Why you should say no to meetings in 2015

What’s that? A new blog post? It’s been a long time since I last put fingers to keys and typed something that could be deemed even remotely interesting – indeed some may argue I never have – but nonetheless with the colder days and darker nights, I thought why not.

It’s been a busy year that has distracted me from blogging, with family illness, a few personal things and a move but as the end of the year approaches, I have logged back in and pondered: just what have I spent this year doing? The countless “14 things you won’t believe about 2014” articles are just a few weeks away; so I decided to pre-empt the usual December self-reflection by scrolling through my iPhone album from this year. This is the photo that caused my thumb to stop:

Thank you Siri

I have spent (read: wasted) a lot of my time this year in meetings. Status meetings, update meetings, brainstorm meetings, general meetings about meetings we should be scheduling. With some back-of-fag-packet maths, on average I have spent around 700 hours this year in a meeting of some sort. That’s 30 days! A full month. A whole Ramadan duration (not that ‘a Ramadan’ is a unit of time). Spent at a table, looking at other people, talking about mind numbing things. Wasted.

Now don’t get me wrong, meetings can be positive. With a solid agenda, clear outcomes and a strong leader, they can achieve what hundreds of e-mails will never achieve. You can’t imagine the Declaration of Independence to have happened over an e-mail trail – in fact cutting on e-mail improves communication. However, after yet another meeting that felt like it led to nothing this week, I sought some help.

David Grady’s TED talk on how to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings offers some sage advice. Don’t automatically click accept is a good start. He calls it MAS: Mindless Accept Syndrome. To overcome it, use the Tentative or Maybe button when receiving an invitation. It allows you to show intent to participate, but that you require further information to help sway your decision and dedicate time to it. James Altucher says we need to learn to say no – “No, thank you” more specifically – will energise you and excite you. Use it as much as you can, he says.

Some Brits, juniors or FOMO sufferers might be thinking: heresy! How could I say no? That’s so rude and I might miss out! The head of my team, Josh-Michele Ross, shared an article this week about if you are late for a meeting you are rude and selfish. I’d argue that if you’re scheduling a meeting without a clear intention and an agenda in the notes, then you have very little appreciation of others’ time and in fact you’re ruder than someone coming back to you with a firm no, thank you. And wondering if you’d have missed out? It’s unlikely. The best bits will be in the notes that should be sent round promptly afterwards.

More importantly, saying no is crucial for the economy? If we keep saying yes to mindless meetings, we will continue to waste money. According to Stateside research from 2012, failed meetings waste $3.1 million every year. In the service industry, time is one of the most valuable resources we have, so let’s stop wasting it on mindless meetings.

If you still need to meet, this Evening Standard article offers some excellent advice – a lot of which isn’t new. A quick five minute huddle, a stroll around the block or even try throwing out the most unnecessary person in the room will save you from the mindlessness.

The 30 days I gave up to meetings this year hasn’t been a complete waste then as it’s helped to reach my first New Year’s resolution. In 2015, I pledge to be more mindful of meetings when hosting, accepting, or declining them. Indeed this FastCompany article provides some excellent tips to help get there. Who’s with me?

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