“I wish I spent more time in meetings.” Ever heard that? Me neither. Not ever. And while it’s critical to communicate with our coworkers, meetings often seem like a lousy container for that communication. And adding more time to meetings definitely does not get us more results.
Meetings, as you most certainly know, are one of the biggest time-sucks in business life. Some estimates put time spent in unproductive meetings at over 31 hours per month.
If we all had nothing better to do, maybe all these meetings wouldn’t bother us so much. But we do have a lot to do. So much to do that it causes many of us to stay late, work weekends, and live tethered to our phones. Freeing up those 31 hours a month would make a very big difference to us.
Time lost in meetings has a massive opportunity cost. It takes away from work that might actually get results. Who knows – we might even be missing out on work we want to do, that would help our customers, advance our careers, and make our companies grow. That’s the work we’re supposed to be doing, right? What company’s mission statement talks about spending more time in meetings?
While I can’t promise to free up 30 hours of your time every month, what if you got back even three? Any one of the ideas below could do that. Hopefully just one will resonate with you and your team … and maybe you’ll be able to enjoy an early dinner with your family, or be able to finish up a project that lights you up.
1. Price it out.
According to Atlassian, every year U.S. businesses blow $37 billion in salary costs with unnecessary meetings. It’s almost the business version of the national debt clock.
Do your part to trim this waste. Use The Harvard Business Review’s Meeting Cost Calculator to find out how much each meeting costs your firm. You can even set it up as an app on your phone.
Two benefits here: First, having a dollar value tied to each meeting will almost certainly reduce the time spent in unproductive meetings at your company. Second, when you do decide to sit down, everyone in the room will have a focus: We need to get $184 worth of value out of these 45 minutes.
2. Consider open afternoons.
One of the biggest problems with meetings is how they break up your time. This creates short time blocks that make it hard to settle into work – especially deep, thoughtful work.
One way to diminish this effect is to have a company policy of “open afternoons” (or open mornings, if you prefer). It means all meetings get scheduled in one half of the day – say mornings. That way, everybody gets a big open time block in the afternoons.
3. Skip the status report part of the meeting.
You know that part of the meeting when you go around the room and everybody explains what they’re working on and how it’s going? Cut that.
Move all the status information about everyone’s work to an information hub. That hub could be any one of the collaboration tools available (like Asana or Slack). It could be a status sheet on Google Drive. It could even be a bulletin board or a whiteboard. Positioning the white board near the water cooler or the coffee station often helps get more people to look at it.
Use that hub to let people know what you’re working on and how it’s going. Use it to find out what your peers are working on. And enforce its use: Anybody who doesn’t keep their hub updated gets demerits – like cleaning out the refrigerator.
If you just have to keep the “here’s what I’m doing this week” part of the meeting, time people. Everybody gets 2 minutes to explain what they’re working on. Any ensuing conversations can be had offline.
Can sheer discomfort make us more productive? Seems so. Neal Taparia cut meeting times down by 25% at his company simply by making everyone stand. And Melissa Dahl reports that University of Missouri researchers trimmed 34% of meeting time by getting people to stand.
If sitting is indeed the new smoking, this is good for productivity and for our health. Wanna take it even further? Add a medicine ball. Taparia makes anyone who speaks at company “standups” (their word for meetings) hold a medicine ball while they talk.
5. Have “offline” conversations.
Don’t make your coworkers sit around while you and one or two other people hash something out. Have micro-meetings as necessary so you don’t slow down larger powwows.
There is a sister idea to this: Have more one-on-one talks with people. Don’t call them meetings. Just call them conversations. Sometimes the informality of a conversation just naturally makes things move faster.
6. Kick people out who don’t have to be there.
Sure, this will seem mean at first. One of the less aspirational stories about Steve Jobs was how he would unceremoniously kick people out of meetings. If you didn’t have to be in the meeting, you weren’t just given a pass. You were kicked out.
There are probably more sensitive ways to go about this, but the principle is sound. Don’t make someone sit in a meeting they don’t need to be in. Free them. Let them go do their work.
7. Use a timer.
There are cases where relaxed, open-ended meetings are appropriate. But they’re the exception, not the rule. So try to trim the regular, day-to-day meetings down. A timer can help. So can a commitment to 30-minute meetings. The condensed time makes everyone more efficient.
8. Always leave with action steps.
Productivity expert David Allen would have all of us install a “what’s the next action?” button on every meeting table. And it would probably help – too many meeting topics are raised, discussed, and then left hanging.
Don’t let this happen to you. Everyone in the meeting should be writing a concrete to do list, aka a “next action list.” They should be accountable to complete that list. At the next meeting (or even better – on their status/project hub!), they should report that they got those items done. If something didn’t get done, there needs to be a reason why. Don’t worry – “I simply couldn’t get to it” is a reason why. At least the first time.
9. Have an agenda.
This is one of the oldest productivity tips for meetings. And yet many of us still seem to benefit from the reminder.
Even a one-point agenda is fine. But, um… if there’s no driving purpose to the meeting… may I suggest skipping it?
10. Skip meetings for a week or a month.
This is a somewhat radical idea. It might even be dangerous. But if you feel lucky, consider going on a meeting fast. See what happens after a week, two weeks, even a month.
Some things will drop through the cracks, guaranteed. So have systems in place to put out the fires. But by the time your meeting fast ends, you’ll have a vivid picture of what meetings you really do need to have and what you need to cover in them. Let go of all the rest.
Bonus: Take your meetings online.
Virtual meetings don’t have to be just for distant contacts.
Meetings serve an essential function in business, but they need to be contained. Otherwise they’ll compromise the primary reason we’re at work – to get stuff done. Here’s the summary of how to achieve that:
- Know what your meetings cost – in money and opportunity costs
- Schedule all meetings either in the mornings or afternoons to free up large blocks of time
- Use a status hub or other work collaboration software to keep everyone apprised of what you’re doing
- Try standing meetings, aka “standups”
- Have more mini-meetings and offline conversations
- Kick people out if they don’t have to be there
- Use a timer
- Keep asking “what’s the next action?” Then commit to doing it.
- Have an agenda
- Consider cutting all meetings for a week, just to see what happens
Back to you
Got any tips, tricks or gimmicks that have worked to trim your meetings down? Please – share them in the comments. Everybody wants to spend less time in meetings.
Now that you have some tips and tricks for making your meetings more effective, learn how Act-On can help increase the efficiency of your entire marketing team’s efforts. Take a video tour of Act-On to explore how Act-On empowers marketers to do the best work of their careers.