In our previous blog on reducing stress in creative roles we discussed the Pomodoro Technique. There’s a lot going for the Pomodoro in a creative environment, but one potential drawback is the interruption of incessant meetings.
Before we dive in, we must clarify that workplace meetings are necessary in the creative workplace. Collaborative thinking is hugely beneficial and no employee should work as a silo. It’s when meetings start to feel like a chore that problems arise.
Do you spend more time talking about next stages on a shot rather than actioning them? Do you struggle to find space in a calendar packed with daily review sessions and creative catch-ups? These meetings might be doing more harm than good.
Research shows that excessive meetings are bad for morale, productivity and your studio’s bottom line.
How much do your meetings cost?
It’s said that there are 11,000,000 meetings every day in the US alone. Back-of-the-napkin math tells us the average salary cost of one of these meetings is $338. If you’re running that meeting weekly, that’s $17,576 every year. With an estimated 25-50% of that meeting time potentially wasted you could be running a big loss. And this is on just one weekly meeting!
(Try this handy calculator from Harvard Business Review to see how much some of your meetings may be costing you. Are they worth this much?)
Alongside the financial aspect, the wellbeing of your staff should absolutely be considered. Researchers found that the more meetings attended, the higher people perceived their workload to be. Another study found that badly run meetings – i.e. wandering off topic, complaining and criticising – were associated with lower employment stability.
These statistics throw the culture of meetings under an interesting spotlight. We should not abandon meetings. Collaboration, review sessions and team problem-solving are vital on creative projects. But we should tackle them in a way that introduces value, rather than a drain, on our creative process.
Here are 8 tips for meetings to make your next planning session go off without a hitch.
Don’t have too many!
A third of meetings are said to be unproductive and – as previous cited research shows – multiple meetings can inhibit attention on tasks already set in prior meetings. Even daily 10-minute catch-ups can open the way for burnout. So ask yourself – is your meeting necessary? Could a simple email suffice? Could consensus be achieved via a Slack poll? Save face-to-face or screen-to-screen time for only the most important creative discussions.
Keep meetings small
Amazon boss Jeff Bezos had a famous two-pizza rule: never have a meeting where two pizzas couldn’t feed the group. A smaller group allows for faster decisions and prevents the interference of groupthink (another of Bezos’s bugbears). Ask yourself: is there someone involved in your meeting who is not a primary stakeholder, but present only because they once had some small input on an animation? If so it may be time to streamline.
Keep meetings short and sweet
Google Calendar defaults meetings to an hour. That’s some 10% of your day. 30 minutes is often better or, if you can achieve your objective in the time, 15 minutes. Whatever you select, remember that meeting times are not a target. If every discussion point is covered 10 minutes into an hour-long meeting, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg ends things there and then. The point of meetings should be to gain time on creative tasks, not lose it.
If you find your meetings never end as you discuss the minutiae of an animation or the best way to approach a simulation, then maybe remove some chairs. Stand-up meetings are a third shorter than those sitting down. At ftrack our developers use Agile development processes, which by their nature require daily “stand-up” meetings. We take that literally – everyone must stand to keep things fast; even those working remotely!
Start and end with a clear action plan
Two of the most common complaints made about meetings: disorganisation and inconclusiveness. Make sure people know exactly why they’re there and what they need to do once they leave. At ftrack, we start each meeting by running through open action points from the previous week and end by creating more for the week ahead. It gives meetings purpose, ensures they don’t lose value in the long term and keeps things to the point.
Know your team
Paul Graham popularised the idea of managers and makers. The former want to coordinate and strategise. The latter want to get into deep work and enact solutions. In the creative world your team is likely to contain more of the latter. So, if you’re a manager, be a guardian of your team’s time rather than a drain on it. Be thoughtful about who is in your meetings – consider what they need to get on with their work as soon as possible.
No laptops, no phones!
Research reveals that people retain less information when they’re using laptops – but we don’t need statistics to tell us that. Even when we have the best intentions, we all know how easy it is to be distracted by a render notification or a new note on a shot. Alerts divert focus and damage productivity. (Not to mention that they’re a little rude.) If possible, it’s best to keep phones and laptops out of arm’s reach.
Get into a rhythm
Repeating events are easier to work towards, prepare for and contribute to than ad hoc meetings that interrupt the flow of creative tasks. Use set meetings to gain status updates, understand task blockers and set solutions for the following week. Then…let your team focus on those solutions. Distracting them with unpredictable meetings in the interim is only going to add complexity and cause their workload to bloat.
A final thought on meetings
Don’t tolerate meetings; transform them.
Meetings will always be a requirement in creative production, but it’s crucial they don’t feel like a drag. Meetings should be a chance to communicate, to introduce and define ideas, to make the path ahead feel less, not more, confusing.
Just remember that, like any productivity technique, the suggestions above should not be followed down to the letter. Meetings are by their very nature about teams, not individuals. Everyone has different needs and ideas about what is or isn’t productive. So talk to your team, learn what works for them, be adaptable and follow rather than lead.
If you can make meetings into something that progresses your team’s work rather than hinders it, you will increase productivity, promote a happier and healthier staff and produce better work overall.