This post was originally written in February 2021 as a follow up to Planning Your Winter Semester and was shared in the Academic Writing Studio. It has been edited and divided into a series of shorter posts for ease of reading. The general principles—habits, routines, and default responses—are explained in the first post in the series: Managing energy to make decisions.
Taking energy into account when planning
We often think of meetings in terms of the time they take but meetings also take a lot of energy, cognitive, emotional, and physical. You are interacting with other people synchronously. You are probably monitoring how other people in the room are reacting to what’s going on. You are making quick decisions about whether and how to intervene in a discussion. The transition from whatever you are doing before the meeting to the meeting also takes energy. If they are in person you expend energy to get to the meeting and then from the meeting to wherever you need to be next.
Depending on the type of meeting, you may also need cognitive and emotional energy to prepare. You may need to expend emotional and cognitive energy after the meeting to process what went on.
Notice whether the energy you devote to meetings is having a disproportionate effect on the energy you have available for other things. You might then notice if it’s meetings in general or specific types of meetings. Meetings are not really one thing. Synchronous teaching is a type of meeting. You may have regular meetings for certain committees, your department, your research team. A lot of meetings also get arranged on an ad hoc basis.
Whether or not a particular meeting is meaningful will make a difference to how much energy it takes and to whether it feels like it was worth the energy expenditure. You might be spending a lot of energy managing your feelings about the meeting or about the work you could have been doing instead in addition to doing the work of the meeting. (I’ve written more about that in How do you think about meetings when you are planning.)
Can you have a day with no meetings?
If you notice that even when you have time in your day for other things, meetings are draining your energy and making it hard to focus on the other work you’ve planned that day, you might want to change how you plan for meetings.
One of the members of the Academic Writing Studio shared an example. K is a head of department and knows she’ll have to have lots of meetings. Many of those meetings are not routine. She made one big decision: No meetings on Tuesdays. That creates a default response to requests for meetings. She doesn’t offer Tuesday as an available time for meeting requests. If someone asks for a meeting on Tuesday she says no and offers another option. There are probably some meetings where she has much less control over the scheduling. In those cases, she’ll have to decide whether to attend the meeting or not.
The No-Meeting-Day can then be used for activities that require a different kind of energy. That might be writing. It might be teaching preparation. It might be some other task that benefits from not being disrupted to go to a meeting. Basically, you have created a day where you have more control over how you expend your cognitive and emotional energy.
You might also go the other way and decide on a preferred day for meetings. In the post on using planning to make decisions I suggested that you do this for meetings with MA and PhD students whose projects you are supervising. You can do this for other meetings, too. If you are in the UK, there is no scheduled (undergraduate) teaching on Wednesday afternoons, and it has long been a prime time for meetings. Roll with that. Make Wednesday afternoon your default response for meeting invitations. You know most of your colleagues will be available. (Pick another day to be meeting free.)
Does this have to be a meeting? Does it have to be in person?
Over the years other clients and Studio members have told me about other strategies that they use to manage the time and energy they devote to meetings. Requiring an agenda before you agree to a meeting is one of them. Maybe an agenda seems overly formal for some kinds of meetings, but the key elements of an agenda are to define the objective of the meeting, propose what needs to happen in the meeting, and how that discussion will feed into ongoing work or decisions or whatever.
Some things really are easier to sort out in a meeting. Knowing what the purpose is helps everyone decide if that’s the case for the specific thing. Also, having a clear agenda makes it easier to limit the time and energy you spend in the meeting, helps everyone prepare better, and so on.
Similarly with the decision about whether the meeting is a phone call, a video call, or in person. If someone needs a quick meeting to discuss something and make a decision and you were not planning on being on campus that day, the time and energy required to get to campus for the meeting is significant. Could you just have a phone call? Could you do the meeting on Teams or Zoom? If everyone else will be meeting in person, could you join by phone/Teams/Zoom? These are all legitimate questions.
In general, extreme introverts are probably always going to want as little in person or synchronous interaction as possible. Extroverts are going to want more interaction, and more of it in person, even if they are not keen on unnecessary meetings either.
What are your default assumptions?
One of my Guide for the Journey clients realized that she was making a default assumption that meetings need to be an hour. She wondered if that was always necessary and decided to experiment with assuming meetings would be 30 minutes unless there was a good reason for them to go longer. Initially that might only apply to those meetings she organises. I tweeted about that in a general way and one of my followers said that not only does she already do this but she sets the default for student meetings to 15 minutes and finds it works well. You can set the defaults in the digital tools you use to organize meetings to support your big decisions and remind you of them.
Are you assuming that you need to schedule a meeting as soon as possible? Is that true? Can you schedule this for next week rather than rearranging your plan for this week? Can you require MA and PhD students to book their supervision appointments by at least the Friday before the meeting? If you need to read a draft chapter, can you require longer lead time? Is the project the meeting is about a priority at all?
Other posts in this series:
- Managing the energy you use to make decisions
- Making Decisions: planning & scheduling
- Decision making: peer review
I’ve also started a series of posts about meetings, focused on the frustrations so many people report.
How do you think about meetings when you plan your day/week/month? (audio available)
Are meetings really a waste of time? (audio available)