is there. First, create a one-line north star purpose for each recurring meeting. This purpose should be clear, specific, and simple. If you ask the other participants for the objective individually, they should be able to provide the same answer.

Next, list the attributes needed from people invited on the call. It's important to list attributes instead of names, so people can point out when it no longer serves them to be included as a participant. Every participant should be able to use this attributes list to answer the questions, "Why am I here?" and "How can I help achieve the objective?". Finally, make sure to create and distribute a detailed meeting agenda no less than 24 hours before every call.

These actions will ensure everyone is on the same page. This also provides constraints on what is in the scope of the meeting—allowing participants to stay on topic and not waste time on out-of-scope matters. These efforts may look like more work upfront, but the time required to make them happen is minimal, while the time/effort saved over the lifetime of the recurring call is substantial.

Action Items:

  • Write a one-line north star purpose for every recurring meeting
  • Display this purpose prominently in meeting notes and in each call
  • Write out the attributes needed from participants
  • Create and distribute meeting agendas no less than 24 hours before every meeting

Problem 2: No Accountability

If your meetings feel like groundhog day, this is where you're falling short. These are the calls where everyone is just repeating themselves over and over. Participants may agree upon actions, but they aren't assigned to anyone or have a committed timeframe. So they're just discussed again in the next call. As a result, you end up talking in circles.

These are also the meetings where everyone makes a decision in one call, but then two months later, you're having the exact same discussion because no one can remember why they originally made that choice. Everyone was "too busy" to create any reference, and now everyone is stuck wasting time redoing work.

Solution:

Instead of having the same call as last week, everyone needs to be on the same page about what actions are next, who is doing them, and when they should be completed. Each meeting should start by reviewing and updating this action list to build in accountability.

Every decision made during a meeting should be documented, including the what, why, and how behind the resolution. Participants should be able to reference these details on future calls easily. If you think you're "too busy" to do this, think of how much busier you'll be if you have to do the work all over again.

Action Items:

  • Document all action items, including who is doing them and when they should be done by
  • Start each recurring meeting by reviewing and updating this action list
  • Document the what, why, and how behind each decision made
  • Make sure decisions can be easily referenced in the future

Problem 3: Zombie Mode

Review the recurring meetings on your calendar. How many have been on your calendar for 3+ months without change? If it's the majority, you may be falling into the trap of letting recurring meetings become automatic. You can't remember when these meetings weren't on your calendar. Once they were scheduled, no one ever questioned them. While they may have been useful at first, the longer they go on without being updated, the less valuable they become.

Signs you have an automatic meeting:

  • It has the "this meeting should have been an email" vibe
  • The invited meeting participants include people who don't pay attention, contribute, or attend often
  • You feel a sense of dread or annoyance when receiving the meeting reminder notification

Automatic recurring meetings are the #1 biggest time wasters at work. One hour wasted every week on this type of meeting is 4.5 hours every month and 52 hours every year. And that's just with one! I once coached someone who had let recurring meetings fill 80% of their workweek. Don't let this be you too.

Solution:

All recurring meetings should have a prequalification checklist. This is a list of items that need to be completed for the meeting to occur. Without them, the call would end up being unnecessarily long or completely useless (ex. creating a meeting agenda, everyone reviewing materials, etc). When you pre-qualify for a loan, you confirm that you meet the requirements to not risk the bank's money. Likewise, when you pre-qualify for a meeting, you confirm that you've done everything to ensure the scheduled session will not waste anyone's time. Set someone as a pre-qualifier, and authorize them to remove the meeting if the checklist is incomplete.

All recurring meetings should also have a set evaluation date. This is a regular time when you go through a meeting evaluation checklist to confirm that the timing, format, participants, objective, and meeting effectiveness are all still optimal. It's important to regularly evaluate these meeting attributes, so the meeting doesn't go stale. Set this to be quarterly at a minimum.

Finally, most recurring meetings should set a meeting end date. This is when you aim to complete the meeting objective and delete the call from your calendar. This is another example of us building in constraints to keep everyone focused and accountable. The end date might be less relevant for relationship-based calls, like 1:1s, but all meetings should use evaluation dates.

Action Items:

  • Make a prequalification checklist for each recurring call
  • Assign a pre-qualifier to ensure the list is always completed
  • Set an evaluation date for every recurring meeting
  • Create a meeting attributes checklist to review on the evaluation date
  • Add an end date for non-relationship-based recurring meetings

Ineffective meetings lead to more meetings. By targeting the three biggest mistakes people make with recurring calls, you can take back control of your calendar and create time to do your best work.

I've included specific action items, so you know exactly what steps to take. If you'd like to save even more time, I've created a recurring meeting Notion template to help you eliminate bad meetings. All the action items are built into the template, so getting started is even less work.

This is the template that I've used for all my recurring meetings for years to help keep my meeting load less than 5% of my workweek. I've also used it to help clients cut an average of half the meetings from their calendars. I'm launching it publicly today! Get first access and use code 'RINEWSLETTER' to receive a 25% discount for being a newsletter subscriber.

Whether you choose the DIY approach or the template approach, I'm excited for you to begin your journey to get rid of bad meetings!

TLDR

The 3 biggest mistakes people make with recurring meetings are:

  1. Lack of clarity
  2. No accountability
  3. Accepting zombie mode

This doesn’t have to be your normal. Target these 3 mistakes and take back control of your calendar.

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What did you think of this issue? What do you hope you'll see in the next one? Feel free to reply to this message or DM me on Twitter @mar15sa.

I truly appreciate you taking the time to read this. Hope you have a lovely day!

Marissa
Founder, Remote Work Prep

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