We all know that meetings can be a big drain on productivity and in most cases take up way too much of our time. In fact, there are so many times that we get halfway through our day and realize that our task list hasn’t only grown, but nothing has been checked off. And the culprit? You guessed it. This is due to sitting in an endless array of meetings day in and day out. Whether it’s your boss, a client, another department, or you calling the meeting, there’s likely a lot of wasted time and inefficiencies. This certainly holds true for a lot of routine meetings.
Want to know how much it costs to continue having these unproductive meetings? Simple, just Google it and you’ll find it’s in the billions. In fact, here’s a survey done last year in the HBR showing that over 300,000 hours were spent in meetings by just onelarge company. That’s not only excessive, but it makes you wonder how work actually gets done. And to further complicate your meetings, each person has their own unique strategy to deal with these meetings which they don’t want to attend but are required to. Check out this interesting infographic below by visual.ly & Mindflash about surviving a workplace meeting. Just how productive do you think these tactics are? As you can clearly see, a lot of people don’t want to go to meetings and don’t get any value out of them. Although most meetings have good intentions, they result in the opposite effect…more meetings = less motivation.
I always like to start the year off by setting fresh goals and to keep the focus on the most important things to improve on. Each year one of my top goals is how to free up time by reducing or eliminating big time wasters. Meetings seems to always be the in top two or three on that list. So how do we go about improving our meetings or someone else’s meeting? For starters, stop inviting everyone in the company to your meetings. For each meeting, ask yourself if there would be a specific detriment to the business by not having a specific person there. If not, don’t invite them.
You’ll find lots of suggestions on the web about this topic, but I also wanted to share my top 5 ways for having more productive meetings in 2015. These can be implemented regardless of the different personalities / work styles or the communication means (conference calls, face to face, web meetings / virtual meetings, etc.).
This sounds like a no brainer, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in a meeting without seeing the agenda ahead of time or where the facilitator jumps around from topic to topic without any clear objective. I’ll have to admit, I’m guilty of this one as well. Especially when I know I need to discuss something with a co-worker, then I’ll just quickly throw time on their calendar. Those meetings are usually much longer and less organized. For every meeting, there should be a clear agenda or outline sent about the meeting. Want to make it even better? Add time allotted for each topic covered in the meeting and stick to the timeline. This is not a presentation that goes on and on while everyone pretends like they are listening, it’s a meeting to discuss a specific topic and then move on to the next topic.
Everything being discussed in the meeting needs to have a specific outcome tied to it. This outcome is typically a decision on what the next steps are. Those next steps would be your action items, or list of tasks to move the decision or project forward. Better yet, have your suggestion ready for each topic and include a list of the action items associated with that decision. That will show you’re organized, you did your homework, and you value everyone’s time. If you can anticipate questions for your suggested course of action, touch on that as well during the discussion. As long as you’re prepared and know what the goal is for each topic, the meeting might even seem enjoyable. For brain storming sessions, do them in the cloud and then have a meeting to discuss the next steps if it’s necessary. Just ask that everyone comes prepared and knows what the next steps are in advance.
This is my favorite. A lot of times you are going from meeting to meeting and you have a lot on your plate. I’ve always found that it’s best to show you value other people’s time and end the meeting early. If there’s still a critical item then save it for the next meeting or take it offline. By ending the meeting early, it also gives everyone extra time to do any follow ups from the meeting. That helps enhance productivity and makes everyone a little happier. You’re now accomplishing your tasks and spending less time in meetings. And the opposite is true too – if you are constantly going over by 10 minutes on your meetings you are not valuing everyone’s time. I’m going to cut 10 minutes off of every meeting this year and see how it impacts everyone’s productivity. If you’re not the meeting organizer, suggest this idea to them. My guess is that they’ll thank you for it later.
This is probably the toughest one. Everyone has a different style and most meetings seem to get off topic here and there. If you were to add up these minutes from all of your meetings, it would be weeks or months of time wasted in off topic discussion. Don’t let that time slip away. Make sure the meeting stays on topic and if it diverts, ask the facilitator for a decision or subtly hint that you are ready to discuss the next topic. There are lots of interruptions, but no one has that many hours to waste in meetings everyday. This also ties back to number one on this list. If things start to go on too long, end that topic and finish it later with the decision maker. Leave everyone else out of it to save them time and let them focus on their tasks.
Let’s face it. Most of us have a lot of meetings that are either recurring meetings or simply status update meetings. For example, how many meetings have you been to to review this month’s figures, or review a client’s proposal changes, or to have a weekly staff meeting? And what is the outcome of those meetings? Do you feel like you couldn’t have gotten through the day without it? You get the picture. For a lot of you, it’s where you end up spending most of your time. Try ending all your recurring meetings and list out any critical items that need to be addressed instead. Then reach out to those people individually. Also, work on getting all of your communication in the cloud so you have it organized in one place and you can communicate it effectively. If there are still some things that will need to be discussed in a meeting, at least you prepared in advance. This will shorten meetings drastically or eventually even eliminate them. Cancel as many meetings as you can and let people know their work is valued and it’s not just about face time. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to do this if you are the attendee to these meetings. But you can at least work on influencing the meeting holder on the ideas above.
These are my top 5 tactics I will be using this year for improving meetings and I will also be measuring how much time I save each day. If you want to share your ideas, comments, or suggestions, just add them below for further discussion.