If time is money, how much of it are we spending in work meetings that never seem to go anywhere? A lot, if the Harvard Business Review is to be believed: its writers studied one large company and found that 300,000 hours a year went into supporting its executive committee’s meetings.
So, getting meetings under control could be one way to raise productivity, with less talking and more action. If you’re itching to tackle your to-do list while meetings drone on, take a look at these ideas for cutting them short.
- Give up on regular status meetings
Catch-ups, updates, status meetings– whatever you call them, take up a lot of time and can quickly become a chore. Sure, you need to keep key colleagues informed about your progress, but does everyone need to pile into a conference room?
Ken Norton, a product partner at GV, the investment arm of Google, says it’s best to find other ways to circulate progress reports, from emails to instant messenger groups. As he puts it, “The best meeting is one you don’t have to have.”
So, before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself if it’s truly necessary. Can the same information be conveyed through email, a quick chat, or a collaborative document? Avoid scheduling meetings just for the sake of it.
- Make sure someone takes control
Lack of focus is a frequent culprit for meetings that drag on. “If I don’t have an agenda in front of me, I walk out,” says Annette Catino, Chief Executive of the QualCare Alliance Network. “It’s very important to me to focus people and to keep them focused.”
Before the meeting, define what you want to achieve. Are you brainstorming ideas, making decisions, or updating everyone on progress? Communicate the purpose of the meeting to participants, so they come prepared and stay focused on the goal.
Avoid meandering meetings by ensuring that one person is in charge of the meeting and its agenda. If someone gets off track, the Chairperson can gently steer things back by referring to the next item or decision point.
- Keep them small and perfectly formed
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos isn’t one to waste time, which is why he invented the “two pizza rule” for meetings. If there are more attendees than could be fed by two pizzas, the meeting is cancelled.
With larger meetings, everyone can feel obliged to have their say, even if it means rehashing points made by others. Keeping them small helps everyone get to the point.
So, instead of traditional sit-down meetings, consider using quick stand-up meetings or huddles. These are brief, daily check-ins where team members share updates, challenges, and priorities. They keep communication flowing without consuming too much time.
- Tear up your calendar and start afresh
If step-by-step improvements to your meetings culture aren’t working, Jayson DeMeyers, founder of AudienceBloom, suggests taking drastic action. “I propose the cold turkey method: eliminate every meeting on your calendar right now.”
Clearing your calendar is one way to find out which meetings are really important: if you miss them, you can reinstate them. But you may just discover that you’ve reclaimed a whole lot of time without missing much at all.