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Five hands tearing a calendar meeting apart.

Overcoming Zoom meeting fatigue

Meetings, meetings, meetings. It seems that as we all went home to work the number of meetings we attend went way up. There is no shortage of complaints from people suffering from Zoom fatigue as they spend their days on back to back to back Zoom calls. It’s useful to ask why has our meeting count gone up now that we aren’t together in the office? Cal Newport says the convenience of pointing and clicking to make a meeting is easier than corralling a conference room and cajoling colleagues to go there. This probably has something to do with it, but I think there is something else at work.

When all you have is a calendar, everything looks like a meeting

We have greatly expanded the meaning of the word “meeting” because when all you have is Zoom and a calendar, then all you can make are meetings. If we were together in the office, we’d just walk over to someone to ask a quick question. Now that is a video meeting. We’d grab a small group, find a quiet corner, and hash out a quick decision. Now that is a video meeting. We’d grab a free whiteboard and brainstorm an idea. Now that is a video meeting. We’d just speak up from our desks and talk to our workmates. Now that is a video meeting.

…we need to get smarter about how we manage our day…

We aren’t adding more interactions, they’ve just all become scheduled meetings filling our schedules. We consider each an unwelcome intrusion on our day, interrupting our thought processes and preventing us from reaching the magical state of Deep Work™. The backlash is growing. Traditional remote work advocates are calling for an asynchronous revolution that will stop these meetings dead in their tracks and make everyone write everything down so others can deal with it when they feel like it. Neither state is ideal. We need to talk to each other but we need to get smarter about how we manage our day, the expectations we have of our workmates, and how we make ourselves present for our teams.

Manage your schedule with purpose

Most of us see our calendar as an empty landscape to be filled with meetings, usually by other people. If you have mastered the skill of measuring out your days, carving them up into periods for working with the team, meetings, learning, reading, fitness, deep focus, family … you can stop reading. For everyone else, why aren’t you doing that? Remote work gives us greater flexibility and autonomy to manage our days in ways that serve us better. Block out your days to ensure that you are fitting everything in. Your calendar is a form of communication with your teammates. If they find a spare square, they’ll take it from you.

Your calendar is a form of communication with your teammates.

For me I block the morning to spend time with my son before school, exercise, conduct time zone dependent meetings, and catch up on communication. I spend some part of the late morning and early afternoon with the team if I’m not otherwise working with customers or investors. I get my best writing, thinking, and important communications done in the evening. It’s worth your time to figure out your ideal day.

Alleviate meeting overload with team time

One way to alleviate meeting overload is to coordinate with the team for blocks of office hours during the week. These are blocks of time where the team commits to being present and available for each other, like we would if we were in an office together. During this time we are open and available for conversations. We give each other permission to interrupt, unless we communicate otherwise. When office hours are over, we turn to asynchronous communication with no expectation for a timely response. This is the time we reserve for deep focus work, client meetings, professional development, one on ones…

The physical office provides a distinct boundary between work and personal life. As you bid your colleagues goodbye at the end of the day they get an unequivocal signal that you are no longer available to them. When we are remote, opportunities to communicate our boundaries aren’t as clear. Particularly with texting systems that bypass our social defenses. Structured time sends a clear signal about our availability and sets boundaries when we are working apart.

Designating specific team office hours creates an availability contract between team members. By making ourselves available for the everyday informal conversations that lead to breakthrough ideas and decision making, our team mates won’t fill our calendars with unwelcome Zoom meetings whenever they feel like it.

With is a great place to hold team office hours.

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