Too many meetings?

How to Marie Kondo your packed calendar

Are you suffering from too many meetings? You’re not alone. Most of us are tethered to our calendars. We conflate busyness with importance, when it actually means we’re starved for time to think. 

To do our best work, we need to tidy up our packed calendars. Here are some tips that helped me survive as an introverted PM. 

Opportunity cost > ROI

Audit your calendar and identify the job of each meeting. Does it improve outcomes? Does it ladder up to a company goal? Is your presence even required? If it’s not all three, it should be on your chopping block. 

A meeting is also best judged on opportunity cost, not ROI: 

  • Opportunity cost mindset: Is this the best possible use of my time?
  • ROI mindset: As long as I can be helpful, I should do it

Here’s the problem: you can have more positive ROI demands than time in the day!

It’s good to practice the ROI mindset when you’re new: say yes and soak up context. But if you don’t raise your bar for value over time, your calendar will consume your life. 

The key to sanity is turning down meetings below your bar, and for the ones that do:

  1. Improve their quality 
  2. Reduce their frequency 

Improve meeting quality

Every meeting should have an agenda, composed of 4 questions:

Free template and example for meeting agenda

The best use of synchronous time is to discuss things that lead to actual decisions and cultivate trust. Even better, send a pre-read in the agenda. This gets people on the same page so you can dive right in. Tired of random tangents? Clarify each person’s role in the meeting ahead of time. If they don’t have a role, spare them from the invite. 

An agenda is also the silent meeting killer. In writing an agenda, you often realize you don’t need 30 minutes with 10 people — it could really just be an email!

Reduce meeting frequency

Meetings are gifted at filling time, which makes recurring meetings especially wasteful. 

As the meeting owner, figure out what you are most concerned about. Design your agenda to focus on these areas. As your confidence rises, reduce the frequency. 

As the meeting attendee, focus on consistently easing their concerns so you can earn your autonomy and time back. This is also the key to managing a micro-manager. 

Eliminate last-minute distractions

I used to be at the mercy of random invites. Then I developed a silly technique: I create self-meetings to get work done. The day of, my calendar is filled with what looks like real meetings. Because they looked real, people stopped booking over them!

Here’s a screenshot of my (crazy) calendar when I was a PM. Can you tell which are self-meetings? Hint: over 60% of the blocks are heads-down work time!

Example of Product Manager calendar

People often ask: how did you write consistently with a full-time job? My simple secret: I set up recurring calendar blocks for writing, creating my own ritual. Ritualizing is the key to unlocking side project time because it makes inertia work for you. 

“Tomorrow test”

When you get an invite far into the future, ask yourself whether you’d do it tomorrow if you could. If the answer’s no, don’t punish your future self — before you know it, it’ll be tomorrow. 

It’s hard saying no. But when you don’t, you dilute your impact across all your existing commitments. People tend to be forgiving when you frame it that way.

Here are some graceful examples of saying no, and a CEO’s library of let-downs.  

Your calendar is yours to shape 

How long does it take you to shake your distractions and get into flow? When I have <30 minutes between meetings, I end up walking to the fridge. When I have a few hours open, I’m more likely to bite off something impactful.  

Use your patterns to reshape meetings and thinking time into uninterrupted blocks.

When all's said and done, you end up shipping your calendar.

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