The first time we experimented with a ‘no meetings’ week was the week of Christmas in 2020 and then the New Year. As an experiment, it was important to schedule during a period with relatively lighter workload and during which not many meetings are likely to be scheduled. Most meetings that were scheduled during that period were internal... and so were easier to move around.
There were four main findings from having a ‘no meetings’ week.
* We got to know one another better. The ‘no meetings’ week allowed everyone spare time to start talking to one another and to know what everyone has been up to. We were also engaging in conversations on how things can be done better, or just chilling after we have completed the work or tasks of the day. The week allowed us time to focus on what really matters and to get it done in a timely manner, as well as to better plan the days and weeks ahead.
* We were better positioned to decide what meetings should take place in the future - and what meetings should not. That ability to prioritise meant improved time management skills and higher overall efficiency when enhanced time management skills are measured at the team level. With the existing rule of no meetings before 12pm, it became easier to filter out meetings that should have been emails in the post-12pm hours.
Between finishing the work with superb quality and unnecessary meetings, the choice became clearer and the decision easier to make.
* We had more time to catch up with piled up reading material. Those are minutes and other briefing documents that were not urgent and were thus deferred to a later day in the week, the month, the year... or perhaps never. The fact is that if half of the day gets wasted on meetings, and this is not counting the after working hours commitments that sometimes must be accommodated because of time difference etc., then there is barely any time left to make sure you are up to date with what is happening at the organisational level, and not only at the team level.
* We were able to slow down. Do not underestimate here the effect that a blank calendar can have on one’s well-being, and how mentally destressing it is to realise that you do not have to squeeze meetings in between other meetings and work commitments. Not having to have a pre-determined, structured week meant less stress throughout the week, and more time and mental space to come up with new ideas and to explore different research topics.
Administratively, having a ‘no meetings’ week provided much needed time to go over and improve internal processes, which reflected on higher overall efficiency.
Becomes a habit
After the initial experiment, the ‘no meetings’ week became applicable from the second quarter of the year onwards, and the first ‘no meetings’ week in 2021 became the last five working days of April. Given that meetings were already getting scheduled in the first quarter, it made more sense to target a later week in the year and lock it into the team’s calendar.
This way, calendars are booked and would show as busy when invites to external meetings are being sent. The same was applied in the months that followed. In conclusion, scheduling a monthly ‘no meetings’ week allowed everyone the time to do things more efficiently and to prioritise, therefore focusing their energies on what truly matters.
With blank calendars, everyone had the mental space and capacity to come up with new ideas that does not only improve the content side of work, but the administrative side of it too. The last thought that I want to leave you with: How much can a government save from a monthly ‘no meetings’ week in the public sector?