Do you regularly take work home because you were in meetings all day at work? Do you know exactly which seat at each conference room table in your building has the best lighting, the optimum distance from the speaker, and the easiest access to communal snacks? Do you schedule doctor’s appointments during the workday just to get a break from meetings? If you have started to dream in PowerPoint presentations, then you might attend too many meetings.
Other symptoms of too-many-meetings-itis: Your work calendar is a patchwork quilt of square upon square of meeting after meeting. You have trouble scheduling meetings because everyone already has conflicting meetings on their calendars. You might even start to feel like you never do any actual work—only attend meetings.
If everyone’s first impulse, no matter what the situation or issue, is to have a meeting about it, maybe it’s time—past time—to consider shaking up your company culture regarding meetings. This is your guide to managing your meetings instead of the other way around. Get ready to reclaim your work day.
Just say no.
Is the meeting purely informational? Then an email to the group could suffice instead. Is there anything new since the last meeting? If not, call the whole thing off.
If brainstorming is the goal, would utilizing a different technology allow for a better exchange of ideas? Get permission to test inviting everyone to contribute to a communal document instead. You might just get more creative ideas when people can concentrate before adding to the conversation, and you might hear voices that typically don’t get heard in crowded free-for-all meetings.
Make it a private party.
Does everyone on the invite list truly need to be in attendance? Pare down the attendance list of any meetings you are in charge of. Make sure every attendee has a defined and vital role in the meeting itself. Not everyone involved with every project needs to attend every meeting. And don’t double-book roles, either. If one engineer or accountant will do, let the rest concentrate on their work.
If you don’t think attending a specific meeting is the best use of your time, ask the organizer to exclude you. Take a look at your recurring meetings and go to your supervisor with a rationale of how you could better spend that time to benefit the company.
Obey the agenda.
Do you ever walk out of a meeting feeling like it might as well not even have had an agenda because no one stuck to it? Ignore the impulse to do away with an important accountability tool. Instead, rethink the purpose of your agendas.
How many agendas do you receive with a dozen items on them? How many times do you make it past item three? Instead of placing bets with your coworkers about where the meeting will stall out, demand realistic agendas.
Every effective meeting has an agenda with an objective. If there’s no clear desired outcome, there’s no cause for a meeting. Every agenda item should advance that objective. Concrete next steps to advance that objective should be assigned to individuals. Dole out responsibility and opportunity, not invitations for subgroups to have to meet to assign duties.
Shorter is better.
Just like no one complained about getting out of class early in college, no one complains about a meeting that ends early—that we know of. Has a meeting ever ended early?
Once you have a clear objective for the meeting, schedule it for the shortest amount of time in which the goal can be met. Don’t add in time for fluff. Save that for the water cooler or the company instant messenger app. Don’t add in time for announcements about unrelated items. That’s what the company listserv is for.
If people often have meetings back-to-back, shortening them to the minimum productive length will also allow breathing room between meetings. Instead of fudging travel time by arriving late or leaving early, you’ll actually have time to walk from one part of the building to the other.
Be a buzzkill.
Every effective meeting also has a clear start and end time. Start and end on time, no matter who is late or who isn’t finished speaking. Respect others’ schedules and time (and your own).
Set clear limits on each speaker’s time and set a timer. To send a real message, don’t just pull out your phone. Bring in an old-fashioned kitchen timer. If you go really old school, then hearing the tick of the timer counting down may put a little pressure on!
When the timer goes off, move to the next person on the agenda. People may complain (probably only about their own time while secretly or not-so-secretly enjoying the limits on others), but they will learn to get to their main points right away, sooner rather than later.
Limit screen time.
Unless absolutely necessary, ask that every, and provide pens and paper for those who’ve grown accustomed to electronic notes.
In the middle of a day packed with meetings, how appealing is the thought of pretending to be diligently typing up notes, all the while secretly commenting on social media? Even secretly responding to or sending work emails during a meeting is counterproductive. (The need for an email mutiny manifesto is a topic for another day.) Attendees who are not paying attention make meetings even longer by repeating questions that have been answered or by straying off topic because they no longer know what the topic is.
Mix it up.
After sitting still for a couple of hours in an over-air-conditioned conference room, how can we blame people for going into hibernation? The walking meeting is not a far-out idea anymore. Not only will it change the pace, literally, but you’ll get different ideas when you’re on the move.
Plus, it’s harder to have a walking meeting with thirty attendees. Scaling down the attendee list will be a natural bonus.
Get to work.
Ready for shorter, more focused meetings? Use these ideas to change your organization’s attitude. Just don’t call a meeting to do it.
Author: Bob Shoyhet is a Chief Financial Officer who’s been helping build small and medium sized businesses from emerging “mom and pop” companies to organizations with international divisions for the past 25 years. His specialty is a laser focus on profit maximization, which puts him in a unique position of understanding what businesses should do to get off the ground, how to position themselves to achieve next level growth and how to effectively leverage finance in every single department to maximize the bottom line.