How to Refresh Your Meetings So They're Insanely Productive

Modern techniques can refresh your meetings to make them insanely effective.

Modern techniques can refresh your meetings to make them insanely effective.

Do you feel like you’re rushing from meeting to meeting throughout the day spending hours discussing projects and reviewing performance instead of actually doing work? Are those hours slipping by without anything important being shared?

If so, then you need a meeting purge.

Meetings can weigh down a department and even an entire company if they’re not monitored correctly and constantly improved. Keep reading if your meetings are getting out of hand and slowing production.

Why Should Your Team Reduce Meetings In the First Place?

The team at Lucid Meetings pulled some numbers to understand the extent of our meeting addiction in the workplace:

  • On average, there are between 39 and 56 million meetings held each day across America.

  • This means there’s an average of eight meetings per day for workers and 12 for managers.

  • In totality, the American workforce spends an average of $1.4 trillion annually on meetings, and up to $213 billion of that is wasted.

If your team is addicted to meetings, then you could be contributing to these statistics and reducing your company’s revenue.

Meetings in and of themselves aren’t bad. In fact, most people have a handful of essential meetings every week that they would never miss. However, when meetings are abused, they can become a burden. For example, AJ Agrawal explains exactly why meetings need to be removed from the workplace, or at least the time spent in them drastically reduced:

  • Meetings take time away from actual work and productivity.

  • The benefits of meetings rarely outweigh the cost of lost time.

  • Meetings can often be replaced with individual dialogues or emails.

Fortunately, you don’t have to completely drop all meetings within your company. You can start by following a few of these steps to reduce the number of meetings scheduled and improve the ones you still have to attend.

Reduce the Number of Meetings You Have

The first step is to remove the overall number of meetings you attend. Once you trim the fat, you can focus your improvement efforts on the essential meetings throughout the week.

Cancel Meetings for the Sake of Meetings

It’s common to set up regular team update meetings within a project or group to answer questions and address issues. However, many of these check-ins could be eliminated if the problems were addressed via email or within your project management tools.

“We often make meetings habitual: the weekly project check-in, the monthly mandated,” Dana Manciagli says. “Yet many of these less-than-productive meetings could be canceled or shortened if we identified the problem the meeting is intended to solve. And if we can’t find an identifiable problem, then don’t have the meeting.”

If you insist on keeping the meeting, consider changing the format. For example, that weekly project check-in can be a quick 10-minute standup instead of an hour long review.

Schedule Work Blocks in Your Calendar

Craig Jarrow, known as the Time Management Ninja, encourages people to schedule blocks in their day specifically for productivity. Whatever communication or productivity tools you use, set yourself as away or busy and focus on your work. These blocks don’t have to be long -- you can limit them to an hour or two per day -- but they should hold the same weight as meetings. This way work time won’t get canceled or lost because meetings take over your day.  

Practice the Five-Word Rule

The team at Blrt recently shared the five-word rule created by Christopher Frank, VP at American Express. Ask attendees to explain the problem that you’re meeting about in five words or less.

“If the answers are inconsistent or too long