Have you ever felt like your real job is meetings, with the work that comes out of those confabs performed in stolen snatches of time?
You’re not alone.
Research from Microsoft found that those who use Microsoft Teams spend the majority of their working hours (57%) in meetings or sending chats and emails, according to reporting from the Wall Street Journal. Only 43% of their time is spent creating things.
Collaboration is essential in any role, no doubt about that. We need to meet with clients or internal stakeholders to understand our direction, meet with our teams to brainstorm and meet with our work besties to vent. But with so much time spent with others, it can be hard to find the time and mental energy for focus-intensive tasks like writing.
Some organizations are tackling this problem on a systemic level. For instance, Shopify cancelled all reoccurring meetings with more than two people and doubled down on its no-meetings-on-Wednesday policy. The company further upped the ante by showing how much a meeting costs, in dollars, when scheduling.
But not all of us have that institutional support.
It’s tempting to simply offer advice like “turn down meetings you don’t need to be in! Demand an agenda before you accept an invite!” And for some, that is good advice. But for many of us, it’s just not the reality. Maybe all your meetings really are that important. Maybe you don’t feel you have the power and autonomy to say no or demand meeting culture changes. Whatever the reason, let’s assume you must be in meetings for at least 57% of your work hours.
Here’s how to claw time back for creativity, focus and productivity.
Block off your calendar
If everything is a scheduling game, then schedule yourself for success. Block out time on your calendar that’s dedicated to attention-heavy work — and honor those meetings as just as important as time with another person. Don’t fall into the trap of canceling because another request pops up. Make a commitment to yourself and keep it so you can put out your best work.
One tactic you may find effective is the concept of a writing sprint: an intense, focused burst in which you do nothing but write. This could be five minutes or two hours, but the intention is to make significant inroads on your writing workload by setting a timer and going beast mode.
One word of caution. When we asked about this topic on LinkedIn, some folks told us the only time they can find for writing is late at night or early in the morning when no one else is around. If this is how your creative peaks work and you have a flexible work schedule that allows you to shift time, this may be an effective tactic. But for your own sake, don’t take a full day of meetings and then spend the wee hours writing on top of it. That way lies burnout.
Outlines and ChatGPT
The more organized you are, the faster you can produce words. This might mean spending one precious chunk of time creating an outline. Then, in your next stolen moment of free time, you can fill in the blanks. It may not be faster in the long run, but by sectioning it into two separate mental processes — strategizing first, writing second — you can stop yourself from switching between the two sides of your brain.
You can also use generative AI to get the white off the page. This will look different for everyone — you might ask it to create that outline for you, or maybe brainstorm ideas or reformat an existing piece of writing you’ve written. Just remember, you’re the boss of ChatGPT, and it’s your editing that makes AI writing worth reading.
Ask for help
If meetings truly impinge on your ability to do your productive work, there comes a point when you need help. Talk to your manager about either readjusting the workload or cutting down on meetings. Ask coworkers if you can make a meeting an email instead. And extend the same kindness to others — cut out unnecessary meetings when you’re the scheduler, too.
We’re all in the same boat. We all want to collaborate and do good work. With some cooperation and creative calendar work, we can have both.