Years ago, in what feels like a different professional era for me, I worked with a dude named James. He was a HR Director. I only worked at this specific gig for about 16 weeks, i.e. four months. James did not take any vacation during this time (typical American). Literally all 16 of the Mondays that I worked with him, his calendar looked like the one you see above. He would get to work around 8:30am on Monday and, essentially, his entire calendar was blocked until maybe 4pm Friday. There was an outside chance for a few white spots/gaps, but not many.
There are a couple of different schools of thought on all this. I don’t want to spend a ton of time here, but we can walk through it for a second.
“Meetings are essential to business”
This is a statement — and school of thought — you often hear from people that spend their entire week in meetings. They are saying it because they are justifying their existence. That’s Tier I.
Meetings are important, but more importantly, well-run meetings are important. A bunch of middling, BS-y, low-context meetings all week is horrible. Because then people need to find time to do the work in between the meetings, because meetings are not work. They are an aspect of work, but most of us still have something we “ship” or “produce,” and we need to find time to do that. When all we do is sit in meetings, that’s much harder.
Now, the thing is, meetings won’t go away anytime soon. They are very comfortable to the human brain because they make people, especially bad managers, feel as if there’s now a degree of “accountability,” i.e. “We are all on the same page here.” In reality a lot of meetings actually regress the idea of a team being on the same page and confuse 9/10 of the people in the room, but we don’t like to discuss that side of it.
The importance of a given meeting
Most people lack the stones to look at a meeting invite and say, “Hey, how necessary is this?” or “Hey, am I necessary for this?” A lot of people usually just accept meetings because someone proposed them. I was actually invited to a meeting the other day, accepted it, got to it, and there was no reason on God’s green Earth why I should have been there. There goes an hour of my life. Ya know what? It’s my fault because I didn’t research or ask anything about the meeting. It’s on me.
In reality, if we simply asked 5 times a week “Hey, is this important for me to attend?” we’d probably free up 3–10 hours/week. Many meetings are not that important, and as I think we all know, many could be an email. The problem is that a lot of managers don’t write emails well either, and they need to see people’s butts in chairs to think the situation is “being managed.”
Uninterrupted work time
If you want the best life hack of this decade, just set aside a little time on a Friday afternoon (or a Thursday night) and put in blocks on your calendar for the next week to do work. Sometimes people will try to schedule over this — one time I legit wrote “therapy” on my calendar and someone tried to schedule over it — but in general it gives you uninterrupted work time, which gives you some sense of “flow,” which means you can focus on actually producing instead of listening to some other buffoon talk in circles.
So if there are ways around being a calendar slave, why does it happen?
Simplest answer: most people don’t think about anything related to work. They simply do things related to work, i.e. accepting calendar invites, because work to many is a means to an end where you’re supposed to appear decisive and/or busy at all times. Better to accept 10 hours of meetings a week than actually do 10 hours of subjective work that someone might critique you for.
And that’s the final key point: Meetings protect incompetence in an era where most work is subjective. If all you do is sit in meetings, you don’t ever really need to produce or put your ass on the line. That comforts a lot of people. Get the salary without the corresponding output, and let the best three sales guys determine if your kid can go to private school. That’s reality. Just a question of how much we all can admit it.
Being a calendar slave is mind-numbing in terms of boredom, but also very safe — and it gives you a trap door for not producing, i.e. “All I ever do is sit in meetings, boss!” You can say that to your supervisor for 10 years. We know it’s not changing that much. Sprints and scrums? They still have meetings. EMail goes up in business usage every year even though Slack is about to IPO. The basic stuff doesn’t change as much as we think it does.
Oh, unless you’re a lawyer. Then your hourly is probably too high to be forced to sit in meetings all day (some engineers too). But for the rest of us, good luck!