Companies from Shopify to Facebook to Asana have embraced the “No Meeting Day.” Setting aside one day per week to focus on heads-down work without being interrupted by meetings can increase productivity and reduce stress.
I did some research and spoke with workers who have successfully, and unsuccessfully, tried to implement a No Meeting Day at their workplaces so you can have an easier time trying to do the same. But first, let’s dig into the benefits of a No Meeting Day.
Eight hours of uninterrupted Focus Time means less context switching. “You don’t have to spend the 10 minutes before a meeting winding down one task and prepping for the meeting — and then another 15–30 minutes after a meeting wrapping up loose ends and getting your focus back,” time management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders wrote about why she implemented a No Meeting Day at her firm, Real Life E Time Coaching & Speaking. “You simply work.”
Context switching is deadly for focus and productivity. According to researcher Sophie Leroy, when you switch tasks a part of your brain is still thinking about the previous task. It takes some time for those thoughts to quiet down so you can concentrate fully on the task at hand. In the meantime, your performance suffers. Researchers call this phenomenon called “attention residue.” And studies show it takes 25 minutes and 26 seconds on average to get back to the level of efficiency you were at before an interruption. This means task shifting, even briefly, can cost as much as 40% of your productive time.
The other big benefit to a No Meeting Day is that it can help cut down on the number of meetings. The average worker attends 62 meetings per month and considers half of those meetings a waste of time.
So a successful No Meeting Day can be a huge boon for worker happiness and efficiency. But how do you implement one successfully?
If you’re in a leadership role, it can be tempting to just mandate a No Meeting Day for your team. That’s what happened to Michael Breuker, President at Pinnacle Management Systems, Inc. at a previous company.
At the time, Michael was managing a team of consultants when a new CEO came in and implemented a companywide "No Meeting Friday" policy. “It was terrible,” Michael said.
“Policies like this are trendy, and that's exactly what the CEO was doing,” Michael said. “He knew nothing about the business he was taking over, he only knew how to implement the latest management trends, and did so without any consideration for how the company operates, its culture, etc.”
Elizabeth recommends discussing a No Meeting Day with close colleagues and your boss before diving in. Lay out your reasons for considering the move and listen to any objections they raise. Try to sell them on the idea. If they’re not buying in, chances are your direct reports may not either.
Another problem Michael had with that company’s No Meeting Day was that it was a blanket policy that didn't consider the needs of individual teams. “Not all teams operate the same way,” Michael said. “Some work requires more collaboration than other kinds of work. Sometimes Friday is the only day you can get an important meeting on the calendar because of other things going on.”
Atlassian has some useful advice for implementing a No Meeting Day, which they call GSD Day. They recommend moving team meetings, one-on-ones, and companywide meetings away from GSD Day. But, they write, it’s okay to schedule whiteboard sessions, external candidate interviews, and meetings where functional specialists collaborate on complex problems on your GSD Day.
Instead of a No Meeting Day, The R Street Institute implemented "blackout periods" at the beginning of the pandemic. Each team picks a half day each week where workers aren’t expected to respond to any internal communications and may not have internal meetings.
“External meetings and doing work aren't forbidden during this time but people are encouraged to use the time for family and personal business,” R Street President Eli Lehrer told me.
Elizabeth also calls for flexibility. “If you must have a meeting on your selected day, try to schedule it at the beginning or the end of the day,” Elizabeth writes. “That way you’ll still have a good block of meeting-free time. Or consider a natural break point, like a lunch break or the mid-afternoon lull.”
Companies often implement a No Meeting Day as a Band-Aid for some other underlying issue, Michael said. These issues may include workers having too much on their plates and/or have unrealistic deadlines. A No Meeting Day certainly isn’t going to solve inadequate training or having the wrong people in the wrong positions. “Simply creating a time block without meetings doesn't solve the core issues,” Michael said.
When talking to colleagues about a No Meeting Day, ask them whether there are other fixes that might help boost productivity and worker happiness.
For example, R Street is boosting morale by closing the office altogether every other Friday through the end of August. “Almost everyone has canceled planned summer vacations and this is a sort of ‘make up’ for that,” Eli said. Shopify is also adding Fridays off through August to their longstanding No Meeting Wednesdays. Shopify worker Carl W Rivera tweeted that summer Fridays were “for R&R” and a “response to lower rates of vacation being scheduled, despite the increased mental pressure from the changing times that we’re in.”
One thing that irritated Michael about his former company’s No Meeting Day was that it did nothing to help with meeting inefficient facilitators or meetings that should be emails.
Thomas Martin, Lead Infrastructure Automation Architect at Cox Enterprises, echoed that frustration. “My last company instituted no meeting Thursdays,” Thomas told me. “The net impact was that the other days of the week were more dense with meetings. Just rearranging the productivity-sink deck chairs.”
Thomas said that working from home has unintentionally brought about real transformative change. “Instead of scheduling formal meetings with every stakeholder imaginable, people have taken to using Teams/Skype for impromptu audio chat and screen share settings that may only last 5-10 minutes,” Thomas said. “The logistics involved in getting people together to collaborate have become simpler.”
To ensure that No Meeting Day actually helps cut down on unnecessary meetings, combine it with a lightweight calendar audit. Going through and rating how essential each of your meetings is helps you understand what percentage of your time you’re spending in meetings and identify opportunities to spend your time more effectively.
When Elizabeth began her No Meeting Day, she’d manually block off every Wednesday on her calendar to ensure no one could schedule anything on that day. “The hardest part at the beginning was when someone asked if they could meet on Wednesdays, and I had to suggest a different day,” Elizabeth wrote. “At first I simply told people I wasn’t available. In time I became emboldened and let them know what I was doing — at the time, focusing on my book manuscript. I found that this transparency reduced my hesitancy and set an example to others that they could set similar boundaries.”
When someone at your organization tries to schedule a meeting on that day, Clockwise will automatically suggest a different day. Not only that, but our Autopilot feature means Clockwise will suggest the least-interruptive time available automatically.
There’s just no easier way to set up and protect a No Meeting Day, or to maximize the Focus Time on your calendar.
No Meeting Days are popular for a reason. They give workers a much-needed opportunity to truly focus on their work without interruptions from meetings. But whether they’ll work for your company depends a lot on how you implement them. It’s a good idea to get buy-in from your team and be flexible. For the most bang for your buck, consider combining your No Meeting Day with other fixes and a calendar audit. And to make creating and protecting your No Meeting Day as easy and painless as possible, use technology to automate the process.