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Promotion means meetings

It’s amazing that the more senior you get, the less time you have to do useful work.  It feels like the whole of your life becomes meetings and that so many of those meetings feel meaningless.  Whether it’s meetings with your team, meetings with the various other functions that you’re interacting with, project meetings, leadership meetings or other kinds of initiative meetings.

It’s very easy to find that you’ve lost complete control of your working life and it’s all driven by meetings, most of which are driven by agendas that are not yours.  You’ve somehow got into a cycle of meetings that you can’t control.

How do you do the real work?

How do you find time for the real work: the thinking you should be doing as a leader?  You no longer have time for the strategising, research and reflection you should be doing as a senior professional in your organisation.

It becomes a struggle to address the rhythm of quarterly and annual planning and budget cycles with thoughtful, creative and valuable insights.  The time is squeezed out of your 8am – 6pm working day that would enable you to think through budgets and new initiatives.  You have no time to prepare a significant strategy paper during the core day because of meetings.  You may even have responsibility to attend external business events in the evening.  Any real work you want to do has to be done in the evenings or weekends.

The more senior you get the more you feel that work is controlling you, rather than you having the choice to do what’s most important both for you, and also for the job you originally signed up for.

First steps to taking control

I encourage people to sit down and review their diary over the last month.  Look at how much of your time you spent doing the stuff that only you could have done.  How much of your time have you spent doing stuff simply because there is a cycle of meetings that are probably too long, without a clear enough agenda, that fail to move anything forward.  Nevertheless you were either told or you felt you had to be present.

Now consider how much of your time have you spent growing and developing yourself so that you’re more valuable to the business?  Equally importantly how much of your time was spent bringing real change to the thinking and actions you’ve taken on behalf of the organisation that you’re paid so well to work in?

Are you still in lock down mode?

In a Lock Down world, it appeared that the only thing that people could do was to have meetings.  Zoom or Teams became the whole of your life.  I certainly experienced a period where from seven o’clock in the morning until six at night I was just in Zoom rooms, trying to make things happen.  But there is an alternative.  There is a way of taking control over how you operate, so that you can have a workstyle, which is a life beyond meaningless meetings.  There are four things that I would strongly recommend you look at:

1 – Make meetings meaningful

How can you be much more robust in ensuring that the meetings are meaningful?  Don’t attend the ones where you can’t make a real contribution.  Be happy to get the agenda and the minutes.  Be very attentive about whether the meeting really needs to take as long as has been allocated in the diary.  Too often there’s convenience in setting an hour for meeting, when you could get just as much done with good preparation, a clear agenda and clear minute taking, in 20 minutes.

2 – Reduce the frequency

Is the meeting cycle too frequent.  Why is this a weekly meeting when it could be a monthly meeting. Why is this a daily meeting when it could be a weekly meeting? Meetings without meaning that we’ve just been doing because we’ve just been doing will drain you of energy.

3 – Stop having new meetings

The final thing is, how can you stop having new meetings?  Deeply examine why this meeting is going to make you more effective, the team more effective or the organisation more effective.  Is there another way that this can be done?  With informal channels like Slack, Microsoft Teams or WhatsApp, a lot of asynchronous communication can happen that doesn’t require a meeting.

4 – Make Meetings Count

When you are in a meeting make it count and ensure it’s properly prepared.  Necessary papers should be submitted in good time.  There should be a clear agenda.  You know which items are for discussion, which items are for decision, and which items are for information.  Items for information should be read in advance and only be discussed if clarification is required.  Make sure that very clear actions are allocated to a single responsible individual in the room and are minuted.  Actions should be properly reported back to the meeting.

If you can’t change it, should you live with it?

Ultimately, however, large organisations thrive on having endless meetings.  For many of us, as senior professionals working in large organisations, the only way to break away from being in meetings is to break away from being a full-time permanent senior professional.  The bureaucracy and the politics demand chronic ‘meetingitis’ and there’s no alternative.

The Portfolio Executive alternative

You can step away from your large organisation and choose a Portfolio Executive workstyle.  Now the conversations you have with senior leaders will be much more purposeful and meaningful.  If you’re working for an organisation, only two or three days a month, you can make that count in a different way than if you are there five days a week.  If you are going to only spend four to six hours with your client CEO in that month, then you will properly prepare.  You will do the work beforehand.  You will make sure that your meetings are highly valuable for you and for your client.

Life beyond meaningless meetings

‘Yes’, there is a life beyond meaningless meetings.  Maybe you can shift the culture where you are.   Maybe you can make the meetings that you have to have in a large corporate culture more meaningful, purposeful and impactful.  But the risk is that you are swimming against the tide.  The endless meetings for meeting’s sake are part of a corporate culture that you can only change by leaving.  If you want to ‘Make Your Future Work’ contact to have a first conversation about a life beyond meaningless meetings.


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.