I find that, in general, people are not protective enough of their time—especially when it comes to meetings. I once had a client who spent over 20 hours a week in meetings—so much of his time that he felt he couldn’t pursue the work and life goals he had set for himself to achieve. He wasn’t moving forward because he was simply too busy to actually do so.
So I asked him to cut his time in meetings by half. It wasn’t an easy process, but it worked.
The bottom line is that effective people realize there is a cost associated with every invite they accept—with every request for work they take on—and that cost is missing out on something else. Rather than double booking meetings or not preparing, being late, or doing other work during meetings, you should simply decline.
Ask for clarity about what topics will be on the agenda and question whether your participation is necessary or required for the entire meeting.
If you don’t go, you have certain responsibilities as a supportive team member:
To have someone who is attending represent you and fill you in later on what happens.
To give the team permission to assign you work.
To align with the decisions made during the meeting.
Make it work for the person calling the meeting. I am not talking about declining a meeting in an arbitrary, thoughtless, non-caring way. This is about considering the invitation and then declining after reflection. And it’s about being candid with those inviting you and even allowing them an opportunity to change your mind. Saying no is not necessarily the end of a conversation.
Politely declining an invitation to meet might sound like this:
Thank you for the invitation. I’m going to decline this time, but I do appreciate being invited.
Given my other commitments for the next two weeks, I’d prefer to not take this on. Will this be okay with you?
Thanks for asking. That’s during a time I plan to spend with my family.
Okay, I’d like to be supportive of the team. And I have a conflict for Thursday. Is there another way I can help?
I think you’ll find that if you hold yourself responsible for the meeting being effective without your presence, people will respect your decision not to attend. That said, if you make not attending a pattern, you risk losing the respect of your employees or co-workers, so be thoughtful about when you choose not to attend.
The goal is to adopt a perspective that you have some choice over which meetings you attend and how long you spend in each meeting. And maybe it is as simple as asking for what you want.