Meeting Overload Is a Fixable Problem

Man in business suit laying on a bunch of empty chairs
Clear the Way for What Matters Most

Humans’ default mode for problem-solving is to add something, rather than take something away. Through a series of studies, Gabrielle Adams of the University of Virginia and her colleagues found that “subtraction neglect” is pervasive. This “addition sickness” also plagues meetings — people keep piling more onto already chock-full calendars without much thought. 

Adams’ research shows that when people are reminded to subtract and pause to do so, the interruption dislodges some of their cognitive machinery and they adopt a subtraction mindset. One way to trigger this mindset is to use simple rules, like the “rule of halves” Leidy Klotz (author of Subtract) and Robert have proposed. Imagine that all your meetings were cut by 50% along dimensions including number, length, and size. What would happen? 

Doomsday activated this mindset. As volunteers repopulated their calendars, they subtracted — a lot. They removed some low-value meetings for good. They shortened and changed the cadence of others. Some 30-minute meetings became 25 minutes. Some weekly meetings became monthly. 

Garrett Hall at Sunset

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