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7 strategies to cancel back-to-back meetings: A guide for leaders and people managers
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7 strategies to cancel back-to-back meetings: A guide for leaders and people managers

Discover strategies to avoid back-to-back meetings. Increase team morale and productivity by getting back more time in your day for focus work.

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The term "Catch-22" was coined by Joseph Heller in his seminal 1961 novel of the same name. It refers to being stuck in a no-win or paradoxical situation. For example, a project manager who's pressured to deliver a high-quality product quickly. Do they release an unfinished buggy product or do they miss the launch? 

Choosing between going to a meeting and not being prepared, or doing the work but missing the meeting is also somewhat of a catch-22. This is because the more meetings you have, the less time you get for actual work. That's why leaders of highly collaborative teams need to know how to avoid back-to-back meetings so they can get back more time for focus work—and improve team productivity. 

In this article, you'll learn why scheduling back-to-back meetings can harm your output, and get tips to clear your schedule and free up your days. You'll also discover how a collaboration platform like Switchboard helps you move faster with fewer meetings. 

Get more done in–and in between–meetings. 
Switchboard rooms eliminate the need for unproductive back-to-back meetings by helping you make progress during a meeting or on your own time. 
Sign up free.

Why you shouldn't schedule back-to-back meetings 

When you have continuous meetings, it might seem like things are getting done, but the truth is it can negatively affect productivity, wellbeing, and the quality of your interactions. Here are some reasons why meetings become ineffective—especially if they're nonstop: 

  • Burnout and fatigue. Context switching between tasks, applications, and meetings can be a source of high mental stress and negatively impact wellbeing. Research by Microsoft confirms this: People need a "reset" between meetings to lower stress levels and start their next meeting in a more relaxed state, which also boosts performance. 
  • Reduced creativity and problem-solving. Constant meetings can limit the time needed for thoughtful, creative reflection and informed decision making. 
  • Less engaged employees. Participants may be mentally preoccupied with their next or last meeting–or the work they're not doing–making it challenging to fully engage and contribute during each session. Plus, it can be mentally taxing to transition from one topic to another without sufficient breaks.
  • No time for focus work. When your schedule's full of meetings, there's often no time left for actual work, which negatively impacts productivity. When you're constantly stressed and squeezed for time, it can also make it harder to produce good work, so you're left working overtime to compensate. 
  • Erodes work-life balance. With overloaded calendars and no time to actually get work done, it can become difficult to avoid work bleeding into your personal life. This can add to an "always on" work culture that doesn't prioritize output but time spent on tasks, which can negatively affect morale.
Pro tip: Switchboard’s virtual rooms let you work on your own time and track progress without constant meetings or interruptions. Skip your next meeting and collaborate asynchronously in dedicated rooms that save your work. 
Sidebar displaying project rooms in Switchboard
Switchboard is your single source of truth for project work so you can move forward, faster. Source: Switchboard

How to avoid back-to-back meetings and free up your days

Creating space in your schedule is easier said than done, but you shouldn't have to power through unproductive meetings because you think you're getting work done. As mentioned above, the opposite may actually be true.  

Here's how you can get back more time for deep work and build an awesome meeting culture—so the meetings are more productive.  

1. Block "meeting-free" time

Creating designated "meeting-free" slots or entire days on your calendar lets you carve time for deep work on tasks and projects. This can improve productivity, a sense of connection to your work, and the chance to enter a flow state. This is psychologically proven to boost happiness, output, and job satisfaction. 

By clearly indicating when you're unavailable for meetings, you can also inspire others to take control of their time and schedules—and build autonomy into your company culture. 

If you don't have the option to block full "meeting-free" days, Tim Green, Chief Operating Officer at TeamUp, offers a valuable alternative: trying the "buffer block" method. This involves scheduling 15-minute time blocks before and after every meeting, so you have time to "wrap up any pending tasks from the previous meeting and prepare for the next one."

Another effective method involves, "implementing themed days, or dedicating specific days of the week to certain types of work." For example, you might reserve part of the day on Mondays for brainstorming, some time on Tuesdays for client meetings, Wednesdays for individual task work, and so on.

