Discover more from Krissy’s Substack
Do more by doing less
When you’re working remotely and your meetings are online or by phone, it’s possible to schedule back-to-back meetings in a way that isn’t possible when you have to account for the constraints of bodies moving through space. While this makes your day more efficient, it has the potential to make you ineffective if it eliminates breaks and the mental and physical benefits they bring.
There are many different strategies for building breaks into your workday – you can limit the number of meetings you schedule, schedule buffer time between meetings, limit the time slots where meetings can be scheduled – and all of these have a place. However, each of these techniques will only help one person: you.
What is the slow-start meeting technique?
Slow-start meetings is a technique that helps everyone who’s joining the meeting, not just you. It’s low friction because it fits within the standard 30- and 60-minute time blocks that professionals expect, so you’re not making a mess of your calendar or anyone else’s.
The technique is almost too simple to explain. To schedule a slow-start meeting, set the start time a few minutes later than you usually would. For a 30-minute meeting, start it 5 minutes late and make the total duration 25 minutes. For an hour-long meeting, start 10 minutes1 late for a total of 50 minutes.
Why “speedy meetings” failed
This concept isn’t new – a slow-start meeting is the inverse of a technique Google deemed important enough to build in as a default setting in their calendar, called “speedy meetings.” Speedy meetings ends meetings a few minutes early, changing 30-minute meetings to 25 minutes, and hour-long meetings to 50 minutes. Google’s docs say what we all know, that “ending meetings a few minutes early gives people time to reset when they have back-to-back meetings.”
So why not just use that?
It doesn’t work.
When you’re in the midst of a discussion, it’s 10:50, and you have ten “open” minutes before your next meeting, it is nearly impossible to draw the call to a close. Even Google Calendar’s own product blog acknowledges this, immediately after introducing the speedy meetings setting:
We’ve found that even if a meeting is scheduled to end at, say, 4:25, it tends to run until 4:30. So instead of ending meetings early, start your meetings five minutes past the hour or half-hour.
Rationally speaking, ending a meeting five minutes early or starting a meeting five minutes late should be exactly the same. In either case, you get a 25-minute meeting and a 5-minute break. But somehow, human behavior isn’t so simple.
Nature vs. willpower
We see the same tension between rational behavior and human behavior when it comes to reducing the use of plastic bags at grocery stores. There’s one model that incentivizes reusable bags: when I bring in a reusable bag, I save five cents. Frankly, this isn’t much of an incentive – saving 25 or 30 cents on a trip to the grocery store isn’t even enough to be noticeable. These incentive systems don’t significantly reduce plastic bag usage.
In the alternative system, the grocery store charges five cents per plastic bag. Rationally, this is exactly the same value proposition – it’s still a very small difference on my grocery bill. But I feel this one more, and it’s been proven to reduce plastic bag usage.
Why? Because humans are more affected by their aversion to paying something, or incurring a cost, than they are by their desire to save. In other words, when the financial facts are similar, we’re more likely to avoid an expenditure than to pursue a discount. By aligning grocery store policy with the preexisting social conditioning of their clientele, stores that charge for plastic bags are more successful at encouraging reusable bag use.
Using social cues to make life easier
Similarly, slow-start meetings are aligned with human behavior and our social conditioning in a way that speedy meetings aren’t.
We have a deeply ingrained social tendency to start and end things in 15-minute increments. Church bells ring on the quarter-hour to mark the passage of the day, and they have for several hundred years. Calendars mark off time in half- or quarter-hour increments. This pull toward the quarter-hour is actually a double bonus for slow-start meetings.
Let’s say your slow-start meeting is scheduled from 10:35-11am. On the one hand, it means that when the clock gets to 11am, you’re pre-conditioned to think “time is up” and expect the meeting to end. Add to this the actual fact that some people still start meetings “on the hour” and I’ve found that slow-start meetings almost always end on time, even when they’ve started a few minutes “late”.
On the other hand, the tendency for commitments to start in 15-minute increments means that you are likely to see that it’s 10:30 and think, “oh, I have a meeting now”. The fact that you then look at your calendar and discover a five-minute break is a bonus! It’s the inverse of looking up to realize you’re late for a commitment – you get to be early, and discover a few extra minutes to stretch, get a drink of water, or just breathe.
Try it out
The next time you are scheduling a meeting, try scheduling it as a Slow-Start Meeting. Although the participants may be confused at first, you can send them a link to this article and explain that it’s an opportunity for everyone involved to take a little break before jumping into the next thing. If you give it a try, I’d love to hear about your experiences – do you feel more energized and focused? Less rushed? Do meetings seem too short without the extra minutes, or do you find that you can accomplish even more?
I’m looking forward to continuing to experiment, together.
Thanks for reading Krissy’s Substack! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
A note on timing: do hour-long meetings really need to start 10 minutes late, rather than 5? I’m not sure. If it seems likely that you can address your meeting topic in 50 minutes, I’d encourage a 10-minute late start. However, I’ve recognized times where the agenda seems it can only “sacrifice” 5 minutes. I’ve also heard that having an unpredictable start time is stressful because it’s unpredictable. Perhaps a v2 of this framework will standardize on a 5-minute late start, regardless of meeting duration. I’d love to hear your experiences with this.