17 Strategies to NOT Waste Time in Meetings

Ash Lal
November 30, 2020

Some meetings may seem completely necessary, but do you know that just one extra meeting per day can negatively impact employee productivity?

Recent studies show that around 50 million meetings are happening every day in the US and up to 50% of these meetings are a waste of time, costing the US $37 billion per year. 

Wasting time in meetings limits a person’s capacity to concentrate on their own tasks. Meetings that exhibit non productive characteristics correlate with less innovation and reduced employment stability. 

Finally, employees who consistently find themselves in unproductive meetings face a drop in job satisfaction. This holds true regardless of the factors such as job role, personality, and pay. 

The Five Types of Meetings

In order to save and manage the time in meetings, it is vital for team leaders and managers to know about different types of meetings and the objective behind them. Let’s learn about the objective of each meeting and some pro tips to manage it. 

1. Problem-Solving Meeting: This type of meeting is kept in order to work through an issue or solve a problem. 

Pro Tip: Limit attendance to influential stakeholders and invite only those who can solve the issue.

2. Planning Meeting: The main goal of this meeting is to plan a course of action like the problem-solving meeting.

Pro Tip: Limit attendance to only those who will execute the planned work.

3. Decision-Making Meeting: The meeting is about presenting the options to the decision-maker, and getting a decision. 

Pro Tip: Schedule the meeting only when the facts have been investigated and you are ready to move forward. 

4. Status Reporting Meeting: This is the easiest type of meeting to eliminate and can be efficiently accomplished by a written status report. 

Pro Tip: No need for an actual meeting unless required for motivational purposes.

5. Feedback Meeting: This is a meeting to get feedback on recent events or information or to evaluate proposals. 

Pro Tip: The meeting can be avoided and can be met by other means i.e. sending an e-mail or a survey. If the meeting is required, limit the attendance to relevant players. 

Remember that defining the objective of the meeting is not enough to manage the time wasted in meetings. It is equally vital to learn about meeting time wasters in order to avoid them.

Things that waste time in meetings

Many factors are considered as meeting time wasters which contribute to productivity sapping, and sleep-inducing meetings. The most common meeting time wasting factors include:

  • Inviting too many or wrong people
  • Lack of clear, action-oriented agenda
  • Poor preparation by the meeting host 
  • Discussing off-topic things and letting people talk too much
  • Latecomers and no-shows
  • Not turning the longer discussion into follow-up meetings

Tips to Reduce Wasted Time in Meetings

Now let's dig deep into do’s and don’ts for getting the most out of your meetings and managing the time effectively:

1. Determine your Role in the Meeting

The most important thing is to uncover the roles and responsibilities of the meeting before accepting it. Are you a significant participant whose input is required, or are you invited just in case? Depending upon the former or latter situation, you can accept or decline the meeting invite. Hence, understanding your role in the meeting is vital.

2. Follow The Basics

There are a few easy things that we can all strive to accomplish -

  • Determine the most productive time of day for the meetings, especially if attendees are in multiple time zones. 
  • Arrive at your meetings on time and encourage others to do so. 
  • Make it a habit to start on time whether everyone is present or not. 
  • Never run a meeting later than scheduled. This prevents one meeting from affecting others.
  • Do not combine the two meeting purposes.

3. Stick to the Schedule

Meetings that do not run on their allotted time frame are often poorly conducted and ended. Plan your agenda in prior so that the discussion is to the point and time-bound. Ensure that the meeting starts and ends on time, no matter what.

Also, avoid the strange trend that has been observed in most of the corporate environments, where the meeting must go the full length scheduled. If it took only 20 minutes to make a few decisions, end the meeting! There's no need to waste another 10 minutes. 

4. Send The Proper Agenda

One of the reasons for a poor meeting is the lack of an agenda. A good agenda should cover all the topics to be covered, the goal of the meeting, the required attendees, the required materials, and a start and stop time of that meeting. 

Expert Tips to consider: 

  • Try and keep the meeting agendas maximum to 30 minutes. 
  • Share the meeting plan at least two hours prior. 
  • Give the important tasks and assignments well in advance of the meeting so that attendees can be prepared with the right content.  

5. Supervise the Discussion

If you find the conversation straying off the topic or moving beyond the meeting agenda, make it a point to bring the discussion back and note down any relevant points raised for future discussion. Eradicate distractions, such as mobile devices, and discourage one-side conversations.

