5 Ways to Cut Back on Meetings That Don't Matter

One survey found that employees would rather watch paint dry or endure a tooth canal then attend a boring meeting.

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By Heather R. Huhman


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If there's one thing everyone wants less of in the workplace, it's meetings. For the second year in a row, a survey of 617 U.S. office workers conducted by Workfront found wasteful meetings rated as the top barrier to productivity.

Related: 8 Ways to Turn a Boring Meeting Into a Roaring Success

That means not much has changed. Leaders and managers are still clinging to meetings that only waste time. But like any habit, meetings are a problem that can be hard to acknowledge, much less let it go. And trying to tackle the problem all at once won't work. Instead, try these small steps to gradually break the bad meeting habit:

1. Determine if meetings do more harm than good.

A few meetings throughout the week may not seem like a big time waster, but when the math is done, the results are surprising. In a 2014 study conducted by Bain & Company, data on time use from a large company revealed that 300,000 hours a year were spent on just one weekly executive meeting.

Tracking how much time meetings actually eat up can help managers recognize how big of a problem they really are. Keep a record of how much time is spent in each meeting and how much time is spent preparing for it. Ask employees to do the same.

Then, compare how much time is spent in these meetings with how much was actually accomplished during those time periods, to determine whether these meeting are worth it or a waste of time.

2. Review the guest list.

Meetings may be worth someone's time, but they may not be worth everyone's time. When the invitation list for a meeting gets long, that's usually a sign that not everyone needs to be there.

Most employees would be happy to skip meetings altogether. In an August survey conducted by Flexjobs, 69 percent of employees surveyed said they preferred to work from home because of the fewer meetings that involves.

In other words, not every member of a team needs to be at every meeting. While employees sometimes need to hear information instead of contributing to the conversation, those who aren't active participants probably don't need to attend.

So, review your "guest list" and invite only the most important person from each team. That person can then relay what matters to the rest of the team without taking up time from everyone's day.

You can go a step further and use a pulse survey tool like Waggl to learn what employees at your company really think about meetings. With the tool, managers can send employees quick surveys and get immediate data. That way, those managers can quickly learn which meetings employees feel are a waste of time, and which ones they consider important to attend.

3. Keep meetings short.

Everyone is bored in meetings. In fact, a January 2015 Clarizen survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults found that participating employees said they would rather "watch paint dry," commute four hours or endure a root canal than attend a boring meeting.

And if employees are bored, they're not paying attention -- so what's the point?

Related: 6 Easy Ways to Make Meetings Fun -- Or At Least, Not Suck

Instead of trying to eliminate all meetings completely, start by cutting down the nunber. To do this, prepare for the meeting with an agenda, and use creative ideas to keep the conversation moving. For example, walking meetings can help keep conversations short and to-the-point, while getting in a bonus stress-relieving workout.

4. Try daily, less formal communication instead.

Employees could spend less time in meetings if they communicated with their managers more regularly. Unfortunately, casual, frequent communication is often missing from the workplace.

From January to May 2014, Leadership IQ surveyed 32,410 executives, managers, and employees and found that 57 percent of participating employees said they spent fewer than five hours a week directly interacting with their immediate superior.

But if, instead, managers talked with their employees on a daily basis, they would already be in the loop on a lot of the information meetings typically cover. Instead of taking the time to deliver all the important information at once, employees could let their managers know what's up gradually and naturally through conversation.

Although frequent communication can save time, it can feel like everyone is too busy to stay connected on a regular basis. Check in with your teams throughout the day and inform everyone of important updates in real time, instead of waiting for a formal meeting.

5. Create action plans.

Meetings need to have a purpose. They should be actionable. But the original objective of a meeting is often lost. In fact, a recent survey by Post-it found that 51 percent of participating employees reported forgetting the purpose of a meeting while they were in it, and 26 percent said that they had forgotten a task assigned to them during a meeting.

Related: Transform Wasteful Meetings Into Effective Gatherings

If there are no action items, that's a sign the meeting is not needed and can be eliminated. Start meetings by reviewing the objective. When the meeting is over, set a clear plan. Make sure everyone at the meeting knows what he or she needs to do moving forward.

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

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