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Reducing Meeting Fatigue With 25-minute Meetings by@davydov
30,535 reads
30,535 reads

Reducing Meeting Fatigue With 25-minute Meetings

by Denis DavydovOctober 17th, 2023
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Discover the transformative power of concise meetings in software engineering, optimizing productivity and focus for efficient collaboration.
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Meetings have become a common mechanism for collaboration, decision-making, and information dissemination. Yet, there's an increasing sentiment that meetings, particularly the long ones, are more of a productivity entanglement than a boon. Such gatherings often become unfocused affairs that consume far more time than they should. This phenomenon becomes particularly pronounced in professions like software engineering: here, each minute of disruption can exponentially affect the flow of work, disturbing creativity and problem-solving capabilities essential for software development.


Think about it: a software engineer pulled into a two-hour meeting loses not just those two hours but also the traction built before the interruption. The time required to regain full concentration can be substantial, thereby making a long meeting's actual cost much higher than its duration.


Beyond the tangible time lost, there's the invisible burden of cognitive tiredness, commonly termed as 'meeting fatigue.’ Consecutive meetings or ones that stretch without a clear agenda can drain the mental energy of participants. This not only reduces the quality of contributions during the meeting but also affects post-meeting productivity.


The financial consequences of these prolonged and often unnecessary meetings are staggering. As Donna McGeorge points out in "The 25 Minute Meeting: Half the Time, Double the Impact", even a seemingly harmless weekly meeting can come with a hefty price tag. Citing a 2014 study by Bain & Company, McGeorge underscores how a single weekly gathering of midlevel managers drained a whopping $15 million annually from a corporation's coffers. When you extrapolate this to the numerous meetings held across various levels in an organization, the financial drain is staggering.


As the book’s title alludes to, McGeorge proposes the 25-minute meetings as an alternative for whatever-number-of-minute meetings to reduce the fatigue of participants and mitigate the harmful effects it has on their productivity and motivation. As I, in turn, allude to in this introduction, we will look at how such a method can benefit the area of software engineering.


The 25-minute meeting: Explaining the idea of shorter, more focused meetings


Donna McGeorge's "The 25 Minute Meeting: Half the Time, Double the Impact" emphasizes maximizing meeting productivity by limiting their duration to 25 minutes. This method makes clear objectives, advanced preparation, and punctuality the priority, ensuring only essential stakeholders attend. The approach encourages active participation, necessitates effective follow-ups, and stimulates individuals to assess the actual need for a meeting. With a focus on increasing technology for efficiency, McGeorge's methodology fosters quicker decision-making and enhanced collaboration in a time-respectful manner.


For software engineers, these shorter, purpose-driven meetings reduce cognitive overhead, allowing them to maintain momentum in their coding tasks. If questioning the necessity of meetings, engineers are able to preserve more blocks of uninterrupted time, which is essential for complex problem-solving and development tasks.


Pomodoro Technique Parallel:

The Pomodoro Technique, introduced by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, reformed personal productivity by segmenting work into short, intense bursts (typically 25 minutes) followed by a 5-minute break. This method is underpinned by the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility and maintain high levels of focus. Translating this concept to a team setting, the 25-minute meeting functions similarly. Condense the discussion time, and the team is now urged to dive right into the core of the matter, minimizing the typical small talk and aimless pottering about.



Parkinson's Law:

Coined by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in a satirical piece for "The Economist" in 1955, Parkinson's Law states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." While originally intended as a commentary on bureaucracy, this law is relevant in the context of modern-day meetings. Given an hour, discussions in a meeting room can slosh, detours might be taken, and before you know it, the meeting concludes with numerous points still unaddressed or superficially touched upon. The law suggests a curious human behavior: we tend to stretch tasks, consciously or unconsciously, to fit the allocated time. By slashing the default one-hour meeting norm to a crisp 25 minutes, the dynamics shift dramatically — every minute becomes precious. Substantially, while the traditional longer meetings might offer a perceived luxury of time, they often lack the intensity that a 25-minute session brings.


Increasing focused work

While it might seem insignificant, a 5-minute gap between meetings can make a world of difference. This buffer provides a momentary pause, allowing participants to gather their thoughts and transition from one topic to the next. It's an opportunity to quickly refine any notes, grab a refreshment, or physically move between meeting spaces without feeling rushed. More importantly, this short break can prevent the mental fatigue that often arises from back-to-back sessions.


The advantage of such meeting bundling — scheduling them close together — is that it creates extended periods of uninterrupted work. With meetings clustered together, employees can go deeper into tasks without the threat of an impending meeting. Such structured scheduling ensures that when people meet, there's a sense of urgency and purpose. They know that time is limited and precious.


How to implement it at your workplace

Creating an environment that promotes efficient meetings requires both strategic and cultural shifts. Here are a few crucial steps to seamlessly integrate these ideas:


  • Scheduling.

Instilling the practice of starting meetings at unconventional times, like XX:05 or XX:35, serves a dual purpose. It provides that crucial 5-minute buffer, ensuring participants aren't hopping from one meeting directly into another.


  • Preparation.

Encourage all participants to approach meetings with a proactive mindset. This involves coming in with a defined agenda and a clear understanding of the meeting's objectives. Such preparation keeps discussions on track and ensures that every minute spent in the meeting room is purposeful and productive.


But a logical question arises here...


Should I completely get rid of longer meetings?


Certainly not. While the 25-minute rule can be transformative, there are situations that demand longer durations.


For example, focused 1:1 meetings. Sessions such as pair programming, synchronous code reviews, or mentoring sessions involve only two participants, making them less prone to the inefficiencies of larger gatherings. Another example is large-scale events: all-hands meetings, Q&As, product demos, and presentations can run longer. These are typically well-structured, moderated, and time-boxed, ensuring that they remain efficient despite their length.


Conclusion

The 25-minute meeting is not just a scheduling technique. It is quite an effective methodology among countless strategies aimed at optimising team performance and underscores the importance of deliberate time management in an age of information overload.


However, like any methodology, its efficacy is maximized when adapted to the unique rhythm and demands of a specific company. Paul Axtell, a specialist consulting Microsoft Workplace Insights, thinks that such a format can be limiting. In his work “Make Meetings Matter: How to Turn Meetings from Status Updates to Remarkable Conversations,” he focuses more on much more precise things in the meetings, such as restricting the number of attendees, scrutinizing agenda inclusions, strategically structuring discussions for each agenda topic, and many others.


Thus, instead of seeing it as an all-encompassing solution, consider it as a flexible framework. As leaders and team members, the duty is on us to continually question: How can traditional methods be reimagined to suit our distinct needs? Perhaps the real challenge lies not in adopting innovative strategies but in molding them to amplify our team's unique strengths. I hope that this article will make a contribution to your knowledge and skills, which in turn will help you improve the flow of your team’s work, and the listed methods and books of specialists will enrich it even more.