Templates to Kill Bad Meetings
Save you and your team hours a week using these templates
What’s a surefire way to better support your team, deliver value for users and help you land your next promotion?
Have fewer meetings.
Hear me out. 😁
One Friday afternoon, I spoke to a well-respected product manager on my team and mentioned I’d be working on a strategy deck on the weekend. He was visibly disgusted.
If you can’t get it done in the workweek, you’re doing a bad job managing your time.
He was right. I looked back at my calendar for the week and saw that over 50% of my week was spent in meetings. This meant that all of my actual responsibilities were crammed into the other 50% of the week. Something had to change.
So I culled my calendar of bad meetings. On average, this helped me save 3-5 hours a week.
With this saved time, I’m able to spend more time on long-term strategy, recruiting and carving out new scope for the team. In other words: culling bad meetings helped me be better at my job.
As a PM, you’ll attend and lead many meetings a week. Not all of these are worth your time — or the time of your teammates.
By cutting low-value meetings, you can increase the velocity of product launches, give builders more time to build, and land more impact in less time (helping you land that promotion 😎).
Here are the three tactics I used to cull low-value meetings from my calendar:
🙅♀️ Decline- do you need me here?
🤝 Delegate - can you lead this?
🧐 Decide - do we need to have this?
I’ll share templates on how to use these tactics to reclaim time and create more impact every week.
But first... spotting bad meetings
Some meetings have value. Others don’t. Here are some ways to spot the bad apples on your calendar:
15+ Attendees: Jeff Bezos famously said that the most productive meetings can be fed with two pizzas. If a meeting has more than roughly 15 people, it can get unwieldy and unproductive.
No Agenda: No agenda is synonymous with no clear purpose or deliverables. Avoid these at all costs. If you lead a meeting, make sure to have an agenda!
Meetings with "Sync" in the title - Often put on calendars to show Facetime with a group. Weigh the value of this Facetime against the cost of the meeting for you and your team.
One-on-Ones: this may be a 🔥 take but most teammates do not require weekly or bi-weekly syncs. What I've seen work well is only having one-on-one syncs with 1) your manager and 2) your direct reports. Try moving others to less frequent cadences (ex. monthly, quarterly) or cancelling them (more below).
Now to the three tactics…
Here's something I wish someone told me earlier in my career: you don't need to attend every meeting you're invited to.
If you notice that you're attending a meeting where you don't participate or don't receive useful information, try declining the invitation. Say no to low-value meetings.
Here are some templates to decline:
🙅♀️ Invite to a low signal meeting: "Hi Maya. Do you need me here?"
🙅♀️ Request for a one-on-one: "Thanks for reaching out, Tim, but I'm trying to limit meeting time. Feel free to send over questions via chat.”
🙅♀️ Getting out of large syncs: "Hi Grace. I won’t be able to attend Sync X moving forward. I’ll review the meeting notes offline.”
🙅♀️ Turning a recurring meeting into an ad-hoc one: "Hi Jane. Can we cancel our recurring meeting on X and instead connect when an urgent item comes up instead? I'm trying to find more time to prioritize Y.”
Leading a meeting can be time-consuming. It requires creating agendas, follow-ups on action items and taking notes live.
If you find yourself leading too many meetings (often the case with PMs), try delegating. Ask a teammate if they would like to lead the meeting. This gives them an opportunity to develop leadership skills while freeing up your own time.
Asking teammates to step up is also a great way to build capacity on your team. This means more team members will have leadership, communication and project management skills to tackle problems in the future.
Here are some templates to delegate:
🤝 Ask a teammate to lead a meeting: "Hi Jordan. Would you like to lead Meeting Y? It’s a great opportunity to develop your project management skills and can also establish you as the point of contact for the topic. I'll support the transition."
🤝 Ask a teammate to represent the group: "Hi Shantell. Are you able to represent the team at the weekly check-in? It’s a good opportunity to build relationships with leadership. Let's chat and I can drop off the invite moving forward.”
🤝 Ask a teammate to present: "Hi Angela. Would you like to present at the product review this week? This will give you and your work more visibility. I can drop off the invite moving forward.”
Often, meetings no longer serve a useful purpose. But we continue to have them because of habit, politeness or inertia.
Declining and delegating will help you get out of these bad meetings -- but your team may still be losing productive time.
As a leader, it’s your responsibility to help your team perform to the best of its ability. This is where leaders need to decide to cancel a meeting for the sake of the team. If you don’t own the meeting, leaders need to force a decision on the future of the meeting.
Here are some templates to decide or force a decision:
🧐 Cancelling a meeting you own: "Hi all, I’m going to cancel this recurring meeting. I'll email updates to this group bi-weekly on Wednesdays. Enjoy an extra 30-minutes a week!"
🧐 Asking a meeting owner if the meeting is necessary: "Hi Priya. I feel that meeting Y has lost its value. Can we cancel and schedule meetings for urgent items only? This will save folks an extra hour a week."
🧐 Asking a meeting owner to switch to email updates: "Hi Lisa. I feel we can better share out updates in meeting Y via email. What do you think of cancelling the meeting? We can alternate who writes the weekly email."
🧐 A power move that I've seen work: A PM on my team cancelled all of her one-on-ones and switched to a weekly "Office Hour" style block. This way, any of her colleagues could sign up for an office hour slot if needed. She reported saving hours a week and her team preferred this model (they got time back too)!
Good PMs meet regularly with stakeholders to keep them informed. Great PMs kill bad meetings to increase the velocity of their team.
Here are some takeaways to help your team deliver more value:
Protect your time (and that of your team) from bad meetings. This will help you deliver more impact in the same period of time.
Bad meetings are vague, big and directionless. Cull these.
Get out of the meeting by declining and delegating.
Protect your team's time by deciding to cancel bad meetings.
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Until next time,
Hey Will, I had a question. Do you think using check-in tools that claim to replace meetings with text updates have a point? Or is reducing the number of meetings in a day a process that should be done organically only?