Yesterday, Shopify announced a new policy for the calendar-submerged: it’s dropping meetings for employees in the new year. Starting this week, all recurring meetings with more than two people are being removed from internal calendars, with a two-week period instituted before employees are allowed to add anything back. (It’ll also ban meetings on Wednesdays, and limit large meetings to a strict window on Thursdays.)
Shopify isn’t the first company to try a calendar blowup, although its may be the largest-scale experiment to date. Companies like Dropbox, Asana, and Zapier have also piloted meeting recalls over the years, from 48-hour calendar freezes to weeks where conversations went fully async.
Consider this the age of the meeting reset, a term borrowed from Asana’s program. The intent: in dropping all of our meetings, we can better examine which ones have value for us—then add the useful ones back with intention, and let the others disappear into the ether. And based on the evidence, more companies should be trying it.
Feeling mired in meetings? You’re not alone.
In their shift to hybrid work, workplaces added many, many more meetings—and there’s no sign that their pace is slowing. A Microsoft report released this spring found that the average Teams user saw a 252% increase in their weekly meeting time since February 2020. The number of weekly meetings, too, increased by 153% across the globe. In fact, the number of meetings per person was still peaking at the close of the study in 2022.
Most meetings drag down our ability to get things done (although there are ways to hold better ones). One recent study suggests that a third of the meetings on workers’ calendars are unnecessary. Another finds that when meetings were reduced 80%, employee productivity surged by nearly 75%. Canceling meetings doesn’t just benefit productivity, either: in that study, employees’ stress also dropped by more than 60%, and three-quarters reported feeling less micro-managed.
The laws of subtraction
“Scaling [a company] requires both addition and subtraction,” Stanford professors Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao write about growing organizations in their book Scaling Up Excellence. As a company builds, it gains people, ambitions, and outcomes. But some of its old rules and rituals—and yes, meetings—also hang behind.
Our initial instinct in problem-solving is to add solutions, rather than subtract the problems, Sutton and Rao write. But they argue that subtraction may be the harder—and more effective—means for fixing issues. The problem of outdated, unproductive, or unnecessary meetings requires subtraction.
It’s a sentiment Shopify referenced while implementing their no-meeting policy. “If you say yes to a thing, you actually say no to every other thing you could have done with that period of time,” said CEO Tobi Lütke in a statement about the new policy. “As people add things, the set of things that can be done becomes smaller.”
There’s a case to be made, then, for strategic subtraction: of assessing problems ahead at work, then pulling back on the practices that are leading you there. Sutton, the Stanford professor, didn’t just write about this kind of subtraction: he also tested it. In 2021, Sutton worked with Asana productivity expert Rebecca Hinds to design and pilot a company-wide meeting reset called the Meeting Doomsday.
In their first test, nine volunteers on one team deleted all their small recurring meetings for two days; after the days were up, they considered the value of each meeting and added only the useful ones back on their calendar. The results: each volunteer saved an average of 11 hours per month. The study also paved the way for a larger program at Asana.
The creative case for resetting meetings
It’s not just about saving time. By clearing away meeting clutter, we can make room for more intentional re-gathering—and find places for possibility. That’s the creative impetus for a meeting reset, says Christian Busch, director of the Global Economy Program at New York University and the author of The Serendipity Mindset.
“[Resets allow] us to think about the actual purpose of a meeting, like Why is this meeting here in the first place?” says Busch, who’s also a scholar at the Academy of Management. Examining the intention of a meeting, he adds, allows us to remake them as new spaces for creativity and collaboration. Instead of banal and routine recurrences, we can then invite them as spaces for experimentation.
Think of it as a space for creative collisions, Busch says, where ideas can come together and meet head-on. He suggests bringing people away from agendas and towards questions like What’s surprised you lately?, which may just prompt new ideas and innovations. When you reset meetings—dropping the weekly statuses that drag on, or the presentations nobody’s done the pre-read for—you can redesign them for those collisions.
Ready for your own calendar drop? Here’s how to host a meeting reset.
In their case for fixing meeting overload, Hinds and Sutton offer a series of steps for hosting a meeting reset. Here’s how to get started on yours.
Go full-drop. In their pilot, for example, Hinds and Sutton allowed people to opt into a full reset or a light reset. Full reset participants had all recurring meetings dropped from their calendar for 48 hours, then evaluated and chose what to reinstate, while light resetters simply evaluated what was on their calendar and chose what to drop. While both groups saved meeting time in the long run, the ones who fully cleared the calendar saved significantly more time: an average of five hours each month per person in the full reset group, versus just three hours in the light group.
Dig into the data. When evaluating meetings and deciding what’s worth a return, Hinds and Sutton’s work advocates for taking a data-driven stance. Teammates can assign values to every meeting they have. They suggest two values: one the effort the meeting took, including prep time and follow-up work, and a second for how well the meeting helped them reach their goals. By assigning these measures in the Asana meeting reset, the team was able to build a model that predicted low-value meetings.
Think less reset, more culture-set. Busch suggests looking at a meeting reset not as a one-off experiment, but as a long-term investment in a cultural shift. Companies may look at a meeting reset as one-time structural change. “But actually, it has to go hand in hand with a cultural change,” he says. If your team’s stated values are to prioritize intentional collaboration or meaningful relationships, he adds, your approach to meeting-setting should reflect them.
Turn results into systems. Busch also makes the case for codifying the outcomes of a meeting reset for the long haul. Write up its successes in policies and onboarding documents, or run it again as an ongoing practice. For one, after finishing its pilot, Asana published an in-depth playbook for auditing and resetting meeting culture.
With a calendar clear-out, we can make more space for ourselves—and a place to remake our meetings into something better than they were. In that view, perhaps a meeting reset may just be the gift your company gives you this year.