 "Themed days ensure meetings are spread out and that I have ample time in between to focus on other important tasks,” says Green, “It also allows me to mentally prepare for each day, knowing what type of meetings to expect." 

2. Don't default to meetings 

Holding a meeting for every decision can be a significant waste of time, especially if you're organizing it across multiple departments and time zones. Employees spend an average of 31 hours in unproductive meetings per month. That’s a lot of time and energy that could and should be spent moving projects along meaningfully. For example, collaborating with the team or solo heads-down working. 

Since 80 percent of interruptions at work are considered trivial, you need to make sure your people aren't suffering burnout and fatigue from unnecessary or unproductive communication. To do this, you need to evaluate if the meeting is truly necessary.

Pro tip: Try "meeting doomsday:" Clearing all the meetings from your calendar for 48 hours and then repopulating it based on each meeting's value and ability to drive work forward. 

3. Collaborate asynchronously

Sometimes, the best way to move projects forward is by giving people the option to contribute on their own time. Async communication and collaboration, like sending videos, recording memos, and giving feedback asynchronously, can help reduce the amount of time wasted in back-to-back meetings

For example, a design team might use Switchboard as their collaboration platform to upload all their briefs, mockups, prototypes, and tools. With everything saved in one interactive room, everyone can access it whenever they want and be more specific about reviews and feedback. It also helps keep the team on track regardless of where, and when, they work. 

Instead of juggling calendars to schedule meetings or digging around to find information shared in emails or Slack threads, they get more time for deep work.

Switchboard room with a virtual whiteboard, Figma designs, and redesign concepts
Switchboard unifies all your people, tools, and projects, so you can work in context async and in real time. Source: Switchboard

4. Use the right tools to work in context 

As mentioned, context switching can take a mental toll on employees, affecting morale and output. Toggling between tools, apps, and notifications can cost you up to four hours per week, not to mention the high cost of meetings themselves. 

To make the most of everyone's time and energy, you need to empower employees with the right tools—not overwhelm them with a bloated tech stack. When everyone has a shared space to work from, you can spend more time solving user problems and building products—instead of searching for and sharing links or files and trying to consolidate information.

Here are our top tools for meaningful collaboration and avoiding unproductive meetings

  • Switchboard for sharing ideas, giving feedback, and making decisions
  • Asana for visual project management 
  • Notion for document collaboration
  • Mural for whiteboarding
  • Figma for design and prototyping
  • GitHub for collaborative software development
Pro tip: Switchboard's interactive canvas unites all your favorite tools in one place–and organizes them by project–so you can review work in context without requesting access.
Sticky notes, PDFs, and Google Docs open in a Switchboard room
Switchboard brings visibility to projects and tools, making cross-functional collaboration a breeze. Source: Switchboard

5. Timebox meetings and work 

Running effective meetings is all about setting the right expectations. Take timeboxing, for example, where you put a strict time limit on meetings and tasks, so you don't have the option to go over and eat into the rest of your day. 

"By ensuring that all meetings end five minutes before the hour or half-hour, I can guarantee that I have at least a few minutes to stretch, grab a coffee, or simply breathe before diving into the next discussion," says Green. 

This practice also encourages a culture of respect for everyone's time, which can help increase engagement and participation in and between meetings. Plus, breaking tasks down into manageable chunks can help prevent stress and over-committing to a single task or meeting—giving you more control of your day and workload. 

6. Communicate boundaries 

Leadership style and actions determine things like company culture, collaboration, and psychological safety. That's why it's crucial to set and respect boundaries as a team—because if leadership doesn't do this, odds are no one else will. 

For example, if a product leader agrees to try and avoid unproductive status meetings but then continues to schedule them, it undermines the idea of respecting people’s time and creates confusion around expectations.  

