Lara: Rethinking Purposeless Meetings

By: Mary Lara, co-founder of Team Huddle a new end-to-end AI-powered meeting platform designed to address the universal business problem of ineffective meetings. With deep expertise in data-driven performance marketing, branding, and content strategy, Mary leads marketing and creates optimal user experiences.

Impact of Meeting Fatigue On Creativity

Have you ever made a cup of coffee, settled in at your desk, and right when you’re about to dive into a project, you get called into a “quick” meeting? This is a daily annoyance for many designers, including myself. Oftentimes these meetings provide little value and leave me wondering why I was even invited in the first place. How am I supposed to design when I’m in meetings back to back, all day, every day? Is it just me, or have meetings become nothing more than repeated interruptions and productivity killers?

As designers, we are hired for our creativity and unique skill set. Yet our creative process is frequently overlooked, de-prioritized and undervalued. Too often we sacrifice our artistic integrity because we’re too intimidated to decline an unnecessary meeting and set boundaries in the workplace that respect our artistic needs. Managers and clients forget that we’re human and thrive in environments where we feel respected and valued. Designers are defined by the work they produce and not by the process in which they do so. But in reality, the life of a designer happens between the deadlines. Isn’t it time to dedicate the same attention to detail that’s poured into our work towards a healthier working life?

Starting out as a graphic designer, I would get frustrated when a three-hour project would end up taking a full day to complete due to scattered meetings or spontaneous interruptions. Nothing takes more away from the creative process than hopping in and out of bloated meetings (ones where the organizer is underprepared, attendees unfocused and myself constantly distracted), and being forced to then pick up where I left off. This is a common reason why designers crave isolation, whether it be working behind closed doors, wearing headphones, or wishing for blank spaces on our calendars. To be the most productive, designers require a different approach to scheduling all together–one that takes into account the large uninterrupted chunks of time required to do what we do best: design.

Now as a co-founder of a tech startup leading product design and marketing, I understand the necessary evil of meetings that require designers to peel themselves away from their work. But most managers don’t have the capacity to tailor every meeting to accommodate every team member’s scheduling preferences. Most don’t understand that scheduling meetings throughout the day disrupts design flow, leaving a long term impact on quality and quantity of work produced. While the designer within me wishes for an unrestrained creative process, I understand why deadlines are placed and meetings are held. But what if there was a solution that was mutually beneficial to both sides? Having worked bottom-up and top-down, I feel an underlying desire to disrupt the severely outdated, corporate approach to working life. The opportunity for innovation towards a balanced work-life seems so obvious, yet remains untouched. For example, meetings shouldn’t happen because “that’s how it’s always been done”. Meetings should have purpose.

Purposeless meetings are simply too expensive. Some might say that meetings just cost time, but we know that’s not true. Nothing illustrates that better than having a call with a lawyer who charges $1,600 an hour (and yes, I had to track this call by the minute). That’s the sad reality – the fact we assign value to people’s time when it’s the one fixed commodity we all have. Shouldn’t we treat everyone’s time, regardless of title, as the precious currency it is? Meetings get a whole heck of a lot shorter and a lot more efficient when you’re charged by the minute.

What’s even harder to quantify is the impact meeting fatigue has on our creative process and mental health. Now that meetings are so easy to hold with video conferencing, it’s become too common to jump into a meeting and lose control of any normalcy around working hours. According to CNN remote work extended the average workday by 2.5 hours in the US, Canada, UK and Austria. As a result, we spread ourselves too thin by working outside of “normal” office hours because one: we’re working remotely and have no physical separation between working and living space and two: our days are muddled with the bullshit we’re not passionate about. A more structured, healthier approach to identifying and scheduling productive meetings is needed now more than ever, so that we can proactively alleviate burnout.

Bottom line: we need to break free from the false narrative that the more meetings you have, the more productive or valuable you are. As designers, we know how we work best and need meetings to guide our process, not hinder it. As a design community, we need to change the meeting paradigm to one that maximizes not only our time but also our creative process and mental health. Because if we do that, it’s a win-win.