Focus and Meeting Time

I don’t recall being a person who “hates meetings”. In fact, early on in my career I sometimes leaned toward joining meetings because I was in the camp who believed that’s where the “important stuff happened.” Now that my calendar is full of meetings and, within the Covid-era, we have even more meetings, I’m actively focused on eliminating, shortening, and deferring meetings. It’s not that meetings are bad — they are very good and effective! — it is too much of one thing can the exact reason we have meetings: to drive results.

Meetings are to align, discuss, and jointly work through problems. That’s the beauty of diversity: hearing different voices. 

We also need uninterrupted hours of focus time to reflect, contemplate, think through, develop proposals and plans, and execute much of that work agreed-upon during said meetings. A balance is required; that balance is different for every person, role, and company (that makes setting any sort of “standard” as nigh impossible).

A couple years ago, my company embarked on Focus Fridays where we elected to not have meetings on Fridays. They serve as days to get work done, catch up, review projects, plan, etc. Over time, they’ve mostly remained as no-meeting-Fridays, with some exceptions. 

However, I don’t know that it reduced the number of meetings as much as crammed them into Mondays-Thursdays, thereby exasperating an existing problem: enough hours spent in meetings, preparing for meetings, or following-up from meetings so as to mitigate thoughtful and proactive thinking. Put differently, we need to meet, and, after re-evaluating the purpose of our roles, determine if we ought to be leading meetings 6-7+ hours a day (perhaps a VP or executive?), or if our role is more like a Manager or Director where we need to execute on the VPs plan and carefully think through the strategy pieces. Then again, the executive needs focus time, too.

I’ve seen people come away from Focus Fridays feeling refreshed and rejuvenated! However, by reallocating the meetings to Mondays-Thursdays, people are pretty wiped out by Friday and it becomes a recovery day. Maybe a catch-up on work day, if lucky. Rarely a “let’s think about the future” day. Then the weekend hits, then Monday and the cycle begins again. 

This is not about whining or some sort of Millennial (or Gen Z, perhaps?) diatribe on how the world owes employees something; it is about creating an effective and healthy work environment to promote high productivity, employee retention, and stellar company results (whether building products, selling products, etc.). Those meetings are costly.

Let’s try a different analogy. Let’s say we go to a full week in-person training seminar or conference where our schedules are jam-packed, content-rich, and from sun-up to sun-down. Two weeks later, how much of that content do you remember? Did it change your processes and approach the way the speakers and workshop leaders intended? Did it make you a better person? Did your company train you so now you know how to use the software, or what to do in a given situation? My guess is, in short, “no”.

That leads me to accepting that “maybe a Focus Friday or No-Meeting Friday isn’t the answer” — or, at least, isn’t the complete one. Is there a better way?

But first, a disclaimer. There’s no perfect solution; we live in an imperfect, imperiled depraved world. Perfection will not be found here.

A coworker and kind friend blocks off afternoons for at least two hours per day. I’ve appreciated watching him develop a more healthy day where he incorporates time to reflect, think about problems, reach out to stakeholders, and do all the other things that we normally do by “multi-tasking” during meetings when we’re neither paying attention to the speaker in the meeting, nor fully to the person we’re Slacking or emailing. Not only have I been watching, but I’m taking notes, too, friend.

I can do a few days of 6-8 hours of meetings a day, but I can’t last forever — I’m no robot. Now, having begun incorporating 2-3 hour blocks of time per day in the mornings or afternoons has changed my attitude, made me more excited about the future at my company, and has begun a healing process from freneticism — constantly running to and fro without the time to slow down and reflect. It’s also helped put into context any new meeting so I can better challenge it: “is this required? Do we need to do this now? Would this be urgent three weeks from now, or is it a flash in the pan? Can you prepare a proposal first, and then we meet to discuss the well-researched proposal?”

Be encouraged to start small. Perhaps even take a Saturday or Sunday morning or evening to reflect on your week. 

  1. Where do you get energy? 
  2. Do you find yourself making intelligent and wise decisions, or are you reacting? 
  3. Are you less capable in afternoon meetings and either struggle to make great decisions or be the captivating leader you aspire to be? 

From there, make changes in your calendar. Perhaps you can’t start the following week, so start three weeks out when your calendar is a bit freer (or could be six weeks out). From there, set boundaries and hold others accountable: “I appreciate you want to meet soon, but to give this project the appropriate focus and energy, I need time to prepare for it. Let’s meet _______ date instead of this week.” That’s taking the hard path. As Henry Townsend says, “Boundaries are what you create an allow.” Be sure to know what you allow for.

Published by Jeff Beaumont

I love helping companies scale and grow their organizations to delight customers and employees, enabling healthy teams, fast growth, and fewer headaches. Scaling quickly is wrought with potholes and plot twists. When you’re running a company, losing customers, and employees are on their way out, and don’t have your systems running smoothly, then you’ll be at your wits' end. I've been there and hate it.

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