6. Don’t Streamline At The Cost Of Valuable Input

It is important to create a safe and open environment in a meeting where idea sharing and putting opinions are allowed and encouraged. Usually, meetings tend to favor those who are more vocal, but it’s crucial to not overlook these additional voices that can add to the meeting. Always encourage honest, open, and straightforward things, and be vocal about this at the start of a meeting to set the tone. But, do remember to maintain meeting focus.

7. Don’t Be Afraid To Decline the Meeting

Just because you get a meeting invite doesn’t mean you have to accept it blindly. Even the most thoughtful leader can find himself mindlessly accepting every meeting request that hits his inbox. Make it a point to check the agenda and attendees. If you feel it doesn't fit your schedule, ask the host if the meeting can go well without your presence. You’ll get clarity on their intent and you can save your time.

8. Get Rid of Recurring Meetings with a Poor Track Record

Have you often been invited to recurring meetings of low value which repeat every few days or every week? In many cases, these meetings don't happen due to staff unavailability or other priorities taking preference. It is not essential in showing up at a meeting if its existence or its benefits remains uncertain. If it is urgent, someone will reschedule it.

9. Don’t Hold Everyone in the Meeting

Not everyone needs to stay for the entire meeting. By planning ahead and reviewing the agenda, managers can create invitations accordingly to ensure that the attendees’ time isn’t wasted. 

One of the highest drops in productivity comes from distraction where people find themselves irrelevant in the meeting and yet they need to stay, keeping them from other work.

10. Avoid Scheduling Status Meetings

The meetings should never be about sitting and rehashing the work you have done and others just listening. Consider using digital tools for project management, rather than scheduling a meeting for progress updates. The intent of the meeting should be to share creative ideas, resolve challenges, brainstorm, and collaborate with your team. 

11. Leverage Technology

Take the proper use of technology. There are many better alternatives for sharing information other than meetings for example collaborative websites like G Suite, Office 365, project management sites like Trello, Asana, and instant messaging sites like Skype, Slack to communicate the details. These all work well globally.

The main motive here is if the issue can be discussed in a three-minute email exchange, you can always skip the thirty-minute meeting and save the extra time. 

Furthermore, general face-to-face or phone meetings have no written record so one needs to rely either on notes or a sharp memory to remember the details. The best part about using technology is that all the strategies, ideas, defined work are saved by default.

12. Prepare Topics to be Discussed In Advance

Avoid running into meetings aimlessly with no clear agenda or specifics. Every meeting should have a list of objectives and concepts in order to limit the meeting from going off-course. Speak up to ensure this happens.

This also avoids unnecessary meetings, if the goal and intent of the meeting are cleared and topics are well-discussed. 

13. Take Breaks

An ideal meeting should last 30 minutes or less, but sometimes there are long meetings that are necessary. In such cases, intermissions are required. Though it may seem like interrupting the meeting but a break actually helps with productivity if done correctly. Quick 5 to 10 minutes breaks such as giving them time to get up, walk around, check their phones or email, help the attendees to refocus, and re-engage.

14. Record the Meeting

Recording a meeting with everyone's consent is quite helpful. This can save a ton of your time during the meeting because if anyone missed what you said you can ask them to check the recording instead of repeating yourself or conducting the meeting again. Also, the attendees can check the recording to restore what was discussed.

15. State Problems and Start with Recommendations

Commonly, most of the time spent in meetings are on the problems, rather it should be on sorting out the problems and discussing the solutions for it. We think it makes sense to not waste your time on something that already exists, and rather focus on how the issue can be resolved.

16. Don’t Spread Meetings Out

The trick is to schedule your meetings back-to-back so that you can start and end them on time. Moreover, the half-hour or 45 minutes between meetings are rarely productive. Thus, consecutive meetings facilitate huge time for handling deep-dive work.

17. Always End the Meeting With A Plan

Meetings should be a vehicle for decision-making. It’s natural that after a meeting a fair amount of ambiguity may exist. It is vital to reach a consensus or clarify the decisions and to recognize future actions required.

The goal should be to end every meeting with a list of actionable items and the person responsible for them. With this, meetings become more efficient, thus streamlining the workflow.

Also, check out these Time Management Tips for Effective Meetings from experts by GoDaddy:

A Channel for Change

Meetings do not have to be a trap; they can be a conduit for change. These tips can definitely help you in improving your productivity, communication, and most importantly the integration of your team along with job satisfaction and work-life balance. After all, better meetings result in better work lives.

Ash Lal
Ash is the Founder and CEO of Prodivy. He was a Product Manager at a large technology firm before starting Prodivy.

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