How I freed up my time by 34%

I recently started declining meeting invites. This may appear to be selfish or inconsiderate, but it lends itself to productivity.

Why did I start declining meeting invites?

Meetings are, generally, unproductive. Are there meetings that lead to a great deal of productivity? Absolutely, but they are not too common. The meeting is usually productive for the meeting organizer and rarely productive for the other attendees. Since the meeting organizer sets the agenda, they are looking out for their best interests and their needs. This may result in time being wasted for the other meeting attendees.

I challenged myself to decline one meeting each day for a week. I chose to do a week because it is a big enough sample to learn, but small enough, in case it went poorly, that it wouldn't do too much harm. The meetings I declined ranged from hour long meetings that included hundreds of invitees to 30 minute touch base meetings with four people. I was never worried about declining the larger meetings with a lot of invitees, but the smaller ones were a concern. Those meetings were organized by close peers, and attended by them too. What would those people think as a result of me declining the meeting and not showing up to the meeting?

What I found is that no one said anything to me about declining the meeting or not showing up to the meeting.

The thing is you are in charge of your calendar, not other people. If you say you cannot attend a meeting, there is (or should be) a level of trust that you are doing so for the appropriate reasons (which can include conflicts, getting actual work done, or you do not feel you will add or gain value from attending). Since you control your time and your calendar, other people are just hoping that you will join. If you are truly necessary at a meeting that you decline, the meeting organizer will reach out to you.

Another observation I had from this experiment came from the way I communicated the meeting decline. Instead of sending an apologetic email to someone, I simply declined the meeting. I didn’t even provide a reason why. Providing a reason why you cannot attend a meeting is an excuse that is used to make the meeting decliner feel better. I found the person that receives the decline really could care less why you cannot attend. In declining meetings, do not worry about what other people will think about you or the reasons you have. It truly does not matter.

The reason I started this challenge of declining a meeting each day was to free up my time for other activities (both personal and work related). What I found is an increase in my available time by 34%. And it didn’t even take that much effort! People always complain about being “too busy” to do their work. So declining a meeting each day is a step you can take to tackle the predicament of being “too busy.”

Which meetings should you decline? Any of them that you feel you will not gain value from attending. Your time is precious, so don’t let others monopolize your time. Now, you can’t just go around declining every meeting. You need to be smart and intentional about the ones you decline. If you decline all of your meetings you will be perceived as someone who is difficult, and you probably don’t want that. Be mindful about which meetings you are declining and you’ll be good!

It was quite freeing, mentally, to decline meetings. I found myself thinking more clearly and more focused on the tasks I had at hand. This is a practice I will continue to do in the future and I challenge you to try the same.