Meetings – how to save time, money and stay sane

Meetings - how to save time, money and stay same - with a picture of frogs climbing over each other

Does your time in meetings feel like your life is being drained away? Do you feel they are killing your organisation’s productivity? If so you’re not alone…

“Office workers spend an average of 4 hours per week in meetings. They feel more than half of that time is wasted.” (source: Opinion Matters, for Epson and the Centre for Economics & Business Research)

“One weekly meeting in a large company had a ripple effect of 300,000 person hours a year being spent to support this meeting”.

“In decision making and psychology, decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making. It is now understood as one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making.”

Here’s a list of top tips to have better meetings.

1. Have a purpose

It sounds obvious, but if a meeting is required, there needs to an expected output at the other end.

  • It should be possible to identify the problems that need to be solved or any decisions made.
  • There should be follow-on actions for teams or individuals to implement by the end of the meeting.

It should be easy to define the purpose of the meeting up front. This should be included in any meeting invitations.

Invitees shouldn’t be left wondering “why have I been invited to this meeting?” “Why is this more important than the work I have currently planned?”.

By calling a meeting you are asking people to give up their plans to help with yours.

By being clear about the meeting’s purpose and content up front and sticking to it during the meeting, it will minimise the risk of meandering discussions that can take things off course.

By the end of the meeting, attendees should leave with concrete next steps of tasks that are actionable.

What about meetings to give status updates?

Meetings that are just for progress updates are a costly use of people’s time and should be approached with caution. Consider giving updates through other methods such as Pocketbook or even email where appropriate.

Summary: In any meeting, state the purpose from the outset in the invitation and any necessary paperwork so all attendees are clear on why they are there and to keep the meeting focused.
Attendees should leave being clear on any next steps or tasks.

2. Think about agenda’s differently

Turn a list of agenda items into questions. That way the purpose of every agenda item is clear and the attendees know what decisions need to be made.

Here are some examples of how agenda items may usually be written and a better way to write them:

  • The way you would have normally written it: “New client proposition”
  • Better: “Does the board agree that should enter into business with this company?”
  • The way you would have normally written it: ”Data Quality issues”
  • Better: “Who is going to take the lead to resolving the data quality issues and what actions will they take away?”
  • The way you would have normally written it: “Risks and issues”
  • Better: “Do any risks or issues need to be added, updated or closed?”

By following this approach each agenda item seeks an answer or decision and again, keeps the meeting focused. Everyone knows why they are there, how they contribute and what decisions need making.

Summary: Make your agenda items questions, that way you focus on the decisions that need to be made.

3. Stick to time

How many meetings have you been in that run on an on? Some organisations ban all meetings longer than 20 minutes. I have seen the successful implementation of time management techniques to meetings that can help keep the meeting to time.

The best way I have found is to use something called a Time Timer. This is a visual representation of remaining time. You allocate a set amount of time to each agenda item (e.g. 5 minutes) and then time timer begins its visual countdown.

This is effective as it keeps people focused on the item being discussed. The key is when the timer runs out and the alarm goes off you move onto the next item, whether a conclusion was reached or not.

Any conclusions that weren’t reached are either saved for any free time at the end (which you shouldn’t have if everything goes to time), deferred for another meeting or to be discussed virtually or people’s own time (more on this later).

I’ve used the time timer APP on an iPad, as the branded clocks themselves are quite expensive, but there are free alternatives. If you are in a room with a screen or a large tablet you can get a similar result using a free Google timer set to full screen.

Start and finish on time. If people are late, don’t wait for them. Also when they arrive late, don’t make everyone else have to listen to a summary of what they missed. If the agenda isn’t finished, finish on time anyway. It’s important to respect people’s time and the meeting chair is in control of the time allowed.

Try to keep meetings to no longer than 30 minutes, even better 10 or 20 minutes, certainly no longer than an hour if at all possible.

Summary: Start and finish on time. Apply strict time windows to each agenda item using a timer. If you’ve not reached an agreement, move on to keep things focussed.

4. Limit attendees

Google cap meetings to no more than 10 people. Amazon employs a “two-pizza rule” (Never have a meeting where two pizzas couldn’t feed the entire group).

By only inviting essential attendees it helps keeps things on track and focused. It also doesn’t waste other people’s time.

There is also a risk that the more people in the group, the less committed people will feel during the meeting and they are less likely to be engaged or contribute. This is known as Social Loafing

Summary: Keep attendees to a minimum whenever possible, ideally no more than 10 people

5. Keep your documentation in one place

How many emails have you received with documents for a meeting in advance, but then new versions are emailed out a few days later. You then get last minute documents sent through as well. You end up with documents stored across a variety of emails and you don’t know which is which.

One tip is to add the documents to the event entry in your calendar (if they weren’t sent out in that way in the first place).

On Outlook, to do this you can open the calendar event and the email side by side. Simply drag the document icons from the email into the big white box at the bottom of the event window. Then click on save and close.

If you get any replacement documents you can delete the old version and replace it with the new one.

Even better though is to store the documents elsewhere such as an intranet, a team wiki or other collaborative solution.

Team members can then access the documents and know that those are the single versions of the truth.

By storing them centrally you can access previous minutes of meetings if you need to refer to them, without having to trawl through emails.

Summary: Store your documents electronically in one place. Either in the calendar entry for a meeting or even better in a dedicated central document store such as an intranet or team wiki.

6. Try to have stand up meetings

Stand up meetings are around 34% shorter than sit down meetings.

Stand up meetings can help keep things focussed as people won’t want to be standing for too long, but they also have health benefits by getting you up on your feet. Even better, if there is only a very small number of you involved why not go for a walk instead?

Summary: Get off your feet. Stand up meetings tend to be 34% shorter than sit down meetings.

7. Quickfire tips for good meeting etiquette

  • Only one person speaking at a time
  • Avoid checking your emails during the meeting. If you need to do this, should you be there in the first place? “73 percent of professionals admit to doing unrelated work in meetings” (source: Wolf Management Consultants)
  • If you need to take or make calls, let the meeting chair know in advance and step outside to make them
  • Allow everyone to have an input. The meeting chair can ensure quieter people get a chance to speak.
  • Stay focused on the agenda. The meeting leader can challenge people who wander off course and defer those discussions to a team room or future meeting.
  • Bring solutions, not problems to meetings. If you can bring proposed solutions this helps the meeting be more productive and protects valuable communications time.

There you go, meetings don’t have to be that bad after all. 🙂


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