Meetings are a necessary evil, but you can take back control of your schedule with one simple rule: Only have meetings one day per week, every week.
For about two years now I’ve only been doing meetings on Wednesdays. I recently told a friend about this strategy, and a few weeks later he sent me a text that read: “I owe you a big thank you. Meetings one day a week are a total game changer.”
He later told me, “Meeting Wednesdays will probably make me hundreds of thousands of dollars more productive over the course of my life.”
It’s not a secret that most people have way too many meetings. Meetings are also a secret killer of productivity. Even when the meeting itself isn’t a waste of time, the mere existence of a meeting during the day just about guarantees you won’t get as much done. As Paul Graham puts it: “A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in.”
Meetings are a problem, but they’re also a necessary evil. The solution is something I call “Meeting Wednesdays.” It’s a simple concept: I only take meetings on Wednesdays. I don’t make a big deal of it. If someone asks to grab coffee on Tuesday, I’ll ask if Wednesday works instead. If that Wednesday is totally booked, I’ll ask about the next Wednesday (Sometimes I have to book two or three Wednesdays out.) I’ll usually caveat it with something as simple as, “I only do meetings on Wednesdays.”
Why Wednesday? It breaks up the week nicely. I like to plan for the week on Monday and review on Friday, and picking Wednesday splits the week in half and it offers a nice break.
The net result of doing meetings one day per week is having long, uninterrupted blocks of time during the other days that lets you be incredibly productive. You get to work on things that you otherwise wouldn’t do.
Other things I’ve learned about Meeting Wednesdays over time:
- Don’t plan on getting any work done during your meeting day. If you’re doing a bunch of meetings and you feel like you need to finish a bunch of tasks that day, you’ll just stress yourself out. It’s OK, a day full of meetings is enough work.
- Schedule your meetings in one area. I try to hold all meetings near where I already am so I don’t waste time traveling, although I rarely do back-to-back meetings in the exact same location. I have a set of default spots near each other. (Although occasionally I have to fake people out by leaving with them, walking around the block and coming back to the same spot. The wait staff enjoys watching this.)
- Give yourself in-between time. I take 10 minutes between meetings to decompress, jot down a few notes and/or travel to the next location. The best way to guarantee this time is to set meetings to 50 minutes by default (Google Calendar actually has a setting for this called “Speedy Meetings”). Ten minutes before the end of a meeting I’ll usually look at my phone and say, “I have about ten minutes before I have to run.”
- Meetings take many different forms. They can range from a 15-minute phone call to a 30-minute Skype to a 50-minute coffee. It doesn’t matter what it is — keep it to Wednesdays.
- Ask for an agenda in advance. If you’re having a meeting with someone, ask then to send over an agenda or a few questions in advance so that you can prepare. This requires the other person think about exactly what they want to talk about, and will make sure they don’t waste your time. Really, it’s the only way to be respectful of your own time. It also means you can potentially shorten your meeting if you’ve covered all the important stuff.
- Filter out the unimportant meetings. Forcing people to wait until Wednesday will often filter out the unimportant meetings. It will eliminate people who want some of your time but aren’t willing to wait for it or to work within your schedule. That’s great for me, since I don’t want to meet with those people anyway.
- Avoid meetings in the first place. In my Medium post “How to get a busy person to respond to your email,” I mention that I use a template to avoid meetings where someone just wants to pick my brain. It asks that we only chat over email, and that they only ask specific questions.
When I tell people about “Meeting Wednesdays,” I often hear, “But I can’t only take meetings on Wednesday! My boss would kill me!” Which is too bad, though they may be right. Or maybe they don’t have control over their own schedule. That could be the case if their job revolves specifically around meetings, like sales or PR, but in many cases I’ve found it just isn’t true. People think they have less control than they actually do.
What about you? What strategies have you used to avoid meetings? Have you figured out a way to make meetings more productive? Let me know by leaving a comment.
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