Here's how to communicate and honor boundaries as a team: 

  • Communicate and establish team-wide policies. Define guidelines on the maximum length and frequency of meetings, as well as expectations for breaks between sessions. Having a documented policy provides a reference point for respecting boundaries in the future. Save your documented policy in your persistent Switchboard room so everyone can find and refer back to it anytime. 
  • Encourage flexibility. Promote a culture where team members feel comfortable suggesting alternative meeting times, proposing async collaboration methods, or declining meetings that aren’t relevant to them. 
  • Keep an eye on workloads and stress levels. Regular check-ins and assessments can help identify when the team is reaching capacity and may need adjustments to meeting schedules or workload.
  • Gather feedback. Collect input from team members, specifically about their experience in setting and upholding boundaries, and what needs improvement.  

7. Make the meetings you do have more productive

By following the steps above, you'll notice that by canceling bad meetings, you can make the meetings you do have more productive. This is because people are more likely to show up energized, engaged, and ready to do their best work when you do meet. 

However, there are a few more steps you can take to ensure a successful meeting: 

  • Stick to your meeting agenda. A well-structured agenda helps keep the meeting on track. Clearly outline the topics to be discussed, allocate specific time slots for each, and communicate this agenda in advance. During the meeting, stick to the plan to make sure everyone stays focused and on-topic. 
  • Always come prepared. Participants should review relevant materials, data, or documents beforehand to contribute meaningfully to the discussion. In Switchboard, you can create a dedicated room for any recurring meeting and populate it with your meeting agenda, applications, and related documents. This lets people get up to speed before the meeting and show up ready to contribute—without wasting meeting time on updates and one-way information sharing. 
  • Give people permanent access. Providing permanent access to meeting materials, notes, and recordings, allows team members to review information when it’s best for them.
Pro tip: Use Switchboard for access to rooms that save your work, and never send an invite or meeting link again. View relevant content when it makes the most sense, and get more done in and between meetings.
Sticky notes and project proposal in a Switchboard room
Switchboard makes it easy to share ideas, give feedback, and make decisions—on your own time and together as a team. Source: Switchboard

Avoid back-to-back meetings: Gain control of your calendar 

If you're juggling back-to-back meetings while trying to get work done and meet deadlines, it's likely to be a frustrating, no-win situation. 

This is because going to a meeting and not being prepared, or doing the work but missing the meeting is a catch-22: the more meetings you have, the less time you get for actual work. You’re forced to choose between connecting with your team and connecting with your work. Neglect one and projects can go off track. Neglect the other and it negatively impacts productivity. 

That's why leaders need to know how to avoid back-to-back meetings by blocking meeting-free time, collaborating async, and timeboxing meetings and work, to name a few tactics. This gives your team back more time for focus work, improving team morale and productivity. 

Plus, when you use an async-first collaboration platform like Switchboard, you get rooms that help you work in context—on your own time and during a meeting. This lets you cancel unproductive, back-to-back meetings, and get more control of your days—and more time for focus work.  

Get more done in–and in between–meetings. 
Switchboard rooms eliminate the need for unproductive back-to-back meetings by helping you make progress during a meeting or on your own time. 
Sign up free.

Frequently asked questions about back-to-back meetings

What are back-to-back meetings? 

Back-to-back meetings are non-stop in-person or video meetings that don't allow for short breaks during the workday—or for you to get any work done. Due to the rise in remote work during the pandemic, video calls have become much more common, making it easier to meet. If not carefully managed, this can lead to people defaulting to meetings for every decision, creating a buildup of calendar commitments and meeting fatigue. 

How to avoid back-to-back meetings? 

Here are some steps you can follow to avoid back-to-back meetings: 

  • Block "meeting-free" time
  • Don't default to meetings for everything 
  • Communicate and collaborate asynchronously 
  • Use the right tools to work in context and avoid context switching and notification overload 
  • Timebox meetings and work
  • Communicate boundaries
  • Make the meetings you do have, more productive by doing more outside of them 

What is the impact of back-to-back meetings? 

The impact of back-to-back meetings is typically no time to get work done, which negatively impacts productivity. It can also lead to poor time management, which can contribute to bad decision making, and unpredictable workflows. If the number of meetings you have slows down your team, try canceling the unproductive ones and working more async.

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Get more done in–and in between–meetings.

Switchboard rooms eliminate the need for unproductive back-to-back meetings by helping you make progress during a meeting or on your own time.