You're sitting at your desk, gearing up for an afternoon of research for a project you're heading up, when all of a sudden a meeting request pops up on your screen. As you accept the invite, for lack of a good excuse not to, you quietly bemoan the loss of actual work time and wonder how on earth you're going to meet your deadline.
This is a scenario office workers know all too well. American workplaces are obsessed with meetings, and some organizations go so far as to hold meetings to prepare for upcoming meetings, while others hold post-meeting meetings to discuss how the aforementioned meetings went down.
It's a ridiculously vicious cycle, and if you're in any sort of management position, you're likely to have it even worse. According to The Muse, an online career resource site, middle managers spend roughly 35% of their time in meetings. For upper management, that figure jumps to 50%.
Not only are U.S. employees often obligated to attend meetings, but they also sink time into preparing for them. Workers who typically attend meetings spend up to four hours each week getting ready in advance.
Of course, the problem with meetings is that they often prevent employees from doing actual work -- work that needs to be performed at a certain volume or within a specific time frame. If you've fallen into the meetings trap, you have two choices: You can continue to spend your days rotting away in a series of conference rooms, or you can take steps to reclaim some of the valuable working hours you've come to miss. If the latter sounds like the better option, here are a few ways to go about it.
1. Be more selective about the meetings you attend
It's natural to feel obliged to say yes to every meeting invite that comes your way. After all, there's a reason your attendance is wanted, and in some cases, getting asked to be part of a meeting can be downright flattering.
Still, there's a good chance you don't actually need to attend every meeting you're invited to, and if you do a better job of vetting those requests, you'll avoid wasting your time when you could otherwise be doing something productive. Unless it's a recurring meeting, the next time you get a meeting request, ask to see its agenda before saying yes. If, based on that information, you feel you can skip it, say no and make a reasonable case as to why. Spending an extra three to five minutes politely declining a meeting could free up an hour or two of your time within the same week.
2. Schedule your meetings more efficiently
Has this ever happened to you? You attend a meeting from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., get back to your desk at 11:05, settle in and open the spreadsheet you were working on, only to have your next meeting reminder pop up 10 minutes later.
Having short breaks in between meetings can be one of the greatest productivity-zappers you'll encounter at work, because by the time you're able pick up where you left off on a project or task, you'll need to stop and head over to your next meeting. And repeat. You're much better off scheduling a series of meetings back to back (painful as that might be) or otherwise making sure you have enough time in between to actually get stuff done.
Another option is to set aside one day a week as a "meetings day." This way, you can write off that day as far as your actual work goes, but you'll have ample opportunity to catch up during the rest of the week.
3. Insist on a hard stop
The only thing worse than a meeting is a meeting that runs over its allotted time. If this happens often, you can combat it by blocking off time on your calendar right after your meetings are scheduled to end, and then coming in with the disclaimer that you have an immediate obligation during those slots.
Say you accept an invite to a meeting that's supposed to end at 4 p.m., but it's with a team that's notorious for discussing things ad nauseam. If you make it clear that you need to move on to your next appointment right at 4 p.m., your fellow attendees will be more likely to get down to business and keep things moving. And if they don't, you'll have every right to pick up and leave once 4 p.m. rolls around.
Workplace meetings are a necessary evil, but you can take steps to reclaim your productivity in spite of them. Follow these tips, and you'll free up more time in your schedule to do the job you were hired to do in the first place.