Technology

Why saying “yes” to no-meeting days increases productivity


Less meetings means workers can better manage their time and workloads.

Why IT team meetings are essential
TechRepublic contributor Ant Pruitt explains three big reasons one-on-one meetings in IT are essential.

Online scheduling service Doodle released a report earlier this year, which stated that nearly $400 billion dollars was wasted on poorly organized meetings in the United States alone. The report said that meetings ate into employee time, leaving work unfinished; not to mention produced confusion, loss of focus, and inefficient processes which weakened client and supplier relationships.

Nevertheless, the corporate mindset that “we have to get everyone in a room” persists in spite of the fact that technological alternatives such as email and instant messaging are far more viable options.

Hector Aguilar, president, technology at Okta, an access management platform provider, decided to change this by implementing a “no-meeting-day” rule for certain weekdays in order to boost employee productivity. He shared his story with TechRepublic.

SEE: Avoid time-wasting meetings: 10 tips (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Scott Matteson: How do meetings impede productivity?

Hector Aguilar: The problem isn’t the meetings—it’s how many meetings there are and the purpose behind them. More often than not, workers will open up their calendars and find a day is completely booked with back-to-back meetings and barely 15 minutes open to complete items on their to-do lists, let alone actions from the meetings.

As humans, especially engineers, we struggle to re-concentrate. As technology advances, and we have new tools to reach each other faster and during any time of day, it’s easy to suffer from communication overload. When you add endless meetings to the mix, focusing on one project without interruptions becomes nearly impossible. 

When meetings interrupt your day, you may not realize that you’re switching between the two sides of your prefrontal cortex to multitask, and as a result, it can take up to 40% longer to complete the same tasks. This is why I believe in reserving one, meeting-free day to create more headspace. 

Scott Matteson: Why are so many companies insistent on meetings (no matter how trivial)?

Hector Aguilar: Spending time with colleagues is critical to cultivating relationships and building company culture. So, I understand the necessity of gathering your team together and meeting face-to-face. In fact, face-to-face requests are 34 times more successful than email when trying to communicate. 

However, the basis of the meeting needs to be carefully thought out and established. Ask yourself: Is this a decision that requires my entire team’s input? Does everyone I’m inviting have a role? 

Instead of reacting to a problem by throwing a meeting on everyone’s calendar, take a step back and think out the solution and who actually needs to be involved. This will not only save others’ time, but your own. 

Scott Matteson: How long have you implemented non-meeting days?

Hector Aguilar: For the last seven years while at Okta, I’ve opened space in my engineers’ schedules by mandating that one day per week (Thursday’s in this case) has zero meetings. 

This can be a challenge, especially when coordinating meetings with other teams that don’t take the same approach, but the consistent benefits I’ve discovered— including more creative thinking, quicker problem solving, and increased productivity — reinforce my decision. I recommend the same to other CTOs and engineering leaders. 

SEE: Time management tips for tech professionals (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Scott Matteson: Why is having a non-meeting day per week so important for tech teams? 

Hector Aguilar: Every leader wants his or her team to be as productive as possible. However, managers often miss the point by adding multiple meetings as a process rather than allowing for uninterrupted time to make real progress. By scheduling less meetings and allowing teams to take a step back from their typical day-to-day busyness, your department will be much more productive. 

Removing meetings from the equation just one day a week provides a window for completely uninterrupted time. I’ve noticed that my team now organizes projects of the week around this day off from meetings, reserving the non-meeting day to execute critical tasks that require deep thought and ample, uninterrupted time. They slate in more complex, time-consuming work on the day without meetings, and tackle smaller, more manageable projects the rest of the week.

Scott Matteson: What are the top three biggest improvements you’ve seen in your teams with non-meeting days?

Hector Aguilar: The three biggest improvements I see with non-meeting days are: 

Unlocking creative thinking and problem solving: With no meetings, teams have an uninterrupted work zone, allowing for more creative thinking and the potential to discover new solutions, simply by allowing deeper concentration. 

Achieving a ‘state of flow’: When people do what they love and feel passionate about their work without distraction, they enter a ‘state of flow.’ Without meetings, teams have increased and long-term satisfaction with their overall work. 

Productive project management: Days free from meetings allows time for teams to complete more in-depth projects. They can plan their weeks accordingly, knowing that on certain days no unexpected meetings will pop up and disrupt their schedules or interfere with their timeline. 

SEE: Cognitive overload: 15 ways to reduce it (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Scott Matteson: What’s your advice to other tech leaders/CTOs on how to stick to this routine? 

Hector Aguilar: My advice for teams is to prioritize large projects that will require more headspace and deep thinking. You’ll be more productive with a whole day to dive into the project at hand without multitasking or interruptions. 

The idea for no meeting days isn’t necessarily new, but the issue begins when there’s lack of enforcement. It’s up to the managers to weave this mindset into the team’s culture and lead by example to set the tone. If a meeting is scheduled on a designated no-meeting day, encourage the team to move it or decline it. 

I also encourage team members to challenge meetings booked on designated no-meeting days by asking the organizer if the meeting can be moved or if your presence is required. If there’s pushback, this is where management comes in. 

CTOs and team leaders need to advocate for employees within the company too. It’s important to reiterate the benefits at all-hands or staff meetings to ensure employees are well-versed in the benefits and understand why the rule is in place.
 
Lastly, managers should remember to stay flexible and remain open to new ways to the rule can fit into a team’s structure and schedule. The more you allow others to be involved in the rule, the more likely they’ll stick to it.

Scott Matteson:  Do you have any tips for changing the mindset of people who seem to believe meetings are the best way to get things done?

Hector Aguilar: As today’s modern world moves faster than before, it’s important to remember to slow down and take a step back. A day sans meetings allows teams to focus on the bigger picture and truly dive into larger tasks, especially for software development as it requires serious and uninterrupted concentration. We all need to try new things and be flexible in our work environments, but my advice for those firm meeting-believers is, why not try it out for a few weeks? It may not work for everyone, but the results may surprise you.

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Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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