Just Say “No”…to meetings

How many meetings do you attend each week? Is your calendar booked solid with back-to-back meetings?  If so, I have a question for you: Is your presence absolutely necessary for each of those meetings?  Now, I’m not suggesting that you don’t have something valuable to contribute.  However, your time and energy might be better spent elsewhere.  For example: What if you had even just 15 minutes a day set aside to walk around the office and get a sense of how your team is doing? How about an hour to think and plan? Maybe you could take 30 minutes to read a few articles, blogs (ahem…), or a good book.  How would these other activities impact your effectiveness or your energy level?  Would this time increase your ability to see the big picture and plan for the future?

I realize that for some of you this sounds like a pipe dream.  You’re in high demand and can’t seem to get all your meetings to fit into a reasonable workweek, much less start declining them (or not requesting them).  I realize that you probably can’t clear out your calendar tomorrow.  However, I’d like to offer a few tips to help create a bit more white space on that calendar of yours.

  1. Mandatory Agendas:  If a team member requests your participation at a meeting, he/she must distribute an agenda with the invitation (or at least the day before the meeting).  This forces your team to consider the participants, topics and decisions required for each meeting.  This also allows you to review the agenda and decide if you’re really needed in that discussion.  You can then decline and ask that the meeting notes or key decisions be communicated to you afterwards.
  2. Mandatory Action Items & Follow-up: I’m having a hard time thinking of any worthwhile meeting that wouldn’t result in at least one action item.  Yes, many meetings are discussions or brainstorming sessions but even those require follow-up.  Coach your staff to have someone designated at each meeting to take notes and to record action items (click here to download a free template).  This person should email the notes and action items to the meeting participants within one business day and follow-up with each person assigned a task to ensure the tasks are completed on-time.
  3. Calendar Review: Review the meetings you have coming up over the next month and determine which of those meetings you don’t really need to attend.  Ask yourself the following questions:
    • Am I a key decision-maker for this meeting?
    • Has someone else been invited to the meeting who has similar ideas, opinions or authority and can contribute just as well as I could?
    • Can I send someone to represent me?
    • Would attending this meeting be the best use of my time?
  4. Calendar Clean up: Let your team know about this change of approach so they’ll understand why you’re about to start declining meeting invitations.  This would also be a great time to mention the mandatory agenda and action item rules.  Then decline the meetings you’ve determined don’t require your participation.
  5. Time Blocking: Now that you have some whitespace on your calendar, block off some time for you to do those activities I mentioned earlier.  Don’t block off every bit of whitespace, but at least an hour each day (maybe broken up into 15-30 minute increments) to walk around the office, think, plan, dream, read, complete various tasks, etc.


As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, your schedule is just that – yours.  Take back control and be intentional about how you allocate your time.  Delegate authority whenever possible and allow your team to share more of the load.  The true leaders in your organization will rise to the occasion and may even surprise you with their insights and abilities.  Let them shine and provide yourself with the time and energy to lead your organization to even greater accomplishments.