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6 Ways to Stop Wasting Time in Meetings

on 1 August 2017


Posted by Kevin Senior

This quote from Dave Barry is several years old, but is just as relevant today as when he wrote it: ‘If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be meetings’.

It’s quite the conundrum… all of us have lost hours to bad meetings, and yet there are certainly times when the best route to the accomplishment of a goal is with a meeting.

If we can’t avoid them, it makes sense to try to make them as efficient as possible. Here is a quick set of suggestions that can go a long way toward ensuring that we make the most of our time:

1. Make sure the meeting is necessary. The meetings that waste the most time are the ones that don’t actually need to happen. Is this something that can be accomplished with a phone call or a quick group email? For example, there’s almost never a real need for status update meetings. Project management software and other tools have eliminated the need for a team to stop what they’re doing just to report where they are. If a meeting isn’t necessary, just don’t call it.

2. Manage the invite list. Even an important meeting is a waste of time for those who don’t need to be there. Team collaboration is important, but maybe not everyone needs to be there.  When possible, have a manager attend a meeting so the team can keep working. Meetings shouldn’t be opportunities for increased visibility or face-time – they should be productive. Only those who need to be there should be there.

3. Set and stick with an agenda.Meetings are not the right time to be spontaneous. Know what the meeting is about, and what the goals are, and stick with them. Important off-topic developments always come up – make note of them for a later time, and move on. Note that an agenda includes start and end times. Set appropriate expectations by always starting on time – and ending on time.

4. Take breaks when necessary. Our attention spans get shorter every year. At our best, we can keep focused for 12-18 minutes. At the very least, a short break should happen every 45 minutes, and a longer break every two hours. It may seem counterintuitive, but these breaks actually increase the efficiency of the time spent in the meeting.

5. Police the speakers. Some people really like to talk in meetings, and some of those people really like to talk much longer than they should. Keep an eye on the agenda and on the clock, and don’t let anyone monopolise the meeting. Additionally, make sure that those extroverts don’t intimidate those who have something important to say, but don’t feel as comfortable trying to get a word in while the loudmouth drones on. Don’t be afraid to stop someone, and offer to address their concern at another time.

6. End with a clear plan. No meeting should end without everyone knowing the next steps. Expectations should be clear, plans should be set, and no one should leave without the action points having been agreed. If people leave a meeting unsure of how to follow it up, the meeting may as well not have happened – that’s the very definition of a time-wasting meeting.

This is by no means a conclusive list. There are certainly tools available to improve your teamwork as a whole, and techniques that can increase the productivity and efficiency of meetings. But if you follow these suggestions, you will find that your meetings are more effective and more enjoyable, which means that they’ll have better results.

Here’s one last tip that might just make you a meeting hero: try to end early. There is no rule that says you need to fill 100% of the time that was allotted for the meeting. If you’ve covered the agenda, and everyone knows the next step, you don’t have to fill the time with more talk. End when you’re finished – and everyone can congratulate themselves for an effective, efficient meeting – and, as we all know, those are the best kind. 


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About this author: Kevin Senior

Managing Director at Glasscubes. With over 30 years experience working with businesses of all sizes and industries, Kevin brings success to fast growing companies advising on best practices and growth lead technology solutions.