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Anonymous Career Advice

How to handle back to back meetings and stressed staff around you

This week, the anonymous career advice form received two questions that were very similar. Being in back to back meetings are taking up all of the work time and two frustrated individuals are facing an uphill battle to actually get their work done and in one case cannot even grab a lunch break. 

Dear focus, I’m finding work impossible, Constantly in back to back meetings, I am struggling to even find time to eat let and sometimes struggle to find time for a toilet break. I am never getting any of my work done and the icing on the cake; everyone is stressed and feel there is no way out.

This is something that really is unacceptable and I feel for you.
I have been there personally in a previous role and it is something that took  me a few weeks to tackle and get out of the other side. 

A trigger warning; this is going to take you 30 extra minutes to review and run through, I suggest doing this when you are fresh and can concentrate like it is deep work. 

Exercise 1: Take to list out the meetings and which ones to: 

  • Keep – essential and have to be a part and running ok 
  • Kill – unuseful, no one is benefitting and is wasting your time 
  • Cure – somewhat useful, can be optimised, review and optimise the parts that can be changed, reduce down the amount of chatter and focus around more actionable agendas 

Exercise 2: 

The second exercise, cancel meetings around lunch, why? Lunch time is often a meeting slot that many eat through but rarely concentrate in or on and actually rolls over too long. Set a lunch break and block out in your calendar. If you have a team get them to take the same action and reject meetings around a set time for 45-60 minutes. 

The important factor to remember, when you go on holiday does anything break? The brutal honest answer is nothing, if it does then you might need to have a look at how you document and share the problems you are working on or the problems you are creating for those around you. 

Exercise 3:

Be ruthless in time management in and around meetings. Meeting design is an art and a science, ensuring you get the right interaction, the right agenda and the right attendees is a deliberate act and needs a strong head and time management to handle and organise and keep those around you on a schedule. 

Exercise 4:

Over the next 4 weeks, select two slots of times where there are no meeting times.
Ideally, look for times that equals 90 mins and then have a status of do not disturb and get work done. Encourage the team to do the same, without the buy-in of those around you, it is going to be a challenge to follow yourself. If you crack for meetings in these time slots you will be hindering yourself and those around you. 90 minutes per day shouldn’t be hard to find or hard to complete work in. 

Meetings are a mindset, for some, it’s a chance to hide, for others, it is their chance to be noticed, work out the motives and you can remove the excuse to have meetings or attend them. 

Exercise 5:

Speak to the management team or to the HiPPO, show the lack of output from the teams and highlight how stressed and under it people are. If the management team do not help or struggle to help it is likely down to them following suit, this often triggers movement within management teams to address these issues, often this can take one big project or for department heads to tackle.

Watch and see how your company tackles this. 

Time is the only thing that is equal in the office. So making time work for you is the most important thing. 

Take a read our leaders letter of optimise your meetings to learn the science behind meeting design and how to win back and own your own time.

Other meeting design tips:

  • Something to keep in mind: By cancelling meetings that reoccur and are recycled meetings with the same format you can see how important that meeting is or was and you will more time and could get more work done.
  • Change the default times in meetings from 60 mins to 50 and 30 to 25 and be the operator and speed up meetings & control notes you can take back at least an hour
  • If there are status meetings, just for the leader of the project to receive or give updates, move to a document, a project management tool (like notion or monday.com) an email or a Slack (Teams) channel with specific times to do this as you would with a standup, consider using loom or canva to record you on camera walking through updates so you can start a new template for people to follow. 

Best of luck with claiming back your time, it will seem like a lot of work to undertake however it is a process to follow and undertake than one big drastic event. 


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