How to Gracefully Get Out of Meetings

Does your calendar make you cringe? Have your beach daydreams been replaced by fantasies of staying at your desk and getting stuff done? First, take heart in the fact that you're not alone. American workers participate in at least 36 million meetings each day (and some consider that estimate low). Second, rest assured, not all hope is lost: With some finesse and confidence, you can get out of meetings and get some work done. Try implementing these tips in your workplace.

out of meetings

Understand that it's OK to Decline a Meeting Invite

When meeting invitations appear in our inboxes, we tend to accept them without thinking. In short order, your entire schedule is out of your control. It's particularly challenging to decline meetings if your corporate culture is to share calendar availability; everyone knows your time hasn't been booked. But even so, it's perfectly acceptable to decline meetings under the right circumstances (and with your supervisor's support). Stop feeling guilty about it.

Communicate with Your Manager About Priorities

When you're feeling buried in work, and your choice is to either sit in a meeting or complete a project, it's a good idea to discuss the situation with your supervisor. Ask him or her to prioritize for you. Calmly and professionally explain to your supervisor that you have competing demands for your time, and then ask him or her to help you prioritize based on your company's needs. Not only will you appear proactive, but you'll also have your manager's buy-in for either skipping the meeting or needing additional time to complete your project.

Ask to See the Meeting's Agenda Ahead of Time

Before accepting a meeting request, ask the organizer to share the agenda with you. Look it over, and clarify your role in the meeting. If the organizer invited you simply to keep you in the loop, ask to receive meeting notes or a summary from another attendee instead of attending. If your presence is needed for some, but not all, of the agenda, ask to attend only the relevant portions of the meeting.

Asking to see the agenda ahead of time has an additional advantage—it allows you to make sure there actually is an agenda. If your company frequently meets without agendas, then it's time to reexamine your culture surrounding meetings.

Suggest Email to Replace Status Update Meetings

Rather than spending an hour (or two) listening to each team member list his or her projects for the week, suggest that everyone provide a written list of priorities. This gives your manager a global view of team activities—and allows everyone to start tackling those to-do lists a little bit faster.

Hold Standing Meetings Whenever Possible

For a quick meeting that stays on track, try holding a standing meeting. If everyone's standing in the hallway, there's less temptation for attendees to go off on tangents than if you're gathered around a conference table. It's also harder to lose focus when you're standing up than when you're sitting and doodling.

Institute One Meeting-Free Day a Week

Whether you're instituting this concept for yourself or for the entire office, one meeting-free day a week ensures that you have dedicated time to devote to projects that require more concentration. As an office-wide measure, a meeting-free day also limits the amount of time in which meetings can be scheduled, thus requiring staff to be more judicious about what meetings they add to the calendar. They might start to look at alternatives for disseminating information, such as good old-fashioned memos.

If you're striving for a meeting-free day, the best way to protect your time is to block it out on your calendar just like you would any other meeting. That way Outlook's "next available free time" feature won't foil your plans.

Meetings will always be a necessary evil. Sometimes the entire team needs to get together to brainstorm, or HR needs to have proof certain information was communicated. But scheduling a meeting shouldn't be the default option.

Search for your next job now:


Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market