The Meeting Wall
Meetings - They are a necessary evil and are often the reason we work so many hours. When I was running a large company, I would look at my calendar each morning and see a wall of meetings scheduled from 7:30 AM to 6:00 PM. Often, there were multiple meetings scheduled at the same time, as people often ignored the ability to see that I was already booked. I guess they just assumed their meeting was more important. From 12:00 to 1:00 – booked. Who eats lunch these days when there are two meetings to go to?! I guess that means I start my “work” at 6:00 in the evening, and work late into the night. Do I have time to prepare for the wall of meetings for tomorrow? What about all the issues that come up in today’s meetings – when do I address those issues? If I work the night before preparing for tomorrow’s meetings and addressing today’s issues, I still haven’t done any “work.” It’s an endless cycle I see playing out so many times in the corporate world. An eight-hour day easily becomes a twelve-hour day and a 60 - 70-hour week. Years back when I was a software engineer, I would look forward to 5:00 PM when everyone went home. When that happened, I could finally get my work done! I was effectively working two jobs – meetings in the day and coding at night.
Through the years, I have tried many things to battle the wall of meetings. I tried mandating that meetings only be scheduled between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM. The thought there was that you had time in the morning to deal with any emergency issues and to prepare for the day. With meetings ending at 2:00 PM, you still had a few hours left in the day to address issues that came up in the meetings as well as time to get some work done. Theoretically, it was a good plan, but it failed in execution. Its demise started with a few “emergency” meetings first thing in the morning, or an impossible scheduling conflict with a client in another time zone late during the day. Once there were a few cracks in the plan, the wall of meetings appeared again.
Paul Graham talked about two different types of jobs: those on a “manager’s schedule” and those on a “maker’s schedule.” Manager’s schedules are meeting-to-meeting about different things with different people. It’s a very dynamic schedule, and the only challenge is to find an open slot in the calendar. Maker’s schedules consist of large blocks of time. For example, if you are a software developer, you need a large block of time to think through what you are doing and then code it. If the maker’s schedule has meetings tossed in every few hours, their day is destroyed because of starts and stops during their process. Nothing gets done if you’re a maker on a manger’s schedule.
Dorie Clark explains that entrepreneurs are often on both the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule, which presents itself with a whole different set of challenges. She suggests setting aside days of the week to be on the manager’s schedule and the other days to be on the maker’s schedule.
Americans work the longest hours and take the least amount of vacation time compared to other countries. But are we more productive? What are some of the things you do to combat the wall of meetings?