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Six Tips for Overcoming Meeting Overload

December 18, 2013

By: Jennifer Lucas

Communicating with colleagues is important, and meetings give people a forum to make personal connections, discuss progress and create action plans. However, too many meetings, especially unnecessary ones, will have employees cringing every time they hear their Outlook calendar ding.

It is possible to confuse a loaded calendar with actual progress on goals. I once worked as a project manager. One translation of the title “Project Manager” is: Person who does nothing but attend meetings. I feel certain that the work related to this job would have been interesting, had I ever been allowed to do it. Instead of moving forward on projects, I moved from conference room to conference room. It got to the point that I had favorites; conference room A had the most flattering lighting and the cushiest chairs. But if I was relegated to conference room C, I knew I would have to bring a large coffee to stay awake in the cramped, hot ex-supply closet.

The benefit of these meetings was the rich imagination world I developed. In my mind, I planned vacations, redecorated my house, and assigned myself super powers! The drawback was… well, everything else. Rarely was I actually required or even expected to contribute to the conversation, and it took several weeks in the role before I stopped asking myself, “Why am I here?” and resigned myself to my fate.

Some people love these get-togethers, often because they enjoy speaking to an audience (preferably a captive one). They may be energized by the people contact or thrilled to share their ideas. In fact, these very people might be the ones scheduling all the gatherings, and doing the majority of the talking. However, many find the frequent interruptions exhausting and draining.

What people hate about meetings:

  • The interruption to their work
  • The feeling that nothing is being accomplished
  • Time spent going over the same ground repeatedly
  • Frequently straying off topic
  • Not knowing when (or if) they will EVER end

Here are 6 tips for overcoming meeting overload:

1. Don’t confuse sending Outlook invites for making progress. Sometimes when a deadline is looming and folks are feeling overwhelmed, it may be tempting to meet up and talk about how overwhelmed everyone feels. This is unlikely to result in actual movement toward a goal, and it might just be a subconscious delay tactic. Take a good hard look at your own motives before clicking send.
2.  Exhaust all other means of conveying information first. Would a phone call or an email suffice? How about a quick chat with the key person/people involved? If only a few facts are going to be shared, there is probably no need for a dozen individuals to block off hours on their schedule.
3. Going ahead with it anyway? Check out your attendee list. Does everyone need to be there? Make sure each person invited has something important to contribute, and ensure they are allowed to do so. Give everyone present the chance to speak. Don’t let anyone dominate the conversation.
4. Set an agenda. Put a plan in place about what will be discussed and what needs to be accomplished. Stick to it. An agenda keeps things moving and results in actual productivity.
5. Set a timer. People will dread gatherings less if they know they have a set end time that is respected.
6. Take notes! Some people may be so busy inwardly organizing their spice cabinet to catch every detail conveyed. Being able to refer to minutes will keep people on task and help prevent repeating the same material at the next powwow.

When is a meeting the right choice?  Here's a few examples:

  • To share very good or very bad news, the kind of information people shouldn't hear via the grape vine or read in an email
  • To introduce people from different departments who will be working toward the same goal
  • At the start and finish of a project, to go over objectives, divvy up assignments and give after-action reviews


Communicating with different personalities




Jennifer Lucas

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