I’ve worked remotely for almost seven years, and meetings have been a natural part of my work. Doing video calls is one of the few ways I connected with Buffer teammates before meeting most of them in person over a year after I joined.
So this article is not saying that I’m entirely against meetings, there are some very valuable meetings out there, and some days, a meeting completely energizes me for the day ahead.
However, if I were to analyze the current state of meetings, I would assume that there are way too many of them. People first attempt to take a 30 or 60 min meeting before offering to provide more information or context via email. In my opinion, asking to take up someone’s time before providing adequate context displays a lack of thoughtfulness. Meetings can also be a genuine waste of money for larger companies.
Over the last year, my work has changed a lot. I manage several people and agencies while still needing to contribute my own work. During that time, additional meeting requests multiplied, and I initially didn’t put enough thought into managing them, but I need deep work time built into my schedule. So, I’ve decided to say no to being in too many meetings and had great results. Here’s more about my thinking on meetings, how I’m saying no to them, and the ones I’m keeping around.
Alternatives to being in too many meetings
I have several regular meetings that are amazing and worthwhile, usually with my immediate team at work. However, many others, generally those set by external collaborators, were unnecessary or draining. I wasn’t intentional enough with how I was designing my life and work week.
It’s not that I was saying yes to everyone who asked me to meet, but I’d say yes a lot and not even push for more details before the meeting.
I take inspiration from a few exceptionally considerate people with work cultures where they have very few meetings. The two that immediately come to mind are:
1. Doist, a software company that makes Todoist and Twist, are primarily asynchronous with their communication, meaning they don’t regularly hold meetings. As a result of this culture, the Doist Twitter account was able to share the calendars of their CEO and CMO, looking quite spacious compared to what you’d expect.
💡 Asynchronous or async work means that work doesn't have to happen simultaneously for everyone. So, for example, work can happen via written communication or recorded videos instead of meeting times when everyone needs to be online at once.
2. Another good example is someone who runs multiple companies and takes zero meetings — Pieter Levels. His stance, in summary, is that meetings are a waste of time, so he does everything async.
I have had the chance to collaborate with Pieter on Buffer’s annual State of Remote Work, and it’s the most uncomplicated partnership I’ve ever had for the project. I used to work with up to eight companies on the report and coordinate with them via long emails with multiple people on the thread, potentially jumping on several calls. With Pieter, we just DM on Twitter. It saves us both time, and ultimately the result is even better than before.
The kinds of meetings I’m keeping
I’m not advocating for no meetings, though I see how that approach can work for some. I might love to be meeting free for a little while, but without hearing people’s voices, seeing their faces, or meeting up in person, I would feel too isolated. My work setup is key to remember here; I work from home in a smaller town in the U.S., one I recently moved to, so I’m also not at coworking spaces or coffee shops or meeting up with friends to work in person every week as others might.
When it comes to meetings, there are two frameworks I found that clarify if something should be a meeting.
The first is from James Clear, author of the New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits. His four reasons to meet are: to decide, to learn, to do, and to bond. This framework encompasses many of the reasons I currently meet.
The second is from Marissa Goldberg, founder of Remote Work Prep, a company that offers fractional Head of Remote services and educational resources centered around effective remote work. Marissa’s reasons to meet are simply for speed or relationship building. As a result of this framework, Marissa spends less than five percent of her time in meetings.
The meetings I have fall into the following categories:
- All Hands (monthly)
I’m taking small steps to stop taking as many meetings that aren’t necessary for my work. A few of them are:
- Default to 30 minutes instead of 60 minutes. I’m unsure where the 60-minute default came from — maybe Google Calendar? — but meetings don’t need to be 60 minutes automatically. I try to stick to 30 minutes when possible or even shorter.
- Ask to communicate async if it’s not urgent. I’ll jump on a meeting for urgent matters where speed is essential. For many other things, I’ve pushed to start the conversation via email and specifically mentioned preferring a Loom video to a live demo in several cases.
- Ask to prepare in advance. For unavoidable meetings, I try to ask for information in advance, or if I’m the one setting the meeting, I get everyone an agenda so they can prepare. A lot of meetings could be faster if everyone had the meeting topic and key points in advance.
- Offer cameras off. I’m generally camera on for all of my meetings, and it’s pretty refreshing when I get to be camera off. I can pace around freely, which helps me focus. We have a culture of camera on at my work, but I still have started asking more people, both at work and externally, what their preference is for meetings.
How I’m saying no to meetings
Like many others, I get multiple meeting requests every week. So my approach has been to be upfront with people when they ask for a meeting — I tell them I’m intentionally taking fewer meetings and ask if we can communicate via email or if they could record a Loom instead. And people have been willing to accommodate!
So far, 90 percent of people are happy not to take a meeting. One example of someone who was not willing to communicate via email baffled me, it was a salesperson for a PR software who I told I would not jump on a sales call with them. I offered to have more information sent over via email, and they just opted not to continue the conversation and told me to reach out if I ever wanted to be on a call. Especially baffling from a sales role!
Saying no to meetings is easier than it seems. For me, it has just taken some practice. Becky Kane, who runs The Async Newsletter by Twist, recently shared a long list of tactful ways to say no to meetings that I highly recommend checking out.
If I have to take a meeting (not one of my regular ones), my preference is an audio-only call most of the time. I find I’m less distracted by video. In video calls, I need to worry about looking engaged even if I’m focusing on taking notes — and with audio-only, I can also stand up and walk around.
So what’s your take? Are you intentional about the meetings you take, or do you already not take very many? If you do take meetings, do you prefer camera on or off? Leave a comment below or let me know on Twitter.