27th October 2022 | Written by

Stop the madness: Say No to meeting overload and reclaim your calendar

Not all meetings are created equal and the value proposition for recurring meetings often fades with time. Agendas that were important last year are no longer relevant today, but the meetings stay on our calendars indefinitely.

That’s time that could be better spent on creative and productive tasks that deliver the tangible results desired by growing organizations.

Take a look at Michelle Haggerty from Prosci. By declining unproductive meetings, she is saving seven hours each week. Here’s what she has to say about the impact of her Say No Victory:


Michelle is one of the countless executives who spend too much time in meetings (23 hours a week on average).

Open your calendar and really think about the value gained from every meeting. If you experience meeting overload and find yourself losing ground on more important work, it’s time to make a change in the way you approach meeting invites.

How do I determine the value of a meeting invite?

Declining meeting invites is Uncomfortable Work. It certainly isn’t easy at first, but with a process in place, you can quickly learn to assess the value of each meeting.

92% percent of employees consider meetings costly and unproductive, so know that you aren’t alone if you’re tired of the endless meeting prep, time spent in Zoom rooms, and follow-up tasks.

You’ve gotten (another) meeting invite. Do you really need to take this meeting? Ask yourself these three important questions before accepting or declining an invitation:

  1. Does the meeting have a clear agenda?
  2. What value do I add to the meeting?
  3. How will this meeting impact my highest priority tasks and goals?

You should have a clear answer for each question to understand if the meeting is a positive or negative value in terms of time and productivity. If you don’t know the answer – find out from the meeting organizer. An ambiguous answer or “I’m unsure” could qualify this meeting as something you should Say No to.

Keep in mind that Saying No doesn’t mean you can’t contribute. For example, you might have been invited to a meeting scheduled for an hour, while you are only contributing a few minutes of updates.

Say No, and simply send an email with your updates.

That way, you’ve added value in just a few minutes, and you have an extra hour to work toward reaching your goals.

Use those three questions to determine the value of every meeting on your calendar, and Say No if the meeting distracts you from your highest priority goals.

How do I Say No  to unnecessary meetings?

You’ve assessed the value of a meeting and determined it’s unproductive. How do you Say No while communicating your reason clearly? Maintaining respect for the meeting process and your peers is important, but you simply shouldn’t be involved in this particular meeting because you don’t have a clear role in the meeting and you need time to focus on your priority tasks.

In the previous example, you simply emailed your updates to the team. When applicable, that’s a great way to stay engaged while prioritizing your time. In many cases however, we need to dig a little deeper to explain why we’re Saying No.

We have a script to make this process simple and with some practice, it will become a natural part of your approach to work. Before jumping into the script, it deserves a little explaining.

The Whom, What, and Cost elements of Saying No

  • Whom do you need to approach with Rigorous Authenticity about this meeting?
  • What is your fear related to Saying No to this meeting?
  • What will this meeting cost you by saying “yes,” and what will you recoup when you Say No?

The cost element is especially important because it relates directly to productivity lost, and helps you communicate your priority tasks. It also directly correlates to revenue and value for the company. When you analyze the cost of meetings, think about like this:

“This meeting will cost me [XX] hours with all of the prep work, research, meeting time, and post-meeting tasks like email follow-ups, side-conversations, document sending, etc.”

An hour-long meeting doesn’t just cost an hour. Many meetings require:

  • 15 minutes of research
  • 15 minutes gathering documents, preparing presentations, getting to the meeting itself
  • 1 hour in the meeting
  • 30 minutes of post-meeting follow-up tasks

An hour-long meeting can quickly chew up your entire afternoon!

Use this three-part script to Say No to wasted time in meetings:

You’ve got your Whom, What, and Cost nailed down. Now it’s time to do your Uncomfortable Work, and explain exactly why you are Saying No to the meeting.

This might seem like a lot right now, but in practice, it only takes a few minutes to run through the entire three-step process.

  1. Communicate the fear: Determine your fear and lead with that fear! Why are you afraid to decline this meeting? Approach the meeting organizer, and say something along these lines, “If I decline this meeting, I’m afraid you’ll think I’m not being a team player.”Tell the organizer about your fear and be vulnerable. Surrender the Outcome when it comes to their reaction here – you can’t control that. You CAN control your words and actions in this moment, and this level of honesty and authenticity is incredibly powerful when opening up a discussion.
  2. Communicate the cost: After you tally up the time investment, include this in your conversation. Be Rigorously Authentic! Say something like, “Between the prep and follow-up, this meeting will cost me over two hours, and I just don’t have the time.”
  3. Communicate the savings: Lean into your Uncomfortable Work and Say No! Communicate how you’ll be reinvesting this time into productive and meaningful work.

Say, “I need to spend these two hours on sales activities that will help us reach our revenue goals this quarter. I can reach three clients in this time and on average, I convert one. That could earn us $10,000 today.”

Obviously, you don’t have to use these exact words – but be clear and communicate your reason for declining. Here’s a good example of what it looks like when you effectively Say No and explain your position.

“I want to be intentional and deliver value in meetings that are a good use of my time. I’m concerned that if I decline this meeting, you will think I’m not a team player. Between my prep and follow-up however, this meeting will cost me two hours. I need to spend that time on my highest priority – sales activities that will help us hit our revenue goals. In two hours, I could close one additional client and make $10,000 for the company! I have to decline the meeting.”

Want to see how it works in practice? Get more great examples and see how YOU can Say No to time-waste from the Leaders in our program! See more Say No Victories here.