On average, employees attend up to 62 meetings per month, half of which are considered a waste of time. In a month with 20 work days, that averages to 3.1 meetings per day. Of those 3.1 meetings per day, most are spread throughout the day.
How do we expect anyone to be productive?
We need uninterrupted time to focus. It takes time to get into the zone, or to get into it and maintain flow.
One of the best essays written about this is Paul Graham’s Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule, in which he describes two different types of people who run on two different types of schedules: Managers schedule their time in one-hour blocks and can book meetings relatively easily, while Makers (writers, programmers) need large blocks of time to get work done.
Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers.
They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.
Tips for effective meetings
Meetings should be like salt—a spice sprinkled carefully to enhance a dish, not poured recklessly over every forkful. Too much salt destroys a dish. Too many meetings destroy morale and motivation. –Jason Fried
If you insist on holding meetings, here are some tips that you can use to make them more effective:
Have a clear agenda.
This is the most important rule for meetings.
Do not even think of scheduling a meeting if you don’t have a clear agenda. You’re wasting everyone’s time if you don’t have a clear agenda to go through.
Here are some important tips to preparing a meeting agenda:
- Send the agenda to everyone at least 24 hours in advance
- Write your agenda as action items (finalized blog topics is more actionable than brainstorming blog ideas)
- Set an end goal for the meeting
Timebox your meeting
Make sure to set a clear time for your meeting to keep it efficient and to avoid it taking too much time.
Too many meetings end up veering off topic and going overtime. Everyone is more productive when they know there’s a timer running.
Invite only those who are absolutely necessary
People often invite entire teams or people who might potentially add value.
Be very selective about who you invite to meetings; it’s not a birthday party. Make sure you respect everyone’s time and invite only those who absolutely must be there.
Begin on time
This should go without saying, but it happens so often that it’s worth mentioning: If you call a meeting for 11 a.m., make sure the meeting starts at 11 a.m. It’s incredibly frustrating to waste time waiting for a meeting to start.
Give everyone a chance to talk
According to at least one study, senior leaders are more aggressive and vocal in meetings. This destroyed any chance of innovation inside the company because the more the rest of the group disagreed, the louder and more aggressive the senior leader became.
This leads to an environment where the only ideas in the room that are shared are those of the senior leader.
Consider using Slack
Some research shows that brainstorming online works better than offline. That’s because the privacy of the computer helps you focus and ultimately collaborate better.
Instead of trying to schedule a meeting that works for everyone, use a tool like Slack to create a temporary channel and conduct your work there.
Tips to make you more productive
If you’re constantly being called into meetings, here are a few tips to help make you more productive:
Block out time on your calendar
I’ve been using this hack for a while now, and I love it: Block out time on your calendar that’s specifically meant for you to focus on your own work. That way, when people look to see when you’re free to schedule a meeting, that time won’t be available.
Ask if you’re really required to attend
Don’t be afraid to ask the meeting organizer if it’s 100% necessary for you to attend the meeting. It’s possible they invited you because they thought you might add value, but if you feel like it might be a waste of your time, politely verify whether it’s really important for you to be there.
Implement a no-meeting day
Asana, a project management software company started by one of the co-founders of Facebook, has a “no-meeting day” on Wednesdays to make sure the team can be super-productive at least one day a week.
Amazon takes a rather extreme approach to conducting meetings, but there’s something very smart about it: The company requires whoever is organizing the meeting to prepare a 6-page document explaining everything that they will be meeting about.
This takes the team hours to prepare these documents, so it forces the team to organize the meeting to deeply understand what they are presenting, to collect all the data, to present it in a way that’s understandable, and to communicate it clearly. As a result, meetings at Amazon run much more efficiently.
“The traditional kind of corporate meeting starts with a presentation. Somebody gets up in front of the room and presents a PowerPoint presentation or slide show.
In our view, that approach offers bullet points but very little information. This is easy for the presenter, but difficult for the audience. And so instead, all of our meetings are structured around a 6-page narrative memo. If you have a traditional PowerPoint presentation, executives interrupt.
If you read the whole 6-page memo, on Page 2 you have a question, but on Page 4 that question is answered.” –Jeff Bezos
While a 6-page document might be overkill for your company, preparing notes for everyone to read before they step in the meeting is a great idea.
How do you run your meetings?
Any tips you can share with us? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Want more strategies to maximize efficiency in the workplace? See Write A To-Do List That Gets Results.