Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we’ve turned to virtual meetings more than ever before, which can be exhausting and see a significant drop in our productivity. The current circumstances we find ourselves in – whether it’s a lockdown, quarantine, working from home or otherwise – are also feeding into this. Other aspects of our lives that used to be separate such as work, friends and family are all now happening in the same virtual room.
Conversations that once took place in conference rooms, coffee areas or in the office kitchens, have been replaced with virtual meetings which lack a change in environment and dynamic. We also miss the natural breaks between back-to-back meetings, which have now all but disappeared, and with them the opportunity to compose yourself before diving into the next appointment.
Compounding the problem is the fact you still need to complete your other tasks such as answering emails, working on projects, and preparing for all the meetings you’re involved in. It’s easy to underestimate the pressure all of this puts us under.
So how do you overcome the monotony and resulting exhaustion? First off, some recent studies suggest that shortening your meetings can be just as efficient as a meeting that takes the complete hour. I took this idea and ran with it.
Give yourself a break
Over a year into the pandemic, I soon noticed that my workday was full of back-to-back virtual meetings. I decided to make a change by transitioning some standard full hour meetings to 30/45 minutes. Short but concise meetings help to keep focused on the topic that needs to be addressed and have helped me to balance my workload and well-being.
I now use the periods in between to intentionally replenish myself, rather than go directly into the next Teams call. I stretch my back, fill my water bottle, prepare a coffee or simply just look away from the computer for few minutes.
I’ve also started blocking periods of the day to focus purely on my work – moments that I use to concentrate on a specific task. During these times, my colleagues know that I’m not available.
Find focus from structure
While I’ve started to be more disciplined in introducing breaks, I’ve also found myself bringing in other powerful changes. The results immediately spoke for themselves, and my meetings started to become more productive and effective. With meeting times reduced, I noticed that participants have started to spend more quality time in decisions and valuable discussions. Sharing pre-reads is also helpful, as it avoids information overload during the meetings themselves.
As you work to program concise and efficient meetings, consider these tips to make your meetings most powerful:
- Prepare your meeting schedule in advance: everyone should be prepared and know their role.
- Only have the people who need to be there attend a meeting.
- Start and end on time. Be disciplined with the agenda, while keeping the conversation on track.
- Focus on the main topic and let go of anything that is less critical. Getting traction on a single topic is far more useful than covering many topics without an execution plan.
- If issues arise, deal with them in a separate meeting and only with the people directly involved.
If you have a meeting that must go longer, the recommendation is to take a short break after 50 minutes, allowing the team to clear their minds and turn off their cameras.
A change in routine triggers a change in behavior
When I started reducing the time of my virtual meetings, I noticed that my behavior also changed. In shortened meetings I now feel less distracted and more present. It is difficult to stay focused in a longer meeting and not multitask. So, I decided to not multitask during my meetings, and I now feel more productive than ever.
Virtual meeting fatigue presents a very real (and virtual) problem that we must address in order to stay healthy, focused and productive during stretches of remote work. We can do so by adopting refreshing changes to take the pressure off ourselves by reshaping some of the routines and behaviors in our workday meetings.