My first “no meeting” day

by on 19 November 2018 in nablopomo

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I moan about meetings a lot. Lots of people have recommended that I block out time in my calendar to make sure I have space in my week for focussed work.

This seems obvious in hindsight, but joining the Civil Service has been a big culture shock for me. 3 years ago I was freelancing, working remotely on small projects. Now I’m leading a small team in a large organisation. Even though I promised myself I wouldn’t end up stuck in meetings all day, that is what has happened.

Too many meetings are a drain on my energy

I’m sure that having too many meetings is a problem for different people for many different reasons. It’s a problem for me because;

  • I’m an introvert
  • I need time to focus on my design work

Being introverted means that meetings take a huge amount of energy from me. I need time to mentally prepare before a meeting and I need time to unwind afterwards. Most days I have at least 6 meetings, often many more. This leaves me with no energy left to do anything else. The loss of energy is more important than the loss of time.

Meetings also tend to be invitations to chat with people outside of my core team. They are usually concerned with long-term planning or things on the edge of my day-to-day work. They are important, but they distract me from my sprint work, and the context switching is hard.

Prioritising doesn’t work for me

Trying to prioritise and turn down the meetings you get invited to is an impossible task for me. I’ve tried for 2 years and failed. Outlook makes it too easy for people to send you appointments, and it places no value on having free time. Spending all your time in Outlook playing appointment whack-a-mole is as unproductive as spending all your time in meetings.

There’s a reason why agile teams have product managers. Objectively deciding what to do next is really difficult. Then having to switch from “prioritisation mode” to “doing mode” is even harder.

So I created a “no meetings” day

I created an all-day event called “no meetings” that repeats every week. I looked a few weeks ahead in my schedule and moved any other meetings that clashed with it. If I couldn’t do that, I moved the “no meeting” day to another day. It usually falls on either Monday or Tuesday.

I’m not in “do not disturb” mode

Even on “no meeting” days, I’m still going to my stand-ups. I get a lot of value from them. Plus agile ceremonies are usually structured and inclusive, so they aren’t so energy-consuming for me.

It’s also important to say that I’m not in “do not disturb” mode. Having a clear calendar means that I’m free to chat with my team, go for lunch, do some planning or catch up on admin.

Together with my weekly “work from home” day, I feel like I’ve finally got a balance that will allow me to do focussed work, be available for my team, and stay on top of “all the other things”.