Why you should eliminate 95% of meetings from your calendar

In this post I'll explain how meetings could be sapping your productivity and what you should do instead.

Why you should eliminate 95% of meetings from your calendar
Photo by Jessica Sysengrath / Unsplash

In my first year of business I made a critical mistake that cost me time and money; I said yes to every meeting request sent my way.

I was trying to be polite and accommodating. I thought the way to grow my business was to say yes to every opportunity. But I quickly realized that I was spending more time in meetings than actually working in my business. I was getting bogged down in unnecessary meetings and I wasn't getting any actual work done.

As a result, my business suffered and I felt behind in my work.

In my second year of business I made a crucial change to my meeting policy. If a meeting wasn't essential to run my business, I simply said no. With my new policy in place, my productivity and revenue quickly improved because:

  • The less meetings I have, the more productive I am.
  • The more productive I am, the more time I can spend on essential activities.
  • The more essential activities I do, the better my business performs.

Today I run two creative businesses - a local video agency and an international photo agency with a team of 10 contractors across North America.

Both of these businesses generate over 6 figures a year and operate with virtually zero meetings. Instead my team members prioritize written communication and use tools like Slack, Zoom and Notion to stay aligned.

Meetings are not productive.

I think most people would agree that the vast majority of meetings don't move the needle in terms of progress. They are usually just a forum for people to talk and share ideas, and nothing gets accomplished.

Meetings are not productive because people often talk without taking action. In most cases, people attend meetings simply to share ideas and brainstorm, but nothing ever comes of it thus making the process unproductive and inefficient.

Too much time planning, not enough time doing.

Proper planning can help you avoid costly mistakes.  But over-planning can lead to stagnation. If you're spending more time in meetings planning out ideas rather than actually working on your business, then you're probably not using your time effectively.

The tricky thing about meetings is that they can feel productive. You walk out of a meeting feeling like you've accomplished something because you've talked about what needs to be done. But in reality, all you've done is talk.

And talking doesn't get work done.

Meetings take time away from essential activities.

As a solopreneur, every minute of your day is precious. You have to wear all the hats including product builder, customer service, finance and marketer. There's a never ending list of things to do to push your business forward, so you end up working insane hours to try and get it all done. But somehow at the end of the day you still feel like you haven't made much progress.

That's because you're not working on essential activities.

Essential activities are the things that actually move the needle in your business, such as:

  • Marketing, promotion & SEO
  • Product development
  • Training & education
  • Systemizing & optimizing processes

You'll notice that research, planning and unproductive meetings are not on the list. These activities are healthy in moderation, but many business owners will spend 10 hours planning and literally 0 hours marketing.

No amount of planning will make up for a lack of essential activities.

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Most meetings have a negative ROI.

The return on investment (ROI) of a meeting is the ratio of the value gained from the meeting to the cost of the meeting. The cost of a meeting includes not only the time spent in the actual meeting, but also the time spent preparing for the meeting and following up after the meeting.

Then you need to multiply that cost by the number of people in attendance. If you're having a 1-hour meeting with 10 people, you're wasting 10 production hours. In most cases, the ROI of a meeting is negative because the value gained from the meeting is less than the cost of holding the meeting.

Time is the most valuable thing you have in a business, so you should be very careful about how you spend it.

You might argue that meetings are essential because they provide clarity, set expectations and achieve alignment within your organization. But there are actually much more efficient ways to do all of those things without unproductive meetings.

Most meetings could be an email.

We've all been there. We get invited to a meeting without a clear agenda communicated ahead of time. We pile into a conference room with our team members and wait for the meeting to start.

Once it kicks off we watch the person who called the meeting struggle to explain to the group what this meeting is for. They are looking to find an answer to something, but aren't even sure how to formulate the question.

After 30-90 minutes, a resolution is reached (hopefully) but before you leave, you see another calendar invite with a vague description your phone:

"Meeting to discuss content calendar"

You can't help but wonder... is this the best use of our time? What does "discuss content calendar" mean? Why is there no clear agenda?

If you have a question bout the content calendar, why can't you just tell me what it is? Why do we have to wait until Friday to move forward with this? You can't help but feel like this is a monumental waste of time.

Can someone please tell me when this person actually works?

What you should do (instead of meetings).

Meetings are a crutch for poor communication skills. Most topics don't actually take 30-60 minutes to discuss. In fact, most topics could be discussed in less than 5 minutes if each party were a more effective communicator.

Instead of relying on face-to-face communication, try improving your written communication skills by forcing yourself to use the tools below:

  • Slack
  • Email
  • SMS, Twitter, DM's

Being an effective communicator can do wonders for your business. The faster and more efficient you can communicate, the faster you can move.

When I was hiring for PhotosForTinder.com one of the top qualities I looked for was digital communication skills. They could be the best photographer in the world, but if they weren't a good communicator I knew it would slow down the entire operation.

Brainstorming a new product variation - no meetings necessary. 

Written communication not your thing? Try Loom.

Loom is free and allows you to communicate your point using voice, video and screensharing. This is one of the most valuable tools in my business as it allows me to answer questions without needing to "hop on a call".

Eliminate meetings to serve more people.

It might sound like declining meetings is selfish; but I think you can actually serve more people by doing it.

Each day I allocate 45 minutes to answering comments, emails, DM's and inquiries from people in my community. This is not client work; these are friends, fellow business owners and old colleagues who usually want advice about a challenge they're facing.

Because I'm not bogged down with meetings, I can give this time freely without asking for anything in return. I can do livestreams to share valuable information for other business owners. I can create blog content to share what I've learned.

Freeing up time in your calendar to give back gets you feedback like this:

The exceptions to the rule.

At the beginning of this article I said my businesses operate on virtually no meetings, but I haven't eliminated them entirely. There's a few cases where meetings can have a positive ROI, including:

  • Hiring. Bringing someone on to the team is a huge undertaking. You're not just hiring for their skills and abilities, but also for their culture fit. Having a face-to-face interaction helps build trust and ensure
  • Deep Dives. One of the core processes in my video business is the deep dive; a 60 minute meeting where I dig into the nitty gritty of how a business operates. I'm not just after technical information; I'm listening for tone, emotion and impact. I take detailed notes in this process to help weave together the narrative for the video.
  • Consulting. I reserve a few spots in my calendar for 1-on-1 consulting. Since consulting sessions are paid, the meeting automatically has a positive ROI. And something magical happens when money is involved; both parties actually treat the session more seriously.

Note: When you ask a business owner for their time, ask for their consulting rate. As business owners time is our most valuable asset. Even if we want to help, we often have to sacrifice something important in order to do so. You wouldn't work for free, so don't expect other people to.

If you want to be more productive, eliminate most meetings from your calendar.

Start by saying no to non-essential meetings. If a meeting is not absolutely essential to the success of your business, then don't do it. Find an alternative way to communicate instead.

You'll have more time to work on essential activities, and your business will thank you for it. Not only that, but you'll actually enjoy working on your business again because you're making progress instead of planning on making progress.