We’re spending more time in meetings. Today’s executives devote an average of 23 hours a week to them, while in the ’60s, meetings took up less than 10 hours for the average executive.
But the fact that we’re spending more time on meetings doesn’t mean we’re getting more done in them. It’s a common trope among office workers that meetings are a waste of time. In one survey, 71 percent of senior managers described them as unproductive and inefficient.
Meetings can be useful, but only if they stay on track. Keeping them productive is a challenge that requires discipline. These tips can help.
1. Don’t Schedule Unnecessary — or Unnecessarily Long — Meetings
The more critical a meeting is, the more likely it is to stay on track. That’s because these meetings have a specific goal attendees need to accomplish.
Unnecessary meetings tend to be unfocused because they lack a specific goal. Avoid scheduling meetings for the sake of meeting up or “just in case.” If you can’t define a reason to have a meeting, skip it.
This rule also applies to the length of meetings. Favor shorter sessions over longer ones because tasks tend to expand to fill the time allotted to them — a phenomenon called Parkinson’s Law.
2. Ensure the Meeting Has Value for Everyone Involved
If you want to keep your meeting on track, invite the right people. Make sure everyone who needs to make the required decisions is there, but also be careful not to over-invite, which can slow meetings down. You need to have the right mix of people, too. Some sessions, for example, might not benefit from a blend of entry-level and senior employees.
Whoever is leading the meeting might need to take steps to encourage everyone to contribute so attendees can both provide and get value out of the meeting. For example, “Wins” meetings give team members a platform to share small milestones they’ve achieved that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. These kinds of meeting help everyone get on the same page while increasing team morale.
3. Plan Your Meeting Early
The time you spend in preparation for your meeting is just as essential as how you manage the meeting itself. Create an agenda for your meeting and share it with every participant. Start working on the plan and send it to people early, so they can prepare as well.
Before you go into the meeting, you should know what your goals are, what format your meeting will take, who will participate and the type of discussion you’ll have. Some meetings include a presentation, followed by time for questions, while others require more participation.
Meeting planning tools such as MindMeister can help you prepare as well. You can use MindMeister to create meeting agendas and presentations, take minutes, assign tasks and more.
4. Share the Responsibility of Keeping the Meeting Focused
When you share the job of keeping the meeting on track, it’s harder to miss it when things start going off the rails.
Try giving employees a constructive way to point out when someone gets off-topic, repeats something that’s already come up or does something else that could cause people to lose focus.
Security management software provider Brivo, for example, gives each employee a “No Rehash” pingpong paddle they can raise if someone brings up a subject that has already been addressed.
5. For Long Meetings, Schedule Breaks
People dread long meetings, and if there’s no end in sight, people may start zoning out or getting distracted.
Building break times into exceptionally long meetings and letting everyone know about them ahead of time can help prevent people from getting angsty. If people know there’s a break ahead, they may be more likely to resist the urge to check their email. Even just a few minutes of free time can help. This article from the Muse recommends scheduling breaks into any meetings that are more than an hour long.
6. Start, Transition and End Well
The structure of the meeting is essential as well. Having a clear beginning, middle and end will help people stay focused because they’ll have a better idea of what they should be doing at any given time.
To nail the beginning of your meeting, avoid starting while people are distracted. Let them settle in. Then, make sure everyone is on the same page about the purpose of the meeting before you begin.
The meeting should also have distinct sections, and it should be clear when you’re transitioning to a new topic.
Finally, end the meeting with a summary of what you accomplished and assign tasks as needed. After the meeting, send an email to recap this information.
Meetings don’t have to be a waste of time. For better meetings, make staying on task a top priority. If you plan appropriately, get everyone on the same page and follow the other tips in this article, you’ll be well on your way to wasting less time and getting more done.