Kill the meetings, not the minds

Anniki Sommerville on how Zoom meetings have become an epidemic

Anniki Sommerville



I was walking home, after dropping the kids at school, and bumped into a friend. She looked exhausted, her shoulders hunched as she sped towards the bus stop nervously looking down at her phone.

‘You okay?’ I shouted across the street.

She crossed over. Her expression resigned.

‘Sorry I can’t stop. I’ve got a meeting starting in 10 minutes. Then Zooms all day until 5. I’m supposed to be going away next week and need to do some actual work. I’ll be catching up tonight to get it all done.’

She walked off, rain falling heavily now, her energy entirely zapped despite it only being 9.35 in the morning.

I cast my mind back to my last agency, any creative agency in fact that I’d worked in, and how online meetings had taken over, and were often prioritised or scheduled at the most inconvenient times.

Working days full of meetings with no time to actually do the work.

It eats into creative time.

Eats into client time.

Fried minds do not come up with good ideas. Your brain is not a computer my friend. Not yet anyway.

It also makes working hours less flexible as meetings often go into diaries during the school run, or early morning, or over lunch.

Fried minds do not come up with good ideas. Your brain is not a computer my friend. Not yet anyway.

Anniki Sommerville

God how I hate lunch Zooms. I would watch colleagues eating on these calls. Stuffing toast (‘Haven’t even had time for breakfast and it’s midday!’) into their mouths whilst they tried to garble some answer to a question no one could remember because the meeting had gone off on a tangent. Like a jockey with no horse on the back, running wild.

I had one colleague who would call me for a Teams meeting without warning. I’d be walking upstairs with a batch of washing to put away (NEWSFLASH - many working women are still more heavily burdened with the day to day chores than their male counterparts).

‘Can you please stop calling me?’ I typed into my laptop, my scrunched up ball of washing under my arm.

‘Can you speak in 5 minutes?’ he typed aggressively (he wasn’t speaking but his words made me imagine his tone as impatient, needy, howling, like a toddler nagging for a snack before they have a meltdown).

‘Sorry I have a meeting starting in a bit. Can you drop me an email instead or just a message?’

‘10 minutes?’ the reply quickly came.

‘Can you drop me an email and tell me what you need?’

‘What about 15 minutes?’

I was beaten down eventually and we did the video call. By the time I’d done this, and the one-on-one meeting with another colleague (chiefly spent talking about when the weather would improve (30 minutes of my life I’ll never get back) and whether I had time to write a giant proposal on funeral providers that was due the following morning) it was coming up for the final hour of the working day.

The hour when I needed to do all the work that hadn’t been done.

If you talk to many in the creative industries (hell not just those but any organisation at all) they will bemoan the amount of time they spend each day in these online meetings.

It’s an epidemic.

Is it a natural consequence of working from home? Do senior people feel the need to see the evidence that people are working by calling them to meetings? Are they worried they are carrying washing upstairs on company time? Why do they often feel like an opportunity for 1-2 senior people to show off their strategic thinking? Why do they leave junior people feeling left out, lacking energy, feeling like their brains are being sucked out of their eyeballs? I have stared too long into the tired, yawning faces of my colleagues.

After a few months, I started to decline meetings. I especially declined the ones that were put into lunchtime. I didn’t want to watch my colleagues eat their late breakfasts, moan about how many meetings they had to get through (there is no medal by the way for how many Zooms you can tolerate in a day).

We need to radically re-think which meetings are vital, what the purpose of these vital meetings are, and what the outcome needs to be. We need to allow breaks between them so people can work. And keep them short. And have one person who is leading the meeting and isn’t afraid to get on the horse when it starts to veer wildly off course.

And never schedule them over lunch or at the end of the day unless you can deal with the reality that your team hates you and is sending their friend a giphy of you looking like Golom from Lord of The Rings right now.

The worst kind of meetings are often the Monday morning ones. Up and down the country people sit down in front of their laptops, coffee ready, eager to get started on their massive lists of work, energised or maybe terrified at the week ahead, and the first thing they have to do? They have to sit through an hour of ‘Did you do anything nice this weekend?’ And polite laughter whilst people look nervously at their phones and realise that their work time is leaking away, that this meeting is running into the next one, that the guy who always wants to do a FaceTime is pinging away and they haven’t even got time to find a funny giphy.

How about making it a 10-minute meeting on a Wednesday? How about saying that we despatch with that typically British polite weather bants (that can go on forever) and save it till we see one another face to face?

As we move into a new world of work. One where soon an AI bot will be leading the online meeting, do we want to reframe them and think about their purpose in busy, creative agencies? A recent study revealed that video participants’ fatigue mounted over the course of the session, and their brain states showed they were struggling to pay attention. We feel the physical and mental impact of Zooms and yet we continue to pile our diary full of them.

I had a boss a couple of years ago who insisted that we walk around the block when we had our weekly catch up. I thought she was eccentric, but in the end welcomed these walks - we had better conversations, were more candid with one another, and there wasn’t that awful stilted quality that you get with the one-on-one.

I miss many things about agency life but the lunchtimes spent watching my colleagues chew cold porridge aren’t one of those things.

I don’t miss the aggressive Teams requests to meet immediately.

I decline meetings that have no purpose (as a freelancer there are a lot of these and you have to be clear that you only want to meet if there is a brief coming out of it) and I feel more productive, more creative than ever before.

See how much you can achieve with that magical time. Imagine yourself flying into infinity, the wind at your back, everything done, the pitch over and won, the ideas so great that the client is telling his partner about them over a drink and your team loves you. Your entire office rejoices and their cries reverberate through the streets.

We have time! We have time!

Kill the meetings, not the minds.

Guest Author

Anniki Sommerville



Anniki Sommerville is a published author, insights consultant and comedian. Her latest book is available to order on Amazon and all good book retailers. Read more of her musings on work, life and midlife on Substack.

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