Ever feel like your day is one meeting followed by another? How many of those meetings were worth your time? What could you have been doing instead? One part of time management is awareness of how you spend precious minutes and hours each day. If you’re constantly in meetings, how will you have the time to get your work done?
Whether you’re the organizer or an attendee, try the tips below to improve your meetings and see how much more productive you feel:
- Run a 45-minute meeting. Who said that meetings have to be 60 minutes? You can do in 45 minutes what you’re doing in 60 minutes if you follow the suggestions below. Even if you didn’t create the meeting, you can still influence how long it lasts. Ask the meeting organizer if they’re open to trying something new—running a 45-minute meeting. Nobody ever says they want more meetings, rather they want them to be fewer, shorter and more effective.
- Use an agenda. Sometimes when we’re in a hurry, we forget to create an agenda. An agenda is a plan for how the meeting will be conducted and what will be discussed. It doesn’t have to be lengthy; 3 to 5 bullet points sent in advance will suffice. (A best practice is to put the bullets inside the meeting invitation.) If you don’t have an agenda, then how will you keep the meeting on track?
- Use the Parking Lot. Meetings get side-tracked when conversations run too long or people ask questions that take the meeting in an unhelpful direction. To keep your meetings on track, write “Parking Lot” on the top of a piece of flipchart or notebook paper. Every time something comes up that will sidetrack the meeting, say something like, “Bob, that’s an interesting question, but unfortunately we don’t have time to discuss it today. Let’s put it in the parking lot for now.” This technique will keep people focused on the agenda and keep things moving forward.
- Start (and end) on time. We burn about 10 minutes every meeting waiting for everyone to arrive. If you start on the hour and end 45 minutes later, then you’ll give people what they need—a small chunk of time between meetings to use the washroom, get a cup of coffee and get to their next meeting on time. You cannot end on time if you never start on time! Be consistent with this new behavior so you train people to arrive on time.
- Turn down meetings with no agenda. If there is no agenda, then how do you know what will be discussed and if it will apply to you? If you feel you cannot turn down a meeting, at least gently push back and ask the organizer for 3 to 5 bullets of what will be discussed. If they cannot provide some specific details, then the meeting probably isn’t worth attending.
- Send someone else. Do you have to attend? Or could one of your delegates or colleagues fill in for you? Try “meeting sharing,” i.e. you go one month and afterwards tell your colleagues the important points. Next month a different colleague attends and briefs everyone. If each person takes a turn, this will save a lot of time!
Meetings are useful to disseminate information, make decisions and get status updates. These days, however, they tend to be overused and not very effective. Try the tips above to make a difference in how you spend your day. When you have meetings under control, you’ll find that you have more time to complete your work!