On Meeting Fatigue

How many meetings does it take to reach too many meetings status? If your answer is one, I fear for you. Meetings can be terribly unuseful, draining, and wasteful, but they shouldn't be. Meetings should make a team run more efficiently. They should be deliberate, concise, and last only as long as they need to.

If you are experiencing meeting fatigue I would caution against quickly jumping to the conclusion that the solution is to hold less meetings. It might be, but there are many factors contributing to your current state of annoyance. Are your meetings purposeful? Do they have a clear goal going in and coming out? Are team members coming in prepared to solve whatever challenge is on the table for the day? Is the venue appropriate? The time?

Here are a couple solutions that from my own experience I can say I've seen success with.


It might feel a little rigid, but having at least a rough agenda drives focus throughout a meeting. It also clarifies what this meeting IS and what it IS NOT. One symptom of having a culture of "meetings suck" can be that there's not enough coordination and planning happening, so every opportunity to meet bleeds on and on. Standups (if your team decides to hold them) have a purpose, iteration planning has a specific purpose, a retrospective has a specific purpose, etc. When you clarify the purpose of each meeting, often by including an agenda, you put the proper mechanisms in place to enable the planning channels, feedback loops, and opportunities for team members to voice their opinion. When you don't, you often run into long, tangential meetings that, although important to one or two, can tire out the rest of the group to a dangerous level.

Separation of duties

Don't try to accomplish too much in one meeting. I'd much prefer three short, effective meetings to one 2.5 hour doozy of a meeting. This is a big reason why I'd argue that we should not try to solve the meeting fatigue problem by cancelling meetings left and right. A meeting to plan out other meetings? That sounds ridiculous, but give some thought to your upcoming meetings (or lack thereof). If your bases aren't covered or overlap then it's likely your meetings are going to get sidetracked.



If you're hosting/running the meeting do you prepare for it? Probably. It's not uncommon to ask or expect attendees to do the same. Sending out an agenda the day before the meeting can help serve as a reminder, or if you have a tactful project manager maybe they can be a positive voice for effective meetings. Regardless of the strategy, a little meeting prep can go a long way, or maybe even reveal that the meeting itself is unnecessary or should be shelved for later. Better than figuring that out 30 minutes through a 10 person meeting.


Last year I spent six months with a San Francisco startup. One of the best things I picked up there was the walking meeting. On 1-on-1s and small meetings rather than hold up in a stuffy little room we'd walk around the city and chat. The change of scenery is nice and the health benefits aren't bad either. Take your next 2-3 person meeting outside. Lots of business park areas have walking trails running through them that you might not even know about.

Meeting fatigue is real, but the answer is more complex than to just hold less meetings. These are a couple approaches that I've seen can help.