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Meeting Mania: How to Get Control of Your Workday


Busy man working in office
Image: Nataliya Kalabina -
Last week, I wrote about the challenges of meeting overload, at the time noting that I had 15 meetings on the books for the week. What I failed to do — and which I’m rectifying now — is to mention how much time these involved: 10 hours, and this was a light week for meetings.
Still, presuming I work a 40-hour week, that’s 40% of my time spent in meetings. But I’m rarely able to wrap up my week in a neat 40 hours. Could I get closer to doing so if I spent less time in meetings? Of my 10 hours, seven and a half are for internal meetings. Hmmm.
I turn again to my recent conversation with Darren Chait, COO of meeting notes software maker Hugo. Chait and his Hugo co-founders have some interesting ideas around team and workplace culture. These they’ve embodied in their software, of course, but also have shared what they’ve learned by putting their best practices and strategic thinking down on paper, bound the pages together, and published a book called “10X Culture,” subtitled “The 4-hour meeting week and 25 other secrets from innovation, fast-moving teams.”
You can see there in the subtitle’s “4-hour meeting week” why I’m obsessing over the number of hours I spend in meetings. As Chait and his co-authors discuss in 10X Culture, Hugo espouses the idea that no workweek should comprise more than four hours of internal meetings — this is its “10% rule.” It’s also how the company moves fast, not getting tied up into all sorts of “check-ins and sync-ups and stand-ups and sit-downs,” as the authors write. But adopting a four-hour meeting week does take some getting used to, they note — given that for many, four hours better represents their non-meeting time than their meeting time.
Following their rationale, building a collaborative, connected workforce doesn’t need to equate to meetings galore. Perhaps meetings are standing in the way of this goal. “Whether the meetings are in-person, remote, or somewhere in between, the way we meet has a profound effect on the way we work,” they propose. That’s why building a stronger team culture requires tackling the meeting problem, they argue. While meetings are where decisions get made and knowledge shared, they can also be a “colossal waste of time,” the authors say. “And if people leave meetings feeling drained and demoralized — as if their time was wasted — then meetings might also be your biggest expense.”
You want your workforce to be collaborative, and you want your meetings to be effective. That starts with reducing the quantity, they say. And they have five recommendations for how to get started:
  1. Share updates in advance — “If your entire meeting is updates, have everyone share three bullet points and read each other’s notes. Only have a meeting if that surfaces anything to discuss,” they advise. And if the need to discuss an update does warrant a meeting, you should be able to keep it short and sweet since everybody will have done the upfront prep work of sharing and reviewing their updates.
  2. Make a video instead — Sometimes explaining something in person is quicker and easier than writing it all down. But making a habit of this can create an endless pattern of meetings. Rather than meet, shoot and share a quick video. Recipients can view and respond on their own schedule, rather than having to set aside meeting time. They use an internal product called Fade, and also point to a free video recording/sharing tool called Loom, for this purpose.
  3. Don’t attend — Even if you need to be kept in the loop on projects, that doesn’t mean you have to sit through every meeting. Rather, you need to make sure you have good high-level notes from the meeting easily accessible from a centralized location. Of course, the authors recommend Hugo, and internally they post meeting notes to team collaboration platform Slack, for ready availability.
  4. Stay standing — The idea behind a stand-up is that the meeting will be short enough not to require anybody to sit down and get comfy. Remote work makes not sitting down for your stand-up meeting more of a challenge, but standing will help keep the meeting brief, as intended.
  5. Adopt ad hoc meetings — Need to chat about something? Don’t block out a 30-minute meeting. Instead, jump on a quick videoconference and knock out the conversation in far less time.
The point really isn’t so much that your company hit that same 10% target, but to increase awareness of how people are spending their time, the authors say. However, laying out a guideline “reflects a commitment to not wasting people’s time when other communication options are more effective and efficient.” And, they say, reclaiming some meeting time allows a focus on work that drives results.