Should you cancel your next meeting?

There’s a meeting on your calendar that’s fast approaching, but you’re just not sure about it. Maybe you’re too busy. Maybe your co-workers are too busy.

Maybe you see it as an interruption that will keep you from more important work. Or maybe the meeting is really important, but you’re simply not ready.

Whatever the reason, you now wonder, should you cancel your next meeting? And if so, how can you do that without looking like a flake in front of the group?


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The Backstory

John and I recently had a long conversation with David Coleman, Founder and Managing Director of Collaborative Strategies (CS). You can see excerpts from that talk in his post Stop Wasting Time: In Pursuit of the Perfect Meeting.

David conducted a lot of research on business meetings over the years – research that shows many of those meetings to be a big fat waste of time.

So he asked us: “Are there situations where you don’t think we should meet at all?”

The answer is a resounding “Yes!

Some meetings do more harm than good. If a meeting lacks a clear purpose, or the people you need aren’t prepared, then the meeting just wastes time and can drain a team’s energy.

Related: How Do You Track Meeting Results?

These vampire meetings prey on the productivity and good will of a group, leaving them de-energized and frustrated. Cancel those suckers!

John wonders: should he cancel that meeting?

Not sure if your meeting is one of the living dead? Here’s a handy process to help you and your co-workers spot these vampire meetings and drive the cancellation stake through their lifeless cold hearts.

Should you cancel that meeting?

Starting at the top, answer each question in turn. If you answer “No” to any of these, you should either cancel the meeting or do the work required so you can answer “Yes”.

Related: 4 Ways to Run Successful Meetings People Won’t Hate

These questions assume you’re the person in charge of the meeting, and therefore the one responsible for using the meeting time wisely. If you didn’t call the meeting but suspect it’s a waste of time, use these questions to get more information from the meeting leader.

1. Do you know the meeting’s purpose?

Amy knows!

Do you know why you need to meet, and why meeting would work better than chat or email in this situation?

  • Yes! Great! Next question.
  • No? Cancel it.

“Just because” is not a valid reason to meet.

Because you always meet on Tuesdays, because it’s on the calendar, because you’re not sure and afraid to ask, because you don’t have anything better to do; if you don’t know why the meeting matters and can’t find out, cancel it.


What to Tell the Group

“Good news! It wasn’t clear that this meeting would be a good use of time, so it’s been cancelled. If you feel the meeting was important, please contact me and we can discuss a plan for rescheduling it. Otherwise, enjoy your meeting-free time!”

2. Can you describe the intended meeting result?

Make sure you can fill in the blank.

Once we have _______________ , the meeting is over.

examples: a decision, clear next steps, a list of issues to resolve, a plan

  • Yes! Excellent – on to question 3.
  • No? Cancel it.

You need to get this figured out. It doesn’t have to be fancy or overwrought, but you need to know what you’re asking the group to create before you take up their time.

And that’s not all. Once you can answer this question, you need a plan.

What to Tell the Group

“Sorry, but I need more time to put together a plan for this meeting to make sure it’s worthwhile. I’m canceling this meeting for now to make sure we don’t waste anyone’s time.”

3. Do you have a plan for getting that result?

Chris and Tricia work the plan

Your plan could be simply to ask a few questions, or it can be more detailed. For anything longer than 15 minutes, this usually means you’ll have a version of that plan to share with the group in the form of an agenda.

  • Yes, of course.
    You’re on a roll! See question 4.
  • No? Make a plan, or cancel the meeting.

Unless you’re working in an improv shop, your colleagues have better ways to use their time than to get in a room and watch you wing it. And as someone with a Bachelor’s degree in theatre, I can tell you that good improv always begins with a goal, a basic plan, and an underlying code of conduct.

Related: Agenda Writing for High Performance Teams

So I retract the exception. Pure “winging it” is just plain unprofessional.

Bonus: when you work on the plan, you may find that you can achieve the desired result without meeting at all.

4. Are the people and resources you need prepared?

The team gets ready by reading up

If you have questions people need to consider in advance, they’ve been considered. If there are reports to read or presentations to create, that’s done too.

  • Yes! Looking good… you might just have a worthwhile meeting in your future!
  • No? Cancel, then reschedule.

You can’t have a successful lunch meeting without food. You can’t impress a client if you’re not ready to talk about the project. You can’t make a good decision if people don’t understand the options.

Your plan for achieving the meeting result is shot for now, so work with the group to find a better time.

What to Tell the Group

Sorry, but it looks like we’re not ready to have this discussion. Let’s reschedule for _____ to make sure everyone can come prepared.

5. Did the people you need show up?

  • Yes. Awesome! Have a fabulous meeting!
  • No. Ouch!

Don’t waste everyone else’s time – cut the meeting short and reschedule. And that person owes everyone else a HUGE apology, ideally including chocolate.

Don't make people wait around. Reschedule that meeting.

What to Tell the Group

So sorry, but we need ______ here to be effective. Let’s not waste any more time today. I’ll find out what happened with _____ and try to reschedule as soon as possible.

Even better: don’t schedule inconsiderate meetings in the first place

It all comes down to this: Meet with Respect.

For many people, asking for meeting time is a big ask.


  • They may be working on an important project that needs their undivided attention
  • They may have other meetings, with goals & plans & important work to do
  • They may have sick kids, dentist appointments, or any number of personal crises to juggle
  • They may be excruciatingly shy and uncomfortable in meetings
  • They may hate winging it, and find people who do unprofessional

When you request a meeting, you’re saying that your meeting is important enough to warrant their time – more important than anything else they might need to do then.

Related: Anatomy of the Perfect Meeting Invitation Email

That may be true. But before you put that demand on the calendar, we suggest you use the questions above to make sure.

Need a reminder for your office wall?

We put together a quick checklist click here to purchase for your office!

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Poster: Learn to Cancel Bad Meetings with these 5 steps