I have a very deliberate way with meetings. Like many Dilbert cartoons, I’ve been in a few meetings and felt fairly useless… like it was a waste of time. Many years ago, I would accept meetings, dial in or show up. Accept the imposition on my calendar.

Now, however, I try to be careful with my time. I’m often an individual contributor on a project: maybe a project manager, supporting innovation practices or development. Therefore I have to prevent all my time from being monopolized by meetings. I often wonder how senior executives do it – the constant meetings, I mean. I discovered that getting on the calendar of a VP can only be accomplished by bugging that VP’s administrative assistant. Their calendars are completely full for weeks to come, and always will be, it seems.

My philosophy on meetings has 3 elements. First, I don’t just accept meeting invites. If I’m optional, I’ll likely tentatively accept it. If the meeting invite doesn’t have an agenda, I’ll likely mark it tentative and email the sender to ask for the agenda. I’ll likely decline unless my active participation is required or else it’s some sort of learning or training in a topic of interest to me.

Second, I am diligent in using the Required/Optional features of an invitation. If I will hold the meeting even if a specific person doesn’t show up, then they are Optional. Period. If I will reschedule a meeting if a person declines the meeting, then they are Required.

Third, there are times when I schedule a training or information meeting of some kind. Those I send to everyone as Required. If it is a meeting with people who report to me, then I expect them to attend unless they are not in the office. If other people are invited and I didn’t list them as optional for some reason, then I expect them to apply the same criteria that I use: come if you want to know/hear what’s going on.

Don’t let meetings get in the way of more important work. Yes, they are necessary, but be deliberate. Would you hold the meeting even if I didn’t show up? If the answer is Yes, then I’m not really required, am I?

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