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Too Many Meetings, Too Little Time (to Work)

Examining better ways to schedule meetings for team coordination

In January, Shopify deleted 12,000 recurring meetings from its staff’s calendars. The e-commerce firm also reinstated a no-meeting Wednesday policy. The idea wasn’t to prevent meetings from happening, but for staff to be intentional about them. In addition, it sent a clear message that it was OK to protect one’s time.

When I ask managers what their biggest operational frustration in their job is, they typically say: "We have too many meetings." Before the pandemic, I interviewed product managers to have a clearer sense of their roles. They described their days as running from one meeting to the next and being interrupted the rest of the time. It’s a familiar experience. You can probably relate.

Indeed, ethnographic studies on software developers, for instance, revealed how chaotic and distressing work can feel. In 1999, Harvard's Leslie Perlow coined the term "time famine" to describe the feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it, largely because of constant interruptions at work.

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