Francesca works as a community manager for Asana’s marketing team. Asana, a company which develops work-management tech. Always enthusiastic about trying new ways to make her job easier, she volunteered for the company’s “Meeting Doomsday”Pilot Study: Eight of her marketing colleagues and she sought to reduce the amount of time spent in meetings.
For 48 hours, the group deleted all small-recurring meetings that were less than 5 participants from their calendars. The group then reviewed each deleted meeting’s value and rebuilt their calendars with the most valuable ones.
Francesca was skeptical at first because Francesca believed that Francesca had already entered her calendar. “top shape.” She also worried that, by ridding her calendar of recurring meetings — even for just 48 hours — others would “snatch” precious windows on her and fellow team members’ calendars because, “I sit on a globally distributed team, and there are limited time windows when it is acceptable to schedule our team meetings.” Despite such qualms, Francesca joined her teammates in clearing their calendars and was pleasantly surprised by the results.
Francesca’s story is just one case study within “The Friction Project,”This is our investigation of how organizations make it easier to make good decisions. We began this journey in 2014 with Robert’s Stanford colleague, Huggy Rao. Since then, in nearly all of the dozens of workplaces we’ve studied, helped, or worked at, we’ve found that meetings in particular create wasteful and soul-crushing friction.
We began studying how to fix broken meetings shortly after the start of our journey, back in 2015, when we wrote about a 2013 Purge at Dropbox, where Rebecca worked at the time. Top executives deleted all standing meetings from employees’ calendars (except ones with customers) and prevented meeting hosts from adding back their standing meetings for two weeks. Some participants expressed their satisfaction with the lighter schedules but there wasn’t a systemic review. Dropbox executives stated that only a few years have passed since the purge, and they are seeing a return in meeting bloat.
It was an intriguing story, which piqued interest. But now we’re taking a more research-based approach to repairing meetings and other organizational woes through the Work Innovation Lab at Asana, a think tank Rebecca heads up. The Lab’s mission is to help businesses understand and respond to the changing nature of work. Asana pilots are also part of the Lab’s work. Its work is inspired by The Friction Project’s lessons over the years, particularly the focus on making workplaces more efficient.
Taken together, here’s what we’ve learned about how managers can rethink meetings.
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The Rebuilding of Meetings: Starting from the Ground up
The Work Innovation Lab was where our research started. We met with Meeting Doomsday to begin the process. Francesca was part of the pilot study, as were her marketing colleagues. Our research shows that each volunteer saves an average 11 hours per month. Francesca saved 32 hours per month as our Doomsday star.
We followed up Meeting Doomsday mit a “Meeting Reset,”The marketing department at Asana employed 60 people. We evaluated 1,160 standing meetings. The time savings weren’t as impressive as Doomsday but they were still very effective. The 60 participants saved 265 hours per months by eliminating or reorganizing their meetings. The lessons from Doomsday were used to help us create a Reset. The Fixing Meetings Playbook to help other companies rethink their meeting cultures.
How to fix Meetings
The Playbook is a step-by–step guide that will help you identify, eliminate and repair bad meetings. Success requires five key ingredients. These five ingredients were identified after analysing results from The Work Innovation Lab’s meeting research.
1. Apply a subtraction mentality.
Humans’ default mode for problem-solving is to add something, rather than take something away. By using a A number of studiesGabrielle Adams of University of Virginia, and her colleagues discovered that “subtraction neglect”This is a widespread phenomenon. This phenomenon is widespread. “addition sickness” also plagues meetings — people keep piling more onto already chock-full calendars without much thought.
Adams’ research shows that when people are reminded to subtract and pause to do so, the interruption dislodges some of their cognitive machinery and they adopt a subtraction mindset. These simple rules can help trigger the mindset. “rule of halves”Leidy Klotz (author AddRobert You have been advised.. Think about how your meetings would look if they were half the size. How would that affect your meetings?
Doomsday activated this mindset. As volunteers repopulated their calendars, they subtracted — a lot. They cancelled some meetings of low value. They altered the pace for others. They changed the pace of meetings, which were once 30 minutes in length became 25 minute meetings. Some meetings were weekly and others became monthly.
