We know that meetings can be productive, but too many of them fail to achieve their potential. In fact, research indicates that the vast majority of meetings are a waste of time.
Collectively, upper management spends half of its total time each week in meetings. This accounts for more than $37 billion expended on mostly unproductive meetings throughout the year.
While you may or may not be surprised to hear these numbers, you should certainly feel an urge to do something about them. But what’s the solution?
Should you cut all meetings from your calendar? Not so fast. A better answer is to focus on shortening meetings and getting more done in less time.
Here are some proven techniques that executives around the country have used to accomplish just this.
1. Stop Having Weekly Meetings
How many weekly meetings do you have? (These are the meetings that are automatically and indefinitely scheduled in your weekly planner and never get shifted around.) The first tip is to stop having them.
These meetings are typically held just for the sake of having a meeting so they don’t produce much. Having a meeting simply because you feel like your team hasn’t been in the same room together for a while is a waste. Only hold a meeting if there’s a clearly defined need or purpose.
2. Develop an Agenda and Don’t Deviate
Every single meeting you hold — no matter whether it’s scheduled to last five minutes or three hours — needs a detailed agenda. And you should never deviate from the agenda.
“An effective agenda sets clear expectations for what needs to occur before and during a meeting,” organizational psychologist Roger Schwarz explains. “It helps team members prepare, allocates time wisely, quickly gets everyone on the same topic, and identifies when the discussion is complete. If problems still occur during the meeting, a well-designed agenda increases the team’s ability to effectively and quickly address them.”
3. Only Invite Necessary People
Why do meetings often include so many unnecessary people? This is one of the biggest causes of unproductive meetings because it leads to distractions that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
Whenever you hold a meeting, invite only the bare minimum. These are people who will either contribute something of value or benefit from what’s discussed.
4. Get Rid of the Chairs
Here’s an unconventional tip: Get rid of the chairs in your meeting rooms. When you eliminate chairs, people are forced to stand up and don’t have the chance to get comfortable.
This naturally speeds things along and conditions people to cut the small talk and get down to business. This research study from Andrew Knight and Markus Baer of Washington University explains the concept in a little more scientific detail.
5. Set a Timer
Very rarely do you need a meeting to last more than 30 minutes. After that point, people start to get tired, lose their focus, and mentally zone out.
Some of the world’s most productive companies keep their meetings to just 15 minutes. If you want to do the same, set a timer in the meeting room and let it guide you.
As soon as the buzzer sounds, you get just 15 or 30 seconds to wrap things up and everyone is allowed to leave. This is an effective way to hold everyone accountable and stay focused.
6. Call People Out
Once everyone starts to realize that meetings don’t invite small talk and gossip, people will come more prepared. Still, you must remain vigilant in order to maximize time.
Let everyone know that it’s okay — and even advisable — to call one another out for deviating from the meeting’s objectives. As soon as someone starts talking about what he did this weekend, a quick “Hey John, bring it back in” should suffice.
7. Check Devices at the Door
Nobody needs a smartphone or tablet in a meeting. In most cases, a laptop isn’t even necessary. So place a bin at the door and require everyone to check devices before entering. The only allowable items would be pens, papers, and documents necessary for reference.
Shorter Meetings Equal Better Meetings
Scheduling a two-hour brainstorming session for your upcoming digital marketing campaign might seem like an awesome use of your department’s time on a Monday morning. But you can cut that meeting into just a fraction of the time and actually get more done. That’s a mutually beneficial outcome for all the parties involved!
Currently, Larry writes for Entrepreneur, Social Media Week, CEOWORLD Magazine and the HuffingtonPost among others.