How to Stop Wasting Time in Meetings
Types of Meetings
Here’s the scenario. A calendar invite pops up in your email:
Subject Line: Brainstorming Meeting
Day/Time: Monday, 4:30–5:30pm
Host: That one guy you don’t like
Meeting Attendees: List hidden
Your eyes roll into the back of your head. What is this meeting about? Why is it so late — and on a Monday? Who else is attending? Should I accept or decline? Why do I always get put in these crazy meetings?
The dilemma of the meeting is one that human beings have been dealing with for a very long time. Meetings are actually a great way to communicate, get things done, disseminate information, strategize and give/receive feedback. It’s just the unproductive and uneventful ones that we all despise.
Many organizations have fallen prey to the abyss of “meeting just to meet” or “meeting about the meeting”. Why is that? Have Google calendar invites and iCal integrations enamored us with the urge to schedule every possible idea and conversation?
Does office culture play a role in our overuse or lack of engagement with one another? Does the busyness of work and life give us less leeway to spark random, yet ad hoc conversations?
Of course, there’s a fine line between respecting a person’s space and time and scheduling meetings to get what you need from them.
There’s a time and place for everything — figuring out where your meeting fits is half the battle. Here are the types of meetings to consider and also the “must do’s” to make each meeting worthwhile :
Types of Meetings
These meetings typically give an update on items, objectives or goals. This includes meetings like daily standups and should typically be no longer than 15–30 minutes long.
When it’s not appropriate or thorough enough to disseminate information over email or through other written channels, an informational meeting is a good way to inform and answer any questions about that information.
When officially starting a large campaign, initiative or project, a kick-off meeting is a great way to gather needed stakeholders to initiate a project. Use this meeting to ensure participants have a common understanding of the purpose, high-level requirements, general timeline, and roles.
It’s also a great way to ignite excitement and enthusiasm for the project. Generally, a good bit of planning should precede the kickoff meeting, including some type of charter for the project, an agenda and an idea of what roles and actions are needed to get started.
These meetings require action. In order to progress forward, decision-making meetings are great for reviewing ideas and work, evaluating, and making choices.
Participants in this meeting should hold a valuable stake and have enough competency in the subject area to help make solid decisions.
These meetings require creativity, participation, and sometimes deep thinking. Be sure that participants are prepared to give their input and that your meeting is scheduled at an optimal time and in an environment that encourages creativity.
The output of this type of meeting should be inspiration, the beginnings or development of a plan and/or a greater sense of direction and purpose toward a goal.
This is a meeting where a service or product is being discussed. It can either be between the seller and the prospect/customer, or it can be internal to review numbers, goals, techniques, training, conflict and/or performance.
What you should do for every meeting you schedule or attend
What’s worse than a long, boring meeting? A long, boring meeting with no direction. Plan what your meeting will be about, what format would serve it best, what imperative points you must cover and what type of input you’d like. It’s helpful to have an agenda and even send it out beforehand so that participants can prepare.
You may also need to provide handouts, visual aids, food/refreshments or set up equipment/technology. Proper planning can make a meeting flow much smoother (and efficiently). People will thank you for it.
Create Action Items
What do you want to accomplish? What do you want each member attending to do? Contribute ideas, take notes, accept roles, give feedback? Be sure that everyone leaves the meeting with clear next steps and timelines.
You can also follow up with an email that outlines action items if you need more time to gain clarity on what those steps should be.
It’s not always easy, but it’s good to give your full attention when possible. You can do this by silencing or putting away your phone, minimizing computer use, pausing notification sounds and reducing side chatter.
The more focused everyone can be, the more efficient the meeting can run.
Not everyone will have something profound to say for every meeting, but everyone can participate by being attentive, asking questions, taking notes, giving feedback, and adding valuable dialogue.
If a meeting has absolutely no value, relevance or significance to some prospective attendees, then don’t invite them. Same goes for yourself — if you truly know that a meeting will be an absolute waste of your time and it’s not mandatory for you to attend, then don’t.
Remember, meetings should be a good thing. But they turn bad when they don’t add value.
The next time you decide to schedule a meeting, think first — could this be sent in an email, a Slack message or could it wait for a conversation in passing? Is it necessary and is it helpful? Has enough planning been done? Am I meeting for appearances or is this actually going to be a meaningful exchange?
Let’s make an effort to do better in our meetings—and for goodness sake — only meet when we actually need to.