The 4-Hour Meeting Week
How to Spend <10% of Your Time In Meetings
My first day at work at Hugo was a breeze until my boss Josh told me about our 10% rule.
"This week you're ramping up, so we have a lot of meetings," he said. I still wasn't accustomed to his Australian accent. To my ears, Josh is Chris Hemsworth's vocal doppelganger. "After this though, block off no more than four hours in a 40-hour week for internal meetings. This is how we move fast."
If your CEO told you (in Thor's voice no less) to keep your meetings under four hours a week, what would you do? Are you peeking at your calendar saying, “But I have four hours of meetings TODAY?”
At first, I thought it was an impossible goal too. Plenty of people have closer to four hours of non-meetings in the week between 9 am and 5 pm.
If you’re familiar with Hugo, our 10% goal might be perplexing. We make Connected Meeting Notes software. Shouldn’t the company that invests in making meetings more effective be having even MORE on average?
Don’t get me wrong. I love meetings.
But do you know what I love more than meetings? Progress. Getting stuff done. I love how fast an organization can move when you’re not carving up every day with check-ins and sync-ups.
You may have heard the author's tip to kill your darlings. It reminds us to trim away parts of our writing that aren’t necessary for the story, even if they're your favorites.
At Hugo, you might say that meetings are our darlings.
How do you figure out how to have the most effective meetings, possible? Well -- you kill a bunch of your meetings.
Here are 5 ways we cut down on meetings that any organization can do.
1. Share updates in advance
One of the most common words in any meeting agenda is “Update.” 22 percent of agendas in Hugo use it.
What is an update? A concise explanation of where something is at and what’s changed. You can save three minutes of updates with three written bullet points instead.
There’s a social reason why live updates in meetings take so much longer than updates in meeting notes. Because if you can explain your progress in 20 seconds, your work looks unimportant. Whether intentional or not, people include unnecessary levels of detail.
What if your entire meeting is updates? Skip the meeting! Have everyone share three bullet points and read each other’s notes. Only if that surfaces anything to discuss, then you have a meeting.
What if there are discussions to be had? With the updates out of the way, everyone shows up prepared. Your 30-minute discussion trims down to a quick 10 where you get to the meat of the problem.
2. Make a video instead
Sometimes it seems easier to have a meeting because it seems more efficient. It takes less time to explain something in person than to write it all down. But when you make a habit of this, every transfer of information starts to default to yet another meeting.
Instead, consider making a video.
When you make a video instead of having a meeting, your information is available on demand. We call this asynchronous communication. You can absorb the information on their own schedule.
Loom is a free tool to record and privately share videos that can include your webcam and screen. But videos sometimes seem too permanent. Once you start recording, you invest time into making a good video.
To combat this, we created an internal tool called Fade. If you combine Loom and Snap, you get Fade. The videos are easy as pie to make, but they self-destruct after 48 hours. No more worrying if you make a minor mistake. As in real life—the experience is there and it’s gone.
3. Just don’t go to the meeting
If you’re in a cross-functional or managerial role, you may feel obliged to go to a lot of meetings. You need to stay up-to-date on everything. It’s not that you’re a necessary presenter; you’re worried that you might miss an important detail.
But when you sit through endless meetings, you waste time.
What you need is good, high-level meeting notes, consistently-delivered to you. Ideally, these notes are in a centralized place, and not some co-workers scratchpad or random folder. So skip the meeting and ask for notes instead.
4. Stand up for stand-ups
It’s popular to describe ultra-brief meetings as stand-ups. I’ve noticed, though, that if anyone is remote, stand-ups become sitting-down meetings (if they weren’t already).
The point of calling it a stand-up is that you get tired if it goes on too long. So stay standing!
5. Working together isn’t the same as having a meeting
The real secret in hitting the 10% goal at Hugo is that we still work together all the time. We just don’t have a meeting.
Yesterday my boss asked if I could chat about a design. I jumped in a video conference, we chatted, and we’re done. It took 8 minutes.
By not blocking off an arbitrary 30-minutes, we got the discussion done in exactly the required time. Nothing more.
You can debate about whether this was technically a meeting. Yes, I used video conference software. We had a mutually-agreed upon time (right now). But we don’t count these against our 10% rule. By encouraging everyone to work together in a more ad hoc manner, the work gets done in precisely the amount of time it needs.
Proposing all these changes at once might cause too big of a shock for your co-workers. Try picking one and giving it a test run. You might surprise yourself at how excited your team gets to have more time to focus on moving the needle.