The Art of Declining Meetings

As I’ve progressed through my career, the demand on my time has continually increased. I get a tsunami of sales calls, a blizzard of emails, and a monsoon of meeting requests. Leadership comes with a fair amount of extreme weather analogies. So, there you have it.

The debtor

This article isn’t about money. It’s about time and attention.

Are you double-booked? How about triple booked? Do you have a few timeslots that are quadruple-booked? Fantastic. This article is for you. You are drowning in debt, and your debt is time.

Meetings aren’t part of my job. Meetings are my job.

I decline a lot of meetings. I declined 11 last week, just as an example. That’s probably typical. Before I get more specific on that, I’d like to categorize the meetings I keep.

Meetings I keep

  1. Team meeting #2. This is the team I lead. This is my direct-report meeting. We also meet weekly. This is where I share relevant items from meeting #1, and keep my team aligned and working well together. We discuss priorities, challenges, and items forward on the horizon.
  2. 1:1 meetings. I meet regularly and frequently with my direct reports to check-in. I’ll often move these around because they are relatively easy to reschedule, but I try not to cancel them. The frequency is more important than the duration. I want to make sure issues don’t fester or go unsolved for long.
  3. VIP meetings. Just like you, I get invited to meetings with important people in them. I’m there. It’s more about the people, the relationships, and the roles than the subject matter.
  4. Strategic meetings. I have several meetings that are strategically significant. They help me achieve my long-term goals. They help me access influence and resources.
  5. Urgent meetings. Sometimes, but not often, things are on-fire, and I’m specifically required to put out the fire.
  6. Networking and mentoring. I make time for networking for its own sake. I also pour into people I’m trying to develop and coach. I enjoy this activity, so it’s easy to make time for it.

Outlook has this amazing little button. It’s called “decline.” Most of you have never used it. I’m going to teach you how.

Meetings I decline:

  1. Boring meetings. Here’s how I define that: I try hard not to multi-task in meetings. When I’m in a meeting, I’m mentally present. However, if I am tempted to multi-task because the topic or pacing doesn’t keep me engaged, then that’s a meeting I don’t need to be in.
  2. Meetings that my team can handle. If someone on my team can effectively participate in a meeting and accurately represent my point of view, then I’m not necessary.
  3. Status meetings. Some meetings are just a one-way report-out of information and there isn’t much discussion. Those meetings often aren’t necessary.

Some general guidance:

  1. Look at the opportunity cost for every meeting. Everything you accept is an implicit decline to something else. Make your choices as wisely as you can.
  2. Question durations and frequencies. Not every meeting needs to be weekly for an hour. See what you can get done in 30 minutes biweekly. What about those monthly meetings? Can they be quarterly?
  3. Book your tasks. When you have a something to get done, book time to get it done, and perhaps even a distraction-free place to do it, if you tend to get interrupted at your desk.

Next steps:

Many people bemoan meetings. I love them. Meetings are the tool I use to collaborate, lead, make decisions, and move the organization forward. Hopefully this article has given you some ideas for changes you can make that result in you being more effective in your role.

Have ideas of your own? Please share them in the comments below. Also, if you found this article helpful, please share it with your colleagues.

Read this article on my blog site, or listen to it on my podcast.

Technology Leader at CHS. Passionate about leadership and innovation. Posts are my own.