You only need to be in two kinds of meetings

I’ve been on a meeting diet lately. I’ve been rejecting meetings left and right and that’s been pissing off some folks. And you know what? Nothing bad has happened and now I have more free time to work. So how do I do it?

Meeting diet - requirements for a meeting I’ll accept

The reason I’ve rejected so many meetings is because the Outlook invite misses any one of these 4 key pieces of information that I need in order to accept an invite:

  1. What is the goal? It should be clearly stated in a sentence or two (maybe I can skip this if the goal isn’t something I can help achieve).
  2. What is the agenda? I want to know what items will be covered in this meeting (maybe I can attend only a portion of the meeting).
  3. How long is each agenda item? So many people block off 30 or 60 minute meetings because they are convenient. I want to know exactly how long this meeting needs to be because I’m going to guess it is longer than it needs to be.
  4. Is there any pre-reading I can do in advance? Is there a wiki document or draft I can comment on? Could I replace the meeting completely with a commenting system or asynchronous communication (most of the time the answer is yes).

In addition to this, I’ll see how many people are on the invite and if any of them are optional. Is everyone really required? Are 40 people in on a meeting that isn’t an All-Hands? If so, how can we all possibly contribute to this 30 minute meeting?

Even with everything here I won’t double-book commitments and may still need to reject the meeting. But at least with this rubric I can reject with a clear ask (e.g. “can you please attach an agenda so I know what parts of this meeting you need my input on?”) that is reasonable and is helpful to everyone involved when the meeting is changed.

The two kinds of meetings I auto accept

With all of the meetings I reject - there are two kinds I accept without hesitation:

  • We need to take collective action
  • We’re getting a “meeting of the minds” together

Any meeting where you take action is a no-brainer for me: a decision meeting, meetings where we assign tasks after chatting, 1-1s, retros, planning meetings. If you ask for a 1-1 with me I’m happy to make time for you.

The other meetings I happily accept are the kind where we have to think out loud together or talk things out. These include all-hands, brainstorming sessions, and 1-1s.

You’ll notice 1-1s count in both categories. If you aren’t convinced yet that these are your most important meetings you need to get with the program.

Sticking with these two kinds of meetings has cut my meeting time down to only half of my week as a director. At one point I had over 80% of my week in meetings so reclaiming 12 more hours in my week has become a joy.

Not all conversations are meetings

Last thing I’ll say is that I don’t consider all interactions with other humans to be considered meetings. As a manager, I think part of my IC work is getting together with potential candidates, doing interviews, and performing hiring outreach.

Yes, I talk to another person and perhaps meet up with them at an event or coffee shop (I miss coffee shops). The key difference is these meetings don’t need agendas, goals, or anything explicit in the calendar. If we’re talking about Indigo to join our company then we both know why we are here and I don’t need to subject you to the Meeting Diet regimen. In that case, just enjoy your coffee and talk as humans talked before it all took place through Zoom.

Did I mention I miss coffee shops?

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