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Speedy meetings

I am an introvert. As much as I enjoy talking to and learning from people, it only takes a couple of back-to-back meetings to completely drain my mental energy. My first few weeks were hectic. I was exhausted all the time. I showed up late to every meeting, and skipping bathroom runs didn’t help. Thanks to my then manager Brian Delahunty, I was able to leverage speedy meetings to save my sanity.

I was warned

I knew being an engineering manager meant lots of meetings. I did not think it would be a big problem though. I enjoyed going to meetings as an engineer, and happily facilitated many meetings in the past. I also learned some useful tricks from my peers, like creating Do-Not-Schedule blocks, and reserving time for commuting and lunches. I felt prepared, yet I was completely devastated merely after a month.

Until I went to my manager and vented my frustrations.

The 1:1 with Brian

Here is my rough recollection of how the 1:1 went:

Yuan: I am getting exhausted by all the meetings. It feels like I cannot keep up.

Brian: That is understandable. What makes you feel like that? It is not like you are new to the team or the projects.

Yuan: It is a really good question. (Pause). I think it is because I don’t have breaks between meetings. That creates two problems for me. For one, there are lots of Slack pings and emails to respond to. I cannot wait until the end of day to do that. But I lose track of what is happening in the meeting as soon as I split my attention to those. For two, even if there are no distractions, I don’t have time to prepare for the next meeting. I don’t even have time to run to the bathroom!

Brian: Have you tried speedy meetings?

Yuan: Most of my meetings are already speedy meetings, but they run over every time. I thought speedy meetings were meant to reserve buffer time for potential overruns that always happen?

Brian: That is a misconception. Let’s say you hold true to speedy meetings. Would it solve your problems?

Yuan: I think so. I would have time to make bathroom runs and to prepare for upcoming meetings. I don’t think there would be enough time for me to meaningfully reply to Slack or emails, but at least I would know what is going on without distractions. I can even quickly say something like “I will get back to you by 3pm today”.

Brian: Excellent. Now would you commit to running truly speedy meetings next week?

Yuan: Yes.

Brian: How do you plan to do it?

Yuan: I will start with 1:1 meetings with my team, my peers and you. I will tell everyone about speedy meetings at the beginning of the next 1:1 meeting with each of them. I will make sure to end the meetings 5 minutes before the half or 10 minutes before the whole hour. I will use the time to catch up on Slack / emails, and to prepare for the next meeting.

Brian: Sounds good. Tell me how it goes next week.

Rolling it out

I followed what I committed to in the roll out of speedy meetings. The most pleasant surprise was that everyone was super onboard with the idea, and each one of them watched the clock for me. By taking 5- or 10-minute breaks throughout the day, which I had been doing all the time in my school years, I took control of my time and my sanity again.