2. You can start with a blank slate.
We invited reset participants to select from two different groups. First was the “full participation”Or “Full Doomsday”Group: The first group purged their calendars for 48 hours and then analysed each meeting. They then rebuilt the calendars. Second group: They selected two. “light” version: They assessed each meeting on their calendars but didn’t do the 48-hour purge.
Both save time. Averagely, the Full Doomsday group saved five hours per year while the light group saved only three. Gabrielle Adams stated that Full Doomsday groups saved more than the light. “clean slate” approach nudged volunteers to slow down and think more deeply about whether meetings were necessary or if they could be redesigned — while people in the light group didn’t slow down as much. Adams pointed to evidence in Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Slow and Fast The results show that people are more likely to have new ideas and to change habits if they spend time thinking.
Adams’ argument dovetails with reportsFrom the Full Doomsday Group. They stated that the 48-hour period was used to reflect on which meetings to remove and to make a list of those to be added back. “cleanse”They made assumptions about design.
3. You can use data to determine what you want to delete.
Data-driven research was the key to both the Doomsday and the Reset. Each research project started with data analysis. show people all the time they frittered away in meetings — which convinced many to volunteer.
One lesson learned from Doomsday’s pilot was that people sometimes struggle to evaluate the value of each meeting. A simple reset system was devised. The volunteers rated every recurring meeting using a simple 3-point numerical scale.
- How much work is required for every meeting (including preparation, actual meeting times and follow-up work).
- Meetings are valuable for helping people achieve their goals.
Participants felt that the audit helped them think deeper about their meetings and was easy to do.
The Meeting Reset was used to create a model that accurately predicted low-value meetings up to 80%. The model takes into account factors like meeting length, volume of meetings, day-of-week, title and title. The most valued meetings were those held on Mondays. Wednesday meetings, which coincided with Asana’s “No Meeting Wednesdays,”These meetings were least valuable due to people’s resentment at colleagues breaking company rules not scheduling meetings on those days. Also, meetings with names that were specific to a project or team name were rated as the most valuable. “catch ups” “coffee chats”These were not the most important.
4. Get involved.
Meetings are easier to fix when people do it together — when it feels like a movement, be it in your team, department, or entire organization. Doomsday, Reset and the Dropbox purge were not top-down actions. Asana workers had the choice to opt-in. They encouraged one another to reformat, cut meetings, and share ideas.
Like any movement, there were many sides. There were many sides to the story. Some joined enthusiastically, others reluctantly or none at all. But even teammates who didn’t join still benefited because their loads got lighter, too. After hearing the positive effects of volunteering, some people initially refused to join Reset.
5. Don’t just subtract meetings — redesign them.
The Meeting Reset was a time-saver that saved us so much. This was not about removing all meetings. Cancelling meetings only 30% saved time, the rest 70% was achieved by volunteers redesigning meetings that they had kept. The reorganization of meetings to cut attendance and replace parts with asynchronous communications was responsible for 27% time savings. A low-value leader in a meeting eliminated the time-consuming habit of everyone sharing a status update at beginning. He replaced this with written updates by each participant on Asana/Slack. Significant time savings were achieved through a decrease in meetings (17%), and shorter meetings (10%)
Find the Path to Your Most Important Tasks
Francesca checked in six months later after Doomsday. Her calendar remains lighter. She thought about it. “Philosophically, we’re sticking to the Doomsday learnings. It has left a legacy — we are revising our meetings more frequently, and adjusting meetings so that we nail the cadence and time of the week.”
As you use the Fixing Meetings Playbook and embrace the subtraction mindset, don’t try to make everything quick, easy, and frustration-free. The goal is to make time for the things in life that ought to be slow — like pausing to think about your work and taking time to take care of yourself and others. Francesca stated, “Because I have more breaks in my day, I’m able to match my energy levels to specific types of work — or rest. I can meet with people when I have enough energy to engage deeply. When my productivity dips, I have enough meeting-free time in my calendar to stretch and walk away from my laptop.”
For Francesca and her colleagues, the calendar cleanse jolted them to abandon ingrained habits and gave them more time to think about tough problems, enabled them to bring their best selves to the meetings that remained on their schedules, and helped protect them from the emotional exhaustion that results from attending too many meetings — especially bad ones.