How to Cut Down on Useless Meetings

By Liza Mock on Aug 30, 2016 in Tips and Tricks

The case for fewer meetings
Do you ever feel like you spend more time sitting in meetings than actually working? According to a recent Atlassian study, the average employee attends 62 hour-long meetings every month and considers half of them to be a waste of time. That’s an incredible 31 hours every month — nearly an entire workweek — wasted in unproductive meetings!

How Meetings Kill Your Productivity

Think an entire week out of every month is bad? Think about this — meetings aren’t just the time you spend sitting at the table. They’re also the time you spend scheduling meetings, preparing for them, and following up with the other attendees afterwards. That’s many additional hours. If the meeting isn’t absolutely necessary, that’s a HUGE waste of time.

What can you do? For starters, think long and hard before saying ‘yes’ to the next invitation that hits your inbox.

How to Tell if a Meeting Is Productive

Take the first step to taking back your workweek by looking at your calendar and determining the average number of hours you’re spending in meetings per week. Now allow us to jump in and help you determine how to get some of that time back. The goal here is not to eliminate all meetings from your life, but to keep the useful ones, while mercilessly axing the meetings that suck time with little return.

How do you identify the least productive meetings? Consider the questions below. If your meetings don’t satisfy these key productivity requirements, it’s time for them to go!

Is There a Clear Agenda?

If a meeting has no clear agenda, axe it and take your hour back! Too many teams get into the habit of meeting every week, even if there’s nothing new to discuss. Don’t fall into this trap. Oftentimes, politely asking the organizer if they feel you need to meet this week is enough to get them to give everyone their hour back.

Does the Agenda Define Desired Outcomes?

Having an agenda is a good sign that a meeting isn’t going to be a total waste of time, but it’s not enough. A productive meeting has an actionable agenda, which defines the desired outcomes from the meeting. For example, an agenda that states “define the process and set goals for A/B testing the ad copy” is a sign of a productive meeting, whereas “discuss ad copy ” sets up a situation where people can talk for a long time without coming to any conclusions. If you feel like you can’t skip this kind of meeting, you can steer it in the right direction by making sure there are actionable items at the end.

Do You Really Need to Be in This Meeting?

Let’s admit it, part of us feels flattered when we get invited to a meeting. There’s a sense of importance, purpose and a feeling of being needed, even if it lasts a millisecond. There’s also a part of us that’s scared that if we say no too many times we’ll stop getting invited and will be out of the loop (maybe even forgotten). But vanity aside, you don’t get recognition for going to meetings; you get recognition for getting things done. Therefore, another important question to ask is “do I really need to be in this meeting?” Let’s break it down further:

Is Your Whole Team There?

Is your entire team in a meeting that doesn’t directly impact the team? If so, maybe you can select one team representative who can fill everyone else in later.

Is the Whole World There?

Is EVERYONE invited to this meeting because the organizer didn’t want to accidentally forget someone important? If so, oftentimes you know best whether the topic truly concerns you or not and can safely elect not to go.

Would a Quick, Casual Conversation Suffice?

Is there an hour meeting scheduled to discuss something that would take 10 minutes of casual conversation or a quick email to determine? If so, send the email! Walk over to the person and talk to them! We often forget that simple, human interaction is an option and can be a quick alternative to setting up a formal meeting.

Cut Down on Meetings Guilt-Free

Saying no is tough for many reasons, but it’s a vital skill for thriving in the modern workplace. To lessen your guilt while saving your valuable work time, consider setting some ground rules:

Set Aside Time Each Day for Work

When is your most productive time of day? Morning? Late afternoon? Right after lunch? Set aside a couple of your most productive hours each day for uninterrupted work. Add them to your calendar so no one books you. Consider this your most important meeting of the day and avoid making exceptions.

Have a No-Meeting Day

Some companies have one or more days a week when nobody is allowed to schedule a meeting. At Gliffy, we set aside Mondays and Fridays to work from home and try to keep them meeting-free. These always end up being the two most productive days of everyone’s week.

If this is something your company doesn’t do, try starting a grass roots movement by speaking to the people you meet with the most directly and seeing if you can’t get them to agree. Remember, what you’re fighting for is beneficial to all. Having time to get work done at work shouldn’t be a privilege.

Avoid 30-Minute Gaps Between Meetings

Have you ever tried to work in 30-minute intervals between meetings? Chances are that by the time you’ve finally gotten back into the groove, your meeting alarm has gone off and you need to stop what you’re doing. Studies have shown that “it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back to your task after a disruption” which makes 30-minute intervals pretty much useless. If you do have 30 minutes, do something that requires less concentration like planning your to-do list or catching up on email.

How to Be More Productive

There’s no way to avoid meetings altogether, but you can be more productive and efficient. Here are a few tips for how to have the most useful meetings possible:

Don’t Be Ruled by the Calendar

Don’t be afraid to cut a meeting short. If you’ve scheduled an hour, but are done in 35 minutes, give everyone their time back. In the same vein, just because the calendar breaks things down into 30-minute intervals, doesn’t mean you have no other choice. If you need more than 30 minutes, but less than an hour, be a rebel and schedule a 40-minute meeting! Who knows, you might just start a revolution.

Insist on Agendas

If you’re invited to a meeting that doesn’t have an agenda, ask the organizer to provide one. For your own meetings, provide clear, actionable agendas at least 24 hours in advance and make sure everyone has action items when the meeting is over.

Say No to Cellphones

Interruptions can make meetings take longer than they need to and break the concentration of attendees. Begin every meeting by asking everyone to turn off their cellphones, so there’s no chance of an unexpected call throwing off your schedule.

Invite Only the Necessary Few

A meeting is not a party. You’re not obliged to invite people simply because they’re your friends or because you’re afraid of making them feel left out. Make meetings more efficient by inviting only the people who absolutely need to be there. Let everyone else get on with their work. Trust us, they’ll thank you.

In Conclusion

In our screen-obsessed world, sitting down around a table with your coworkers and actually talking can be a very good thing. It can increase rapport and make you feel like a team, but like all good things, meetings are best in moderation.

Somewhere along the line, talking about work that needs doing rather than getting it done became an often-made-fun-of fact of modern office life. What we sometimes forget is that ultimately we have control over our day. It is possible to say no to a meeting. Only you know which meetings are absolutely necessary and which you can skip.

If the guilt ever becomes too much just remember, your boss will rarely (NEVER) pat you on the back at the end of the quarter and say “You’ve been an indispensable meeting-goer for us this quarter. Great job on coming one step closer to being promoted to Chief Meeting Officer!”