How to Decide Which Meetings to Skip

Posted 09.01.2020

The number one business-related complaint I’ve been hearing from my coaching clients during the pandemic is that they are overwhelmed with a deluge of demand for participation in online meetings. Apart from the Zoom fatigue they induce, all of these meetings are leaving leaders with very little time to get anything else done related to work and, oh, by the way, family or self.

So, if you’re feeling like there are too many meetings and too little you, you’re not alone. How do you solve for this? I’m pretty confident we’re not going to be able to clone you anytime soon so that leaves us with reducing the number of meetings you’re attending.

To reduce the number of meetings you’re going to, let’s talk first about a framework for deciding which meetings you’re going to go to and which ones you’re going to skip. Then, we’ll talk about how to gracefully convey your decisions on when you’re in and when you’re out.

The framework is a repurposing of a now classic model for reducing decision making bottlenecks in organizations called DAI. The D stands for Decision. The A stands for Advice. The I stands for Inform. Bottlenecks occur when there is a lack of clarity or agreement about who has the decision-making authority, who is simply being consulted for advice and who is not involved in either of those but simply needs to be informed.

You can also use DAI as a filter to determine which meetings you really need to be in and which ones you don’t:

  • If you have decision making authority and a decision needs to be made, you need to be in the meeting.
  • If you’re a designated source of advice and the purpose of the meeting is to frame the parameters of the decision and you have a stake in the outcome, you probably need to be there. An alternative to being there would be to designate a trusted surrogate to represent your point of view.
  • If you’re neither the decision maker or an advice giver, but just need to be informed of the outcome, you probably don’t need to be there; you just need to make sure you get the download after the decision is made.

Now, let’s talk about how to gracefully bow out of meetings you’ve determined you don’t really need to be in. First, find out what’s expected to happen in the meeting by asking the organizer to tell you. If you conclude that it’s not the highest and best use of your personal time and attention, let the organizer know you’d like to have a surrogate represent you or that you would just like to be informed of the outcome.

If just reading that last paragraph makes you uncomfortable, there are probably some things going on that you need to sort through:

  • You may not feel like you have the authority to bow out. That’s true in some cases, but not in all. Test your theory here and there and see what happens.
  • You may be afraid of offending the organizer. You probably won’t. Remember, everyone is struggling with too many meetings on their calendar. If you explain your rationale for declining and offer viable alternatives to you not being there, you’ll probably be just fine.
  • You’re afraid of missing out. Yep, if you don’t go to every meeting you’re invited to, you’ll probably miss being involved in some things. That’s where highest and best use of your time and attention comes back into play. There’s only so much of it. Use it wisely and trust that your impact will be bigger by investing your time and attention where it makes the most difference.

Here’s my coaching challenge for you. This coming week, apply the criteria and process in this post to decline at least one meeting you’re invited to attend and see how it works for you and your colleagues. Who knows, you might not just make things more manageable for yourself, you might end up being a role model who helps change the meeting culture of your organization for everyone’s benefit.

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