How to Kill Endless Meetings and Stay Productive

We’re in the middle of a meeting epidemic. Executives now spend an average of 23 hours a week in meetings, with 71 percent reporting that those meetings are generally unproductive and inefficient.((Harvard Business Review: Stop the Meeting Madness)) Despite their drawbacks, meetings remain an integral part of any modern workplace. The rise of office silos and remote workers make regular check-ins an absolute must for keeping everyone on the same page. Meetings aren’t going away anytime soon, so how can we work to cut down on their time and productivity drains? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this question. While it’s impossible to take one simple step to eliminate meeting waste, you can start considering your meetings not as routines, but as investments. Instead of regularly planning and attending meetings thoughtlessly, think beforehand about how you can get the greatest ROI on the time you spend effectively meeting with others. If you’re looking to put an end to endless meetings and start having productive meetings in your workplace, here are a few places to start:

1. Optimize Your Meetings in Advance

The single biggest cause of meeting overload isn’t ingrained habits or bad office policy; it’s bad meetings. Most meetings begin without any agenda to speak of, and directionless meetings are hardly meetings at all. A meeting that accomplishes nothing is bound to simply lead to more meetings down the line. You can put an end to this cycle by scheduling valuable, productive meetings for your team. Start by focusing on the purpose of a meeting. Every meeting you have should be necessary for your success, as well as your business’s and employees’ success. Moreover, meetings that cover too many topics or areas are likely to go over their planned time and alienate participants. Remember, productive meetings only last as long as they absolutely need to. To train yourself to shorten meetings, you can use tools like “speedy meetings” if you learn more about google calendar. This allows you to automatically shorten your scheduled meetings by five minutes so you have time to get things done in between meetings.

2. Make Your Meetings Democratic

Who schedules meetings in an office? Generally, executives and upper management are the ones who call meetings and set their agendas. While it’s important for those in charge to get their directives across to other employees, meetings that come directly from above aren’t going to be very engaging for everyone else. Instead, try planning some meetings from the ground up. Deciding on a direction or general topic for a meeting before asking for concerns or questions from your employees goes a long way toward keeping people engaged in meetings, and meeting engagement is one of the best ways to keep meetings short but meaningful. Even something simple like an anonymous Google poll can give attendees the freedom to make their voices heard.

3. Invite the Right People

We’ve all been there — sitting in a meeting and silently wondering why we’re even there in the first place. Every minute someone spends in a meeting they don't belong in is a minute wasted, and it even has the potential to drag down the efficiency of the meeting itself.((Harvard Business Review: How Working Parents Can Get the Most Out of Calendar Apps)) One way of figuring out who belongs in a meeting — and who doesn’t — is to go back to the meeting’s focus. With the topic of the meeting in mind, think about who either would directly benefit from hearing that topic discussed or would have something meaningful to add to the discussion. Meeting attendance goes both ways, however. If, while deciding on the makeup of your next meeting, you leave out someone who should’ve been there, a significant amount of time could be wasted trying to catch that person up. Make sure to think a bit outside the box when it comes to who really belongs in a meeting. If your design team is meeting, for example, it would probably be best to have a product manager and software engineer sit in to make sure that everything discussed is in line with other teams’ goals, too. Trends seem to support this theory.((Hotjar: CX trends for 2019)) The right guest list for a meeting now could save several future meetings later.

4. Use Digital Tools Instead

Technology like video conferencing has made meetings easier than ever, regardless of where participants are or what they’re doing. The proliferation of technology has also produced a new wave of apps that make it increasingly possible to drastically cut down on the number of meetings in your office. Communication platforms like Slack let you create separate channels for people to chat. For some of your meetings, consider creating a dedicated Slack channel for that topic instead of hosting an in-person meeting. Ask the relevant questions you want answered, or start a discussion. Watch as a digital meeting takes place without anyone needing to fully stop working. Other collaboration apps like Trello let everyone see exactly what everyone else is working on, eliminating the need for constant check-in meetings. If there’s a certain type of meeting you’re looking to cut down on, search for software that can transfer the function of that meeting to a digital space. Bad meetings are eating away at company revenue the world over, so it’s important to do what you can to get your office’s meeting schedule under control. By thinking about meetings as assets for your business, you can make the most of one of corporate America’s favorite pastimes.

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