Maximizing Impact and Minimizing Overwhelm: Beating Meeting Fatigue

Here I go again. I often find myself logging in and taking a peek at my calendar, only to discover back-to-back meetings consuming my entire day. It makes me wonder how I ended up in this situation, as I continuously advise my team to avoid spending the entire day in meetings to prevent burnout. Nevertheless, I am faced with a dilemma – whether to power through the day and make the best of it or conduct a meeting audit to reschedule or cancel some meetings, allowing for a more high-impact day.

This is a pervasive issue that marketing professionals, and likely many others, encounter every week. Everyone seems to demand a piece of our time, whether it’s to listen, gain insights, or discuss ongoing projects. Eager to affirm our level of importance and visibility to colleagues, leaders, and internal clients, we readily accept these meeting requests, feeling like we have achieved success and reached the pinnacle of our careers.

However, I must caution you. While accepting numerous meetings may have its benefits, there is a downside that can be detrimental to your professional growth and overall mindset. Meeting fatigue is a real issue, draining us both mentally and physically, and in the era of video meetings, cognitive overload is even more taxing.

So, let me share some thoughts. Each day, we find ourselves with little time to execute tasks or process the outcomes of countless meetings. This leaves us wondering how to proceed. Should we work overtime to execute tasks? Do we become consumed with thoughts and ideas, rushing to capture them all? Or do we simply step back from our desks with a brewing migraine, reaching for some form of comfort, like a glass of wine or a sugary treat? How do we then engage with our friends and family, who also seek our attention as they come out of their own day?

This pattern can lead to several negative consequences, none of which benefit our professional growth, careers, or personal lives outside of work.

As marketing professionals, our mindset plays a pivotal role in our success. We are creatives deeply invested in our project outcomes, requiring us to process a vast amount of information and produce highly strategic, creative, and sometimes disruptive strategies, messaging, content, and deliverables that drive organizational growth.

But how do we achieve this with meeting fatigue? Moreover, how do we find time to ensure we are allocating our time appropriately when it seems there is never enough time for anything?

Allow me to share a couple of go-to strategies that work for me, and I invite fellow marketing professionals to engage in a conversation to learn and grow together.

Go-To Strategy #1: Block “Peak Mindset” Hours on My Calendar

Consider your daily rhythms and mindset. Are you most productive in the morning, mid-morning, or close to lunchtime? Maybe your best work happens during the last few hours of the day. Identify these peak hours and set permanent blocks on your calendar to protect them. If you’re unsure about your peak hours due to workload-overload, experiment with blocking until you find what works best. Your best self should show up for your most impactful work, and safeguarding this time is crucial to maintain the quality and impact of your work.

Once you’ve determined your peak hours, create a recurring meeting on your calendar titled “focus time.” This should dissuade colleagues from scheduling meetings during these key hours. Admittedly, there will always be those who disregard calendars and send meeting invites regardless. In such cases, have the confidence to decline or propose an alternative time that works for both parties, ensuring you find a mutually suitable open slot.

Go-To Strategy #2: Meeting Audit

Every morning, even while still lying in bed (yes, I know it’s sad), I reach for my phone and review my work calendar to assess how my day will unfold. I either find myself pleasantly surprised for adhering to my approach and protecting my time or sighing at the realization that I’ve let my day spiral out of control. None of us are perfect, and while some of us may get it right more often than others, we all need strategies to ground us and avoid becoming overwhelmed and fatigued due to excessive meetings. For me, this daily meeting audit helps keep me grounded.

As I face a potentially chaotic day, I get out of bed and immediately start auditing my meetings by running through a checklist:

  • Are there any non-urgent meetings that I can reschedule for another day or time?
  • Can any meetings be converted into more efficient forms of communication, such as emails, co-authoring in documents, or chat dialogues for collaboration?
  • Will the meeting overload force me to shift executions, requiring adjustments to deadlines or commitments? If so, I promptly communicate these changes to stakeholders to avoid surprises.
  • Did I block focus time for the day? If not, what’s currently scheduled during my peak hours? Can I reschedule it? Is it critical to occur today, or can it be effectively communicated via email?
  • Did I block any self-care breaks? Given the number of meetings, it’s essential to set aside time for quick breaks, whether for caffeine refills or brief restroom visits.

After this audit, I hope to have a more manageable day. However, I remain mindful of how often I shuffle things around and the impression they may leave on others. I remind myself to improve at protecting my time to avoid becoming known as the one who frequently reschedules meetings on the day they’re set to occur. Regardless, protecting your time is one of the most critical actions you can take for your growth.

Go-To Strategy #3: Be Mindful of Cognitive Overload

Before the pandemic, conference calls supplemented in-person meetings. However, in the post-pandemic world, video conference calls have taken precedence, while in-person meetings have become scarce. This shift has added complexity to how we receive feedback during meetings. Without the ability to pick up on nonverbal cues and the overall “room vibe,” we face challenges. Additionally, being hyper-aware of our appearance and emotions during video meetings can compound the strain.

To combat cognitive overload, consider a few strategies:

  • Evaluate if being on camera is necessary for every call, or if an audio-only approach can suffice.
  • Assess the frequency of your cadence-style meetings, such as team or department gatherings. Could they be less frequent or transition to no-video calls, providing participants with a much-needed break from the constant “on” mode?
  • Reconsider the duration of meetings, opting for shorter time frames like 15 or 45 minutes. Those extra minutes can provide participants with essential breaks between meetings.
  • Try reducing the screen size and exiting full-screen mode during video calls. If possible, disable self-view to reduce distractions and cognitive strain. Additionally, consider using an external keyboard to create more personal space during video meetings, as suggested in an article published by Stanford News.

Go-To Strategy #4: Turn Meetings into Working Sessions

Finally, my last strategy involves turning meetings into more than just discussions where we jot down notes, gather feedback, and list outcomes. Instead, open associated documents during meetings and make live changes while having discussions. While this may slightly extend the meeting’s duration, it allows us to gain real-time feedback as we implement comments or changes. Moreover, we experience a sense of accomplishment upon concluding the meeting, having executed tasks that emerged from our discussions. This approach prevents us from feeling overwhelmed about finding time to implement changes within deadlines or reasonable turnaround times.

In conclusion, regardless of your method for combating meeting fatigue, consider adding strategies to protect your time and ultimately protect your ability to grow. Let’s start a conversation and grow together. What are your go-to strategies? Do any of these strategies work for you or not? How do you ground yourself when you have slipped into meeting overload?

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