Minimum meeting length is an antipattern

Could calendar software design away unproductive meetings by removing end times?

I was in a meeting today that lasted 17 minutes. I know it was exactly 17 minutes because it was such a rare occurence that it surprised me. The meeting was scheduled for 30 minutes (because calendar software) but after the agenda was covered and next steps were clear, we just… ended it.1

Parkinson’s law tells us that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” This certainly rings true with my own calendar. Most meetings scheduled for half hour take half an hour or longer.

What if calendar software didn’t require us to define meeting durations or end times? What if the only expectations attendees had were start times and agendas?

View of Google Calendar where a meeting called "Quick sync about that thing" begins at 14:00 and has no end time. The meeting block is stylised by fading out instead of having a solid background colour.

My hypothesis is that by removing meeting end times and thus minimum lengths, most meetings would end sooner than they otherwise would have been scheduled to.

Some meetings will run longer. Maybe those ones should have been longer in the first place. Maybe they highlight the need for increased communication between the attendees in general. Maybe they replace where there otherwise would have been multiple meetings or prevent the need for follow-up meetings.

My quick design above leaves at least a few unanswered questions.2 If I was in the design crit where this was presented, I’d be asking:

  • If someone else tries to schedule a meeting at the same time, does it cause a conflict?
  • Should meeting attendees be shown as “busy” to other users trying to schedule conflicting meetings?
  • How long should they be shown as busy for? A fixed block of time or some fuzzy time period?
  • Is there a default “busy” length for meetings without fixed lengths? Can it be overridden?
  • What does this look like on non-Google Calendar services users might have connected, like the iOS Calendar app?
  • Can we accommodate situations when a meeting has a known minimum length but total time needed is flexible?

Nothing in product is ever as simple as it seems.3 Still, considering the amount of minutes that could be saved every day across every company using calendar software, this feels like a worthy problem to consider solving. The solution could have significant impact on productivity and, following that line, perhaps even even GDP.

If you liked this, I have more thoughts on improving meetings.


  1. It might be worth noting this was a meeting attended only by engineers. For some reason that distinction feels important. 

  2. I’m sending this to my fiancée next time she says I doodle for a living. 

  3. Questions like this are why Twitter is never getting an edit button

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