As most startup founders and entrepreneurs can tell you these days, meeting hangovers are real. Right now people are meeting online for everything from work, to happy hours with friends, to therapy sessions or even working out. A large number of these meetings can seriously deplete your precious resources.
One of the primary obstacles to recovering from meetings is the time it takes to switch from one point of focus (the meeting) to another (deeper work). After a fruitless or stressful meeting, your productivity is drained as your resources are reallocated to deal with the resulting mental stress.
The end result is that it often takes longer to fully engage in the next piece of work — I’ve noticed it takes me half an hour or 45 minutes. Add in multiple meetings per week (sometimes per day), and you might lose hours of productivity in a week, forcing you into overtime just to get your actual work done.
Here are seven tactics you can use to conquer meeting recovery syndrome and bounce back quickly when meetings sap your mental and physical resources.
1. Reduce the time you spend in meetings.
The most obvious place to start is with the meetings themselves. You can reduce the time you and your team spend in pointless meetings by following a few strategic guidelines:
- Only hold essential meetings. If the issue can be handled by chat or email, do it that way and then disseminate the results to the wider team.
- Format your meetings to be short and succinct, with an agenda consisting of only two or three salient action items.
- Include only the people necessary to the planned discussion. Again, use email to disseminate short conclusions and summarize decisions made to others.
- Provide a way to record the minutes for the meeting, either through technology or a separate individual.
- Finally, set hard-and-fast rules about meeting length. If a meeting is to last 30 minutes, it is over by 30 minutes and one second. No exceptions.
2. Get in the habit of self-debriefing after a meeting.
A little objective debrief after meetings helps you to pinpoint both what’s going right and what can be improved. After each meeting, ask some probing questions, such as:
- Who participated? Who was relatively silent?
- Was there a significant degree of distraction, perhaps accompanied by side discussions?
- Did the main discussion get sidetracked significantly?
Also consider what went well. At what point were participants most engaged? What were you discussing and what exactly was going on then? Through these questions, figure out what worked and what didn’t, then use that information to tweak how you run future meetings to be shorter and more efficient.
3. Schedule strictly meeting-free time periods.
Reserve certain time periods (your most productive ones, preferably) for deep work, and resolve to schedule no meetings during these time periods.
The simple act of scheduling meeting-free times in your calendar that are dedicated solely to this type of work activity helps you relax, knowing you won’t be diverted into other activities that cause distractions and impede focus.
4. Meditate every day.
A regular and consistent meditation practice can help you maintain focus and mindful attention throughout the day. In particular, many studies show that mindfulness meditation improves your cognitive abilities. A consistent meditative practice may even help slow and stave off age-related mental decline.
5. Start each day with exercise.
Research proves that regularly scheduled workouts help build mental acuity and focus all day long.
Regular exercise and movement help improve cognitive skills and focus in a number of both direct and indirect ways, including reducing inflammation, improving sleep and increasing the supply of oxygen to your brain by forming new blood vessels.
Any simple, low-impact aerobic activity will help build focus. Try walking or cycling, as well as mind-body movement disciplines such as yoga and Pilates.
6. Try out intermittent fasting.
The underlying premise of intermittent fasting (or IF) is that you refrain from eating anything at all for a certain number of hours in each 24-hour day — anywhere from 14 to 18 — and confining all calorie intake to the remaining hours of the day.
While this may seem counterintuitive, IF may actually aid daytime focus. Because your body is no longer allocating significant physical resources to the digestive process, you have more resources available for attentive focus and deeper levels of work.
There are a lot of variations on this method, and some may not necessarily be the most healthful approaches for everybody. So it’s important to do your research and discuss this approach with your doctor if you’re concerned about how IF might impact existing conditions.
7. Take regular breaks throughout the day.
It may seem counterintuitive, but making a habit of taking a few minutes each hour to stand up, walk away from your computer, stretch and get water helps you maintain a deeper level of focus throughout the day.
At a minimum, get up and walk around for a few minutes every hour to change your physical and mental state. Disengaging for brief periods helps you maintain focus throughout your workday.
Don’t let meetings ruin your workday.
Meetings are essential for the success of your company, but as with everything, too much of a good thing can wreak havoc over time. Learn to manage your focus and attention as the mental resources they actually are, and you’ll find it’s easier to switch directions and dive back into more meaningful work tasks.