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The Damaging Effects of Back to Back Meetings

Did you know that back-to-back meetings aren’t just exhausting, but have costly effects that impact your business and health long term?

There’s a general rule in aviation called the 1-in-60 rule: for every 1 degree a plane veers off course, it will be one mile further away from its destination for every 60 miles it advances.

Meetings are kinda like that. Every moment your team spends in an unnecessary meeting is shifting them further off course and away from their key productivity goals. This wasted time and cognitive effort is compounded over time — just like the plane gets further from its destination the longer it flies.

But missing targets isn’t the end of the problems — it’s just the beginning. Unnecessary meetings cause a host of other issues:

  1. Reduced Cognitive Capacity: With back-to-back meetings, you're likely engaging in complex mental tasks for long periods. This continuous exertion can cause cognitive fatigue, reducing your ability to process and retain new information effectively.

  1. Attention Deficit: A prolonged cognitive load can lead to a reduction in the ability to maintain attention. When your attention dwindles, so does your ability to process and retain new information effectively.

  1. Reduced Creativity: Being consistently engaged in structured activities with little downtime can hamper the brain's ability to think creatively and innovatively.

  1. Decision Fatigue: This is a real psychological phenomenon where the quality of decisions degrades after making many decisions in a row. This often means that decisions made at the end of a long series of meetings are less well-considered than those made at the beginning.

  1. Stress: Back-to-back meetings can induce stress, and chronic stress can have numerous negative effects on cognition, including impaired memory and reduced capacity to learn new information.

  1. Less Reflection Time: When meetings are scheduled back to back, there's less opportunity to reflect on and consolidate information from each meeting. This reflection time is crucial for transferring information from short-term to long-term memory.

  1. Reduced Cognitive Performance: If you're juggling multiple meetings and related tasks, you may be multitasking, which is known to hinder cognitive performance. Multitasking can lead to more mistakes and lower the quality of work.

It’s a lot, and I don’t just mean the hours in meetings. But the good news is there are tactics and tools to help out. Here’s some quick ones to get you some breathing room.

  1. Empower a Representative: Use a trusted team member to be the representative at specific recurring meetings. This will allow you to breathe so you can not only help them grow, but make good decisions to drive your department forward.

  1. Ask to Stay Informed: If you find yourself multitasking heavily during meetings, maybe you just need to be informed. Asked the meeting leader if they are okay just sending the meeting notes afterwards. Guard your time.

  1. Prevention: Tell people you don’t like being scheduled back to back, and block out time when you can in between. This will help reset your brain a little to keep attention focused.

Practicing these three will help you really find which meetings are actually important for you to be in and which ones are best left to someone else, or asynchronous communication.

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