There’s good reason most employees and leaders celebrate meeting-free afternoons. Too frequently, meetings lack adequate preparation, which results in a bad use of valuable time. As you develop expertise and rise in seniority, people will seek your input more often, leading to more meetings on your calendar and less time to get work done.
While completely eliminating meetings may be nearly impossible, there are ways to reduce the time spent in them and maximize their productivity. When asked how to do so, here’s what our community had to say:
Make sure there’s an agenda and clear objective for every meeting
Far too often, you’ll find yourself in a meeting in which people are unprepared with little sense of direction, which calls for an unproductive use of time. Fortunately, this is something you can control. Richard Nam suggests, “Before accepting a meeting, ensure there is a goal and a clear agenda. If neither one is present, simply ask.”
Robert Loh adds the importance of understanding the meeting’s objective, “In addition to a clear agenda, identify the meeting’s exit criteria to eliminate follow up meetings.” Understanding the meeting’s purpose will also help participants stay on topic, creating a more productive meeting environment.
Ask yourself if the meeting is truly necessary
Niki Lustig recommends conducting a meeting audit. “Many times meetings have been recurring for a really long time, people get added, and then never removed. Time to fix that! Look at the number of recurring meetings you and your team are part of. How many have the same attendees? Which ones are most and least useful? Is there a way to consolidate two meetings into one with a clear agenda?”
Piet Van Zyl adds another key point to consider when evaluating meetings, “Do not call meetings, call brainstorming sessions where people attend and are expected to make a contribution, rather than simply sit and listen. Raw data should not be read but solutions, options, analysis be discussed.” If the intention is to share information, he suggests doing so via email to save attendees prime work time.
Always be mindful of the use of others’ time
When a meeting is necessary, ensure to keep it at an appropriate length and respect start and end times. Van Zyl shares one quick trick to keeping meetings short, “A novel solution for cutting down on meetings is to not have chairs to sit on. Standing will cut meeting time dramatically and make people think twice before organizing a meeting.”
In addition, be thoughtful and selective about the meeting’s attendees. If you’re organizing a meeting, don’t invite anyone who doesn’t have to be present. If you’re invited, remember it’s okay to politely decline attending or to only attend a portion of the meeting, just be sure to explain why you’re doing so.
While it may be tough to begin implementing these changes in a meeting-heavy culture, it is possible, and Lustig shares her thoughts on how to do so effectively. “Do a sum total and look at how many people are spending how many hours each week/month. Chances are if you present that to your boss with a bottom line of how much this is costing the business, you can make a real change.”
Schedule time on your calendar for yourself
Remember that, ultimately, you own your calendar. It’s okay to block out time for you to work. “Figure out the time of day you’re most productive and be ruthlessly protective of that time. I like to schedule a recurring ‘DNS’ (Do Not Schedule) meeting and ensure I’m marked unavailable so I can focus and get in the productive zone. Then, people will need to ask if they can block over that time but likely look for an alternative first,” shares Lustig. Of course, this blocked time should be flexible, but it’s a good way to remind others to be thoughtful when asking for your time.
In summary, to reduce time spent in meetings:
- Ensure the agenda and objectives are shared before the meeting
- Conduct a meeting audit and eliminate unnecessary
- Respect both your and your teammate’s time
- Block time off of your calendar to complete work