Saying no to meetings is hard.
It's fraught with FOMO — what if I miss something important? — and power dynamics — will they think I'm saying my time is more valuable than theirs?. You run the risk of being seen as rude or entitled or "not a team player."
But the sheer volume of meetings we're attending simply. isn't. sustainable. A Microsoft study from earlier this year found that we're spending 253% more time in meetings now than before the pandemic. As a result, many of us have started to compensate by working a “second shift” in the evening starting around 9pm because it’s the only time we won’t be interrupted.
Learning how to push back tactfully is the first step in moving a team culture toward fewer, better meetings and more time for focused work during the hours you work best. And hey, your coworkers may be wanting fewer meetings too.
In that spirit, I asked newsletter members to share their go-to lines for saying no to meetings. I compiled your best scripts — and several more from around the internet — into one resource you can come back to and simply copy and paste the next time someone suggests a live brainstorming session (they actually make your team less creative) or asks to "hop on a quick call".
Have rules for when you will and won't schedule meetings:
As a freelancer, the pressure to keep leads pipeline full is always on. But still I started scheduling meetings only in afternoons or early mornings, when I don't do deep work. I ask the prospects directly - 10 to 2 is my writing time, can we please schedule a meeting outside those hours? And most of them agree. The rest I abandon. Slowly, I have been able to come to a position where I have most of the meetings on Mondays and Fridays. And it's surprising that since implementing this discipline, my income has increased rather than go down.
I set my days/times when I will take meetings - certain times of day and days of the week. It's the only way to protect my work time and energy. The mental drain of a meeting can throw off the rest of my day and I lose deep work time, so I know that to deliver the best work for my clients, I also have to have this boundary with them.
Ask for an agenda (a sneaky way to say no without saying no):
Often, I ask for the meeting's agenda, or for what part of the meeting I'm expected to contribute. It's a way of starting the conversation by e-mail, ahead of the intended meeting. In a majority of cases, I'm able to address the question I was intended to contribute to, learn that I'm not truly needed on the call, and/or that the call itself is probably not necessary.
Definite plus one for asking for agendas/pre-reads/contribution info - anything that forces them to think critically about whether it absolutely needs to be a meeting!
Offer help outside of the meeting:
via Office Ninjas
Emphasize the benefits of an async-first approach:
Going from an async-first, 30-ish person company to a 1,100+ person company, this issue has been front and centre for the Postmark team. So we've had to be especially sensitive and smart about pushing back on meeting requests with people in the org who have it ingrained that any initiative starts with a brainstorming call.
– Becky Kane, Editorial lead @ Doist
Turning down internal calls:
Redirect "quick calls" to documentation:
Let me know if you have any questions!
Turning down external calls:
As much as I’d love to network over some caffeine, my schedule’s currently packed a little too tightly for me to make room for these types of casual chats.
If you had some specific questions you were hoping to pick my brain about, feel free to pass those along via email and I’ll do my best to answer them when I have some downtime.
Hopefully we can connect another time!
Kat Boogaard via The Muse
– Arman Anaturk
Please accept my sincerest regrets that I will not be able to meet with you at this time. However, if you are so inclined as to continue this discussion asynchronously, consider me at your service.
Keep the door open for a meeting later if needed:
– Job van der Voort, Founder & CEO @ Remote
Set expectations for when you'll get back to them:
Remember, you don't have to give a reason:
"I often get wrapped around the axle trying to supply the 'why' of my denial to a meeting request. Instead, I simply provide the bottom line and negotiate a new time if appropriate with the requestor.
Saying “no” should be normalised, and if we’re talking about declining meetings from people I barely know, I don’t even have to explain anything.
Bottom line: It isn't rude or entitled to say push back on a meeting — it's rude and entitled to waste people's time with a meeting that could be done asynchronously, when it's most convenient for both sides.
Let's normalize pushing back against runaway meeting culture, one tactful "no" at a time.
3 things worth sharing
- This excellent site with templates for saying no to any number of things, not just meetings
- Why you should stop telling employees to be resilient (and what to do instead when it comes to supporting your employees' mental health and well-being)
- The Doist engineering blog that covers not just technical things I don't understand at all but also how our engineering teams operate asynchronously including why we use async, rather than live, whiteboard coding tests for hiring and tips for building a newbie-friendly codebase that makes async work easier for everyone, not just new hires
– Becky and the Twist team
What’s Twist? Twist is an async messaging app for teams burned out by real-time chat, meetings, and email.
You don’t need to use Twist to get a ton of value out of this newsletter and community. But if the topics we talk about resonate with you, there’s a good chance the app will too. See what makes Twist different →
🌎 Built asynchronously by the fully remote team at Doist