By Peter Clark
As a Product Manager at AdRoll I used to joke that I wished our team swag were company branded urinary catheters.
Some weeks I would be in double booked in 1 hour meetings all week — I would have to go to the first half of one meeting and the second half of a different meeting each hour. Similarly I would walk into the office and approach my desk and simply dump my bag/coat in the desk and head to meetings and never be at my desk.
AdRoll didn't even have a particularly meeting heavy culture.
Over time, I realised that me (and all other PMs) being in so many meetings was actually really bad. I think it's easy to fall into the notion that being in meetings equals you're working, but that isn't actually true, and I now think it's the opposite.
Obviously as you raise the ranks in a company you inherently have more meetings since your job is more about facilitation and leadership (communication) rather than doing "real" work — and Product Managers are somewhat unique in that they do not actually do much real work. BOOM!
I realised that the primary role of Product Managers is to digest customers calls, think deeply about what to build, and document extraordinary memorandums that help lead people to business outcomes. And that's really fucking hard and not something you're going to be able to do without allocating at least 1.5 days of your working week to.
I also realised that if you approach your work week as "I am going to have a maximum of 3 days of meetings where each day is a maxmium of 4 meetings, so approximately 12-15 meetings a week" — the world doesn't explode. If anything, the creativity breeds constraints. You're suddenly more judicious about having recurring meetings, you're suddenly trying to have fewer 1:1 meetings and more group meetings.
You're also able to be more productive because you can have your head above the water, you can proactively write and document things, and proactively share those things — suddenly meetings aren't about bringing people up to where you are, but simply discussing what needs to happen next.
As such, I feel strongly that:
If you're in "too many meetings" something is wrong
If you're not spending a meaningful amount of time doing real work (talking to customers, digesting, thinking, writing, …) then something is wrong.
I don't mean that wrong == you're a bad PM, but more that you probably need to take a few steps back and understand if you need assistance or if you need to manage your calendar more proactively. Every PM review I like to review calendars.