- Since the pandemic started, the number of meetings have increased by 13% and the overall workday is 48 minutes longer.
- One solution to help workers focus and increase productivity is to schedule a no-meeting day at least one day per week.
- Here are 4 ways to implement a meeting free day in your working week, and stick to it.
In a world that has been significantly impacted by the global pandemic, with many employees still working from home a year after the initial lockdowns, the need to protect productivity has become even more critical.
Yet, daily schedules have become filled with more and more video calls and virtual meetings.
A recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in July 2020 found that although workers reported meetings decreasing in length by about 20% since COVID-19, the number of meetings has increased by 13% and the overall workday is 48 minutes longer than before COVID-19.
For many workers, especially those engaged in creative work such as writing or programming, meetings can be a productivity killer. The context switching that is needed to prepare for a meeting and then get back to work afterwards can take longer than the meeting duration itself, further fragmenting the work day and cutting into precious focus time.
One solution that has been used by many companies even prior to the pandemic remote work trend is to schedule a meeting free day at least one day per week.
For example, Atlassian, a tech company that develops products for software developers and project managers, has a playbook for how to implement what they call “Get $#!t Days” for teams and how to evaluate the impact of GSDs on team productivity and satisfaction. Similarly, in 2017, Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a time management coach, published a how to guide for meeting free days in the Harvard Business Review.
These meeting free days are intended to provide interruption free time for people to spend on projects that require deep focus that is hard to establish or maintain if disrupted by meetings, or even emails.
Saunders recommends the following strategy to establish a meeting free day in your weekly schedule:
1. Commit to one meeting free day per week
The first step to having a meeting free day is actually ensuring that no meetings can be scheduled. Create a recurring all day event on your calendar that blocks yourself or others from scheduling time with you. By making it recurring and not just a week by week addition, it is easier to maintain the meeting free schedule.
The Atlassian playbook recommends Mondays for multi-geo Asia-Pacifc teams and Fridays for US/EMEA teams to allow for sufficient availability overlap. Companies like Asana have established Wednesdays as their preferred no meeting days.
2. Set expectations with others
Communicating with others about your availability on no meeting days can help them respect those boundaries, and therefore your productivity on those days. This includes having a plan for how or when you are available in case of work emergencies. Saunders recommends planning to scan emails during a lunch break, for example.
Setting expectations also includes the physical space. Remote work is actually ideal for helping to block out interruptions by colleagues if they can’t drop into your office or workspace for quick chats, but it is still important to have a dedicated space established that supports distraction free work.
3. Prepare for your no meeting day with the right work
Both Saunders and the Atlassian playbook agree on the need to have a clear plan and goal in mind for meeting free days to ensure they are reserved for the right type of work. These are days that are best suited for complex projects that require focus and high-level thinking. This could be a writing project like a book or manuscript, a particularly challenging programming problem, or a design project.
With no preparation, it can be difficult to stay focused or make meaningful progress when your schedule is not driven by reacting to others. The Atlassian playbook also recommends preparing for the day by taking 15 minutes in the morning to optimize the work environment. This means setting everything up – from grabbing coffee and snacks to making sure you have your laptop charger, a good music playlist ready, etc.
4. Ignore tasks and emails
Possibly the most difficult adjustment to a meeting free day is ignoring your inbox, messages from your colleagues, and daily tasks that normally would drive your daily schedule. However, Saunders says that, “After following this strategy for over a year, I’ve discovered that all of the daily tasks I need to get done still get done, and I manage to move ahead on my large projects without working additional hours.”
There will, of course, need to be exceptions to the no meeting rule depending upon your workload, what projects you are working on, or what else needs to be addressed. But by being strategic about how you handle your time across the entire week, it becomes easier to be more efficient and make more progress on larger projects.