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Meeting-Free Days: A Great Hack for Being Productive and Staying Sane

Jeremy Lopatin | October 20, 2021 | Company News, Digital Marketing

Is your team struggling to find time to work on their most challenging tasks? Maybe a disruptive meeting schedule is to blame.

How did we get here?

Meetings are the easy go-to when it comes to making group decisions or just checking in with your team. But at most companies, they can easily get out of hand in terms of both frequency and duration – and it only gets worse the further into your career you get and the more responsibilities you take on.

And recent events have made things even harder. With the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the off-the-cuff conversations that might have happened casually in a physical office have morphed into formal Zoom meetings. On top of that, many of us also started using Zoom as a gathering place in our social lives. Next thing you know, meetings – both virtual and in-person – have run roughshod across every day of the week.

Like many disciplines, a portion of the work we do as a marketing agency requires absolute focus. Whether it’s conducting research, developing strategy, creating content, or coding new tools, much of what we do just can’t be done in 15-minute increments wedged between meetings. If you go that route, not only does the quality of the work suffer, but you end up wearing yourself out.

That’s why we’re experimenting with something we’re calling “Focus Fridays,” which really just means that we won’t allow any meetings – internal or external – to take place on Fridays. We also try to reduce the frequency that we check our email and collaboration tools on those days. The fundamental goal behind these meeting-free days is to defend meaningful blocks of time so our team can execute at their absolute best on their most challenging tasks.

Do meeting-free days make people more productive?

Productivity is too vague of a concept to measure directly, but there are a few metrics we can use to get a sense of it. The first thing we analyzed was simply the total amount of work hours that team members logged in our time tracking software. What we found is that across our entire company there was a 5% lift in hours clocked on Fridays after we moved all of our meetings to other days of the week.

Five percent might not be a lot for an individual, but across an entire company, it can be significant.

But as any good analyst knows, we shouldn’t just rely on a single metric to get a sense of a strategy’s success. You might recall that one of the goals of Focus Fridays was to facilitate “deep work” that requires uninterrupted concentration. This would suggest that if our Focus Fridays really work, we would see larger “chunks” of work happening in our time tracking system.

So what did we see? On average, the amount of time spent on tasks increased by 6% following the move to Focus Fridays. Now, I know skeptics out there might be thinking “maybe people are just working 6% slower because they don’t have meetings to work around.”

That’s a fair point. To address that argument, we needed to use some stats. We calculated what the 80th percentile was for time spent on a task, and then compared the average number of these tasks that took place on a Friday before and after implementation.

What we found was that 14% more “big tasks” were taking place on Fridays after we moved our meetings to other days. Taken together, the data seems to suggest that our Focus Fridays are achieving their objective: more work getting done, in larger chunks, more frequently.

None of these numbers are revolutionary, but spread across an entire organization, they’re a meaningful step in the right direction.

Do employees feel less stress on meeting-free days?

This isn’t just about the quantity and quality of work, but the quality of the work experience. Stress is even harder to quantify than productivity, and I can assure you that none of us here are trained psychologists. To understand the impact of Focus Fridays on our team’s work experience, we simply asked them what they thought of the change:

Taylor Caldron, Director of Technical Services: The parts of my job I enjoy the most are the ones that require creative problem solving. And as someone who’s fairly introverted, I just don’t have the energy for it on meeting-packed days. So I definitely prefer the meeting-free Fridays.

David Oltean, SEO Manager: Juggling work for multiple clients can be tricky as a marketing consultant, even without factoring in meetings and client communications. It’s really refreshing to have one day every week where we can dig deep on SEO projects and focus entirely on strategizing and providing results for our clients.

Kristin Coleman, Project Manager: Though Focus Fridays have made scheduling client meetings a bit more challenging with only four days a week to work with, I feel it’s been a positive change. It’s reassuring to know I’ve got Friday in my back pocket for those projects or tasks that I wasn’t able to make time for or were interrupted by meetings during the week.

Celeste Hill, Digital Marketing Strategist: Focus Fridays have helped me prioritize my week, leaving bigger projects to Friday and smaller tasks throughout the week. It also alleviates some stress. Knowing there is a day I won’t have meetings, I can be more flexible with my time.

Are meeting-free days right for your organization?

Whether meeting-free days are a good fit for your team or not will depend on a few things. If your team’s success is measured by the quality of a product – be it code, content, strategy, or anything creative in nature – you should absolutely give it a shot. But if the success of your team is solely dependent on client interaction (like many sales organizations), meeting-free days might not make sense for you. Most teams are somewhere in the middle, and it may make sense to designate meeting-free days for some roles but not others.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that meeting-free days aren’t the only solution for meeting glut. It may make sense to examine your recurring meetings and see if any of them can be shortened or even cancelled. But for us, the consolidation of meetings to just Monday through Thursday made a significant difference to productivity and morale without us actually cancelling anything.

Have you tried setting aside a day with no meetings? Did it work? We’d love to hear from you, so don’t hesitate to reach out with your additional thoughts or questions. And if you’d like to hear more about how we’re experimenting with productivity at Climb, make sure to subscribe to our email list below.

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