Resolving Overload is a Solution

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.

They began by deactivating all small, recurring meetings with fewer than five people from their calendars. This took place for 48 hours. The group then reviewed each deleted meeting’s value and rebuilt their calendars with the most valuable ones.

Francesca initially doubted Francesca’s claims because she thought her calendar was in. “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. While some people expressed satisfaction at the lighter calendars they received, there was not a systematic review nor follow-up. 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 and her marketing colleagues also participated in the pilot study. Our research shows that each volunteer saves an average 11 hours per month. Francesca, our Doomsday star saved 32 hours each month.

We followed up Meeting Doomsday mit a “Meeting Reset,”Our study included 60 Asana marketing employees and 1,160 stand-up meetings. The time savings weren’t as impressive as Doomsday but they were still very effective. This group of 60 saved 265 hours per month by organizing and eliminating meetings. To create a reset, we used Doomsday’s lessons. How to Fix Meetings 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. After analysing meeting results at The Work Innovation Lab, we identified the five essential ingredients.

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 with her coworkers discovered that “subtraction neglect”This is a widespread phenomenon. It’s a widespread phenomenon. “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 It has been suggested. What if your meeting dimensions were cut by half? How would that affect your meetings?

Doomsday was able to activate this mentality. 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.

Our reset participants were asked to pick from one of the two options. 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. A second group was chosen. “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 It suggests that people have a greater tendency to invent new ideas or change their old ways of doing things if they are given the opportunity to think.

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”The design assumptions they made. They kept track of all the meetings attended.

3. It is possible to use data to make decisions about what should be removed.

Both the Doomsday (and Reset) were both data-driven endeavors. During the first phases of research, we crunched numbers. 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).
  • Every meeting helps them reach their goals.
  • Participants felt that the audit helped them think deeper about their meetings and was easy to do.

    A model using the Meeting Reset predicted low-value meetings with more than 80% accuracy. This model considers meeting length, volume and day of the week. 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 to a team was rated as the most valuable. “catch ups” “coffee chats”These were not the most important.

    4. Move.

    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 employees could opt in. They supported each other in reformating and cutting meetings, and sharing ideas.

    Like any movement, there were many sides. Many people joined the movement enthusiastically while others were reluctant to. Others chose not join. But even teammates who didn’t join still benefited because their loads got lighter, too. Reset helped many people, even those who were initially resistant to joining after learning about the advantages of volunteer work.

    5. Don’t just subtract meetings — redesign them.

    It was amazing how little time Meeting Reset took us. This was not about removing all meetings. The cancellation of meetings was only 30 percent effective in saving time; volunteers who redesign meetings kept by them saved 70%. Reorganizing meetings in order to decrease attendance, or substituting parts with asynchronous communication was a good example of how 27% of time saved. 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%)

    Get clear on what is most important

    Francesca checked in six months later after Doomsday. Her calendar remains lighter. She was reflective. “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.

    Resolving Overload is a Solution

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