4 Reasons Why Early Morning Meetings Are Detrimental to Productivity

As soon as you see that meeting invite in your inbox, you’re already mentally and physically drained. It’s yet another early morning meeting at 8 a.m., 7 a.m., or even 6 a.m. While these types of meetings may not be too frequent, early morning meetings not only affect our workdays but also disrupt our established routines—getting up, showering, changing clothes, and having a cup of coffee—which can go against most people’s health and circadian rhythms.

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While we understand that early morning meetings may sometimes be unavoidable for the overall team’s goals, especially when dealing with team members in different time zones, as medical professionals, educators, and collaborators, we are aware that the culture of morning meetings has become ingrained in many workplace settings. Nonetheless, as healthcare professionals, we should strive to resist this culture to the best of our abilities.

There is evidence indicating that morning meetings can significantly impact four aspects of your life: physical health, mental focus, family responsibilities, and job engagement.

01 – Physical Health

Our bodies require 7-9 hours of sleep. Insufficient sleep can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, and depression. When we’ve had a good night’s sleep and completed our important morning routines, we feel more energized. For many people, early mornings are dedicated to exercise, which has been shown to reduce stress. However, if there’s a morning meeting, they may have to forgo their workout or postpone it to later in the day. In some regions, the best time for outdoor exercise is in the morning due to better air quality during this time. Furthermore, consistency in exercise is crucial. If you’re a morning exerciser, you should stick to your morning routine. Then there’s breakfast. If there’s a 6 a.m. meeting, a scientist might skip breakfast.

Consistently eating breakfast has been proven to reduce the risk of diseases such as obesity and high blood pressure. Yes, people can go to bed earlier to get more sleep and have time to complete their morning routines the next day. However, demanding that others change their evening schedules for early morning meetings can come across as preachy and sometimes unrealistic.

02 – Mental Focus

Only with proper rest can we concentrate effectively. In fact, a lack of sleep can impair cognitive function and make us more prone to errors. Many professionals are most productive right after waking up. This may be because our willpower tends to decrease as the day progresses. Willpower is our ability to resist temptation, which, in this digital age, comes from emails, text messages, or browsing social media. In the morning, when our self-control is stronger, we should allocate this time for deep work. Meetings often involve shallow work, and in the virtual world, our engagement in meetings is typically less focused.

03 – Family Responsibilities

Everyone has family responsibilities, such as dressing children, taking them to school, caring for parents, cooking, or looking after pets. Many of these tasks need to be completed in the morning. Family responsibilities and caregiving duties affect everyone, but the heaviest burden often falls on professional women. One survey found that in 2021, the average American woman spent 1.2 hours per day providing physical care for children (primarily preparing meals and bathing), while men spent only 0.5 hours on these tasks. The same survey found that 21% of men did household chores compared to 49% of women. The cumulative effects of family and work responsibilities may lead some women to choose more flexible work or even give up work altogether. Therefore, we need to consider that some team members, especially women, may have heavier family responsibilities, and early morning meetings may impose an additional burden on them.

Occupying colleagues’ family time can cause them stress because they need to rearrange these duties or decide whether to do them at all, which may not contribute to creating a more equitable research work environment.

04 – Work Engagement

Whether it’s called professional burnout, “lying flat” (the trend of only working during regular working hours), or setting boundaries, professionals are redefining their level of engagement with work. More and more people want to regain a sense of control and purpose. In turn, the willingness for self-sacrifice has decreased. This shift comes from various factors. Numerous meetings on the schedule can be exhausting. Being able to wake up naturally in the morning gives a sense of control, and getting up early for an early morning meeting can make you lose that sense of control. If a meeting is scheduled early on a Monday, team members may have to work overtime on weekends, taking away their personal time.

When scheduling early morning meetings, it’s important to be cautious and have a clear purpose because these meetings affect not just work but the entire person. Expecting employees to work beyond their regular working hours is unfair. However, there are solutions. Holding meetings an hour later can boost motivation and make people feel valued. Reducing the number of participants can prevent scheduling conflicts and make it more likely to hold meetings later in the morning. Recording meetings allows those who can’t attend to watch later and ask questions. Core meeting times, such as those suggested in the Athena Swan Charter (a framework that supports and advances gender equality in higher education and research), recommend scheduling meetings from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Of course, there are situations, such as urgent work and personal matters, and time zone differences among team members, that may make very early meetings necessary. If such meetings become routine, they can be scheduled on a rotating basis to share the pressure among participants from different time zones.

We recommend thinking twice before scheduling early morning meetings. We all deserve to put our best foot forward, whether in work or outside of it, and it starts from the moment we wake up.

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