Meetings are usually a waste of time -- your time, my time, everyone’s time. In some organizations meetings are inevitable -- the organization just won’t let them go. So perhaps you won’t be able to just quit having meetings, but you can do your part to reduce the soul-sucking productivity drain that transforms a 15-minute meeting into a 90-minute massacre of your workday. Here are six things I’ve learned that can really help.
1. Schedule shorter meetings.
Where is it written that a meeting has to take an hour? Or two? Or God save us longer than that? One way to have shorter meetings is to change your settings for your calendar so that the default meeting time decreases from one hour to a half-hour.
2. Have a clear agenda and circulate it ahead of time.
Too often meetings lack agendas, and when they do they’re what I call “crossword puzzle” agendas, with items like “update on company picnic” (six letters). The attendees are left to guess exactly what the activity entails and clearing up the confusion at the meeting is time consuming. A better agenda will have complete sentences that describe who will present and the precise topic he or she will present. “Milo Quaife will provide a status of the IT upgrade and will take suggestions from the group on further features the software should possess.”
3. Start and finish on time.
I am a firm believer in not punishing the prompt. If someone is late for the meeting I don’t wait for him or her, I’ve even gone so far as to deliver the opening invocation at a church meeting because the priest was late (he was delighted). A trick to getting people to be on time for meetings is to set the start time at an irregular time -- instead of 1:00 p.m. schedule the meeting for 1:07 p.m. Most people instinctively show up at the same time they would for a 1:00 meeting and the habitually tardy arrive on time, leaving you ready to start at the scheduled start time.
4. Give pre-work.
If you truly expect productive discussion on a topic, or you want input, provide the material in advance and assume everyone has read it. Subtly embarrassing people who refuse to prepare by assuming everyone has read the material and by acting as if they have, is a good way to get people to prepare next time.
5. Avoid the Parkinson’s Effect.
Parkinson’s Law holds that the time it takes to complete a task will expand to fill the time allotted to it. In other words, if you only have 15 minutes worth of productive meeting material but you schedule an hour thinking that the meeting won’t take that long you are deluding yourself. The fact is it will take the entire hour and maybe more.
6. Stick to the agenda.
A lot of people love to hijack meetings and use the time you allotted to your agenda for their own. Don’t let them. When someone brings up an issue that is not on the agenda, politely ask the person if he or she would like to defer the rest of your agenda to another day and replace it with this new topic or would it be okay to convene a new meeting on the new topic. This is a professional way of telling people that this is your meeting and you mean to accomplish the things for which you called the meeting.