Productivity at work and meetings

Chain by OZinHO

Recently a coworker lent me the famous book Rework by 37 Signals. Interesting book, a bit sarcastic and pretentious I’d say: many ideas are exposed as the holy truth, like if there was only one way to see things, but some ideas do indeed make sense.

If you don’t know it, that book is about how to manage your schedule at work in order to improve your productivity. Although it’s supposed to be read by entrepreneurs many topics are of general interest. My past experience with YoolinkPro as a startup co-founder also gave me an interesting perspective when I read that book (according to that book we did many mistakes at that time but YoolinkPro is still there and more and more efficient as time goes).

One of the idea in that book that stroke me was that meetings kill productivity, here are the main reasons why:

  • Meetings have a very low information/minute rate
  • Meetings always diverge from their initial plan
  • Meetings are very costy (4 people in a one-hour meeting costs 4 hours to the company)
  • Meetings tend to proliferate (a meeting will lead to a new one and so on)

In my daily job I spend lots of time in meetings, so that part of the book caught my attention. I wondered if I could do things better.

So I should try to kill meetings as much as I can, OK, but what is the alternative? If I need to coordinate a team on a technical subject, if I need to discuss a strategic choice for the company? Looks that most of the “Meeting Killers” vote for massive email usage.

I can see the benefit: emails are processed when you want to so you can group that task in different moments in your day rather than being managed by your calendar. But is that an universal solution? What is the issue we try to fix with meetings?

Well, let’s step back a bit: Why do we do meetings?

We do meetings when we need to share information between more than two people. Actually, a meeting is supposed to give an answer to one or more questions that involves these people. Sometimes, a meeting is also schedulded to take a decision.

Can we do that by email?

Despite the book I’d say that it depends, to me the key here is to answer the question: is that question or that decision blocking someone now ? Can’t that wait a day?

Most of the time you’ll see that it actually can wait a day. In this situations, then yes, I agree an email is better than a meeting. The email should be written very clearly though, it should not be too long (long emails are counterproductive) and should clearly expose the question that need to be answered (or the decision to be taken).

In other situations, I think a meeting is still the good way to go, but again, it should be well defined, should not involve more than 4/5 people and should be limited in time (when the ring bells, it’s over, period).

Another interesting idea to balance the whole “Kill the meetings” thing is to choose a time-frame when meetings are forbidden, it may be all the mornings, or for instance a whole day when you will never allow a meeting to be planed. I think I’ll experiment with that, like for instance, the “no meetings thursday”.

Feel free to share your experiences in the comments, I’m interested to see other point of views on the subject.

6 thoughts on “Productivity at work and meetings

  1. Oh. That recall me a meeting of today.
    I agree. Meetings should be skipped to just say what we do or we will do what was already discussed by email.

    For me a meeting should be used to plan or set points on something important for a future development. Something impossible to do by email.

    So we put an idea, search a good way to do it. Of course we always come prepared to be efficient.
    We should for a meeting start to announce the plan of meeting and the manager of the meeting stop anything out of this scope.

    A meeting should be well defined in term of time we will spend on him. And if goes out of this time we plan another meeting with suspended question.
    We should not do more than one hour meeting per day or when we will be able to do something useful?
    Well, we have to try something better.


  2. We’ll try to improve things, my main ideas are the following:

    – no meetings on thursday
    – try to avoid meetings with more than 4 people
    – all meetings are limited to one hour max, with a timer
    – no more than 2 meetings per day per person

    And for myself : I’ll try to skip/cancel as many meetings as I can with emails and replace them with discussions.


  3. I read Rework, I thought it was very profound. Here’s a thought, have meetings on the day-off (e.g. Saturday). People will do there best to make that meeting a short one and it doesn’t effect to regularly scheduled program.

    Al Newkirk

  4. @Al: Well, some stuff in Rework are a bit over-exagerated I think, but the book is a good read still.

    Your suggestion about meetings on day-off is a bit, well, difficult to put in action… Or it was irony, wasn’t it?

    Also, the perfect poster for every meeting room: :)


  5. The weekly team meeting shouldn’t be dropped however – It’s the meeting that binds the team by showing that everyone is pulling together towards a common goal. It reminds people of that common goal (which may shift slightly), and it allows team members to show how they contribute. \\\

    The weekly team meeting should maybe have two to five minutes from everyone as you go around the table, which may add up for large teams – but then if thats too long it might suggest that that team is too large.


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