Nov 16, 2022

Meetings are Killing Productivity, So Here’s How to Overcome This

Fewer meetings can boost productivity by over 70%. Tape - interactive asynchronous video messaging tool can scale back on meetings.

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Meetings are Killing Productivity, So Here’s How to Overcome This


  • The average employee wastes 1.34 days per week in unproductive meetings.
  • Fewer meetings can boost employee productivity by over 70%.
  • Embracing asynchronous communication is the key to fewer meetings.
  • Adopting an asynchronous video messaging tool such as Tape is one easy way to scale back on meetings.

We are Stuck in a Trap

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 80% of worker time was dedicated to email, instant messenger, phone calls, and meetings (per Harvard Business Review).

Sound bad? Those were good old days, as the pandemic pushed this figure to new heights.

Uber tracked tool usage with respect to platforms such as Zoom and Slack and reported:

  • a 40% increase in meetings
  • a 45% increase in the average number of meeting participants
  • a 3x+ increase in Zoom meetings and Slack messages

An increased reliance on these tools resulted in a 30% decrease in focus time: meaning 2+ hours per day of uninterrupted time dedicated to completing tasks. This research shows that the modern workplace is in a trap wherein we spend most of our time scheduling and participating in frequent meetings and exchanging more messages in our quest for productivity. Yet, this leaves us with a very limited amount of time to focus on what matters: thus making us less productive.

Half of Meetings are a Waste of Time

Perhaps you’re thinking, Well, meetings are essential. Although they’re costly, communication is the key to success. Let me assure you that tons of surveys reveal people feel roughly half of meetings are a waste of time.

One example is Atlassian’s infographic, showing:

  • Most employees attend 62 meetings a month
  • 50% of these meetings are considered a waste of time
  • 31 hours are spent in unproductive meetings, per employee, every month

Note: This article was released long before the COVID-19 pandemic.

This means we are wasting almost a full day every week in unproductive meetings. Sounds bad and indicates we must find a way to right the ship, right? Let me stop you there for just a second. This is not the entire picture.

60 Minute-Meetings are Not Actually 60 Minutes at All

Studies show different parts of your brain are activated every time you switch between tasks—even ones as simple as answering a teammate’s question while updating a report or attending a meeting right after another ends.

Specifically, these studies indicate that once someone is thrown off track from numerous interruptions and distractions, it can take upwards of 23 minutes to regain focus and return to the original task.

So, let’s do some math to nail down a formula that shows just how much time we’re actually wasting.

Hours Wasted on Unproductive Meetings per Month

= A x B x (C + D)

  • A: Number of meetings per week
  • B: Proportion of unproductive meetings (typically 50%, per research)
  • C: Average meeting duration
  • D: 23 minutes to regain focus

Let’s do some math. How much time are you wasting on unproductive meetings?

For the average person, this is calculated as:

= 62 x 0.5 x (60 + 23)

= 2,573 minutes

= 43 hours

= 1.34 day/week

Want to Be More Productive? Start Canceling Meetings

Recent research shows employee productivity increases by over 70 percent when meetings are reduced by 40 percent. Fewer meetings can also boost communication and even job satisfaction.

Here is my own personal story. I’m the founder and CEO of an early-stage startup. With the above-mentioned facts in mind, I always ask myself at least three times before gathering my team: Do we really need a meeting for this? Or, more specifically: Is joining together in a meeting the optimal way to get work done?

In my previous jobs, my calendar was always fully booked with endless meetings resembling the average schedule noted previously. I felt super busy yet unfulfilled, with no real work actually completed by the time I wrapped up for the day.

But now? I’m more productive than ever and enjoy the highest level of team productivity I’ve ever experienced: a good portion of which exists as remote work. We usually have only two to three meetings a month in the absence of regular gatherings. Yet, our Slack channels remain almost always calm on the daily.

This also adds flexibility to my life, as there’s no need to always work when my team is working—it’s truly a gamechanger! I’m also not required to live in close proximity to my office, nor even in the same city, country, or even timezone as my team if I so choose.

So, how do I do this?

Asynchronous Communication is Key

This is no longer a giant secret. Companies such as Gitlab and Automattic have already proven that we can create a great product, a great team, and a great company without the need for endless meetings or a constant exchange of messages all day: it’s called asynchronous communication.

What’s asynchronous communication?

While synchronous communication—such as via a video call or instant messenger—happens in real-time, asynchronous communication (i.e., asynchronous meetings) does not.

Here is a great explanation of this concept by Preston Wickersham:

Asynchronous work is a simple concept: Do as much as you can with what you have, document everything, transfer ownership of the project to the next person, then start working on something else.

This concept, developed by remote (or distributed) companies over a decade, was chosen as the primary principle of collaboration not due to distribution but simply because it was more efficient.

To be clear, I’m not saying asynchronous communication is better than synchronous communication in every circumstance. Asynchronous communication is great for tasks that require deeper thinking, research, or reading documents before responding (rather than immediate reactions), and the proportion of these types of tasks is much higher than others in most companies.

There is no golden ratio that can apply universally to all types of companies, but one suggestion I prefer is noted in the Twist blog: 70% asynchronous communication.

3 Simple Strategies You Can Try, Today!

Organizational change is so difficult, but it’s definitely worth exploring. Here are three simple strategies you can try out as a first step.

1. Cancel Recurring Meetings

Almost all teams have at least one recurring meeting per week, which often become pointless as no agenda is shared ahead of time and there is an overall lack of preparation. Just cancel them and schedule them again when necessary.

2. Reset Ground Rules for Internal Communication Tools

Contrary to popular belief, instant messaging tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams are not truly asynchronous: as they condition us to falsely believe everything’s worth an instant discussion.

Although better tools do exist, switching platforms used by the entire team is an extremely challenging organizational decision. Therefore, treating these tools like email is an easy, helpful way to use them more appropriately. One critical perspective to keep in mind is that you should also ditch the mindset that messages should be replied to right away: which is often even more difficult than switching tools.

3. Adopt an Asynchronous Video Messaging Tool

One of most common purposes for meetings is to explain matters that are complicated and/or visual or when tone and nuance matter to share your message. These types of meetings are in fact the most easily replaced with asynchronous video messaging tools.

Why? Because these tools allow you to record your face and PC screen with just a few simple clicks and then share the same with a URL. This is much faster than scheduling a video call and also provides your team with enough time to understand your message and perform the research or work needed before circling back with you.

There are two tools you can try.

If your meetings are generally “one-way”—meaning you speak and your audience just listens—CloudApp or Loom are two good choices. However, if your meetings are used to receive feedback, engage in discussion, collect opinions, and/or make decisions, interaction is key and Tape is your choice. All allow you to record and share video, but Tape’s interactive features tailored for video let your audience respond to your message simply and intuitively.