Are All of the Meetings on Your Calendar Actually Mandatory?

Are meetings just a fact of life?

Do we have absolutely no control over which meetings we attend?

Your attendance at some of the meetings on your calendar is probably optional.

What Makes a Meeting Mandatory?

Mandatory meetings are meetings that you must attend, no matter what. 

Mandatory means that you do not have the power to cancel the meeting, you cannot talk to the meeting leader about skipping the meeting, and/or the meeting cannot go on without you. 

Mandatory does not mean that you are simply listed on the “Required” line of a meeting invitation. 

Meetings are optional when you know your attendance is not required, you are listed on the “Optional” line of a meeting invitation, you have the power to cancel the meeting, or (most importantly) you are able to at least ask the meeting leader whether you can skip the meeting.

You Can (and Should) Go to Some Optional Meetings

The ultimate goal of effective meeting management is to increase your average meeting rating.

The majority of your meeting time should be spent in 5-Star Meetings.

That does not necessarily mean you will go to fewer meetings. It means that you get maximum value out of the meetings you choose to attend. And you can certainly find value in meetings that are optional.

Sometimes optional meetings are great. You should consider attending optional meetings when: 

  • You have something to contribute.
  • You have a question that would be better answered in the meeting than via email or chat.
  • You want to! (Your meeting attendance does not always need to be perfectly calculated.)

Consider skipping optional meetings when:

  • You are unlikely to contribute.
  • You are likely to multitask.
  • You have other work to do, and declining the meeting would open up a time block to get work done. 
  • You want to schedule another, more important meeting during the same time.
  • You just want to have situational awareness about the meeting topic.

Pro Tip for Meeting Leaders

Do you use the “Optional” line when sending a meeting invitation?

If the answer is yes, do you also do something to let people know that they are optional, and why?

Most people ignore whether or not they are listed as “Required” on a meeting invitation, so one of your responsibilities as a meeting leader is to use a different method (meeting details, email, or chat) to remind optional attendees that, while they are welcome to attend, they can skip the meeting if their time is better spent elsewhere.

In addition to paying attention to who you list as Required/Optional for each meeting invitation, you should revisit the invite list a few hours or days before each meeting to check whether everyone should still be “Required,” especially if the meeting is recurring. 

For a recurring team meeting, think about the goals and agenda for the meeting, and (nicely) “uninvite” people who are not needed for that particular meeting. 

When you “uninvite” people from some of your team meeting occurrences, the people we uninvite are more likely to (a) ask whether they are required/optional in the future and (b) use the same method when they are meeting leaders. 

Key Takeaway

Sometimes meetings we think are mandatory are actually optional.

Sometimes optional meetings are incredibly productive. 

The key to effective meeting management is to be thoughtful about your meetings, identify when you have control over your (or others’) attendance, and make decisions about whether you should attend meetings based on whether you believe they will be an effective use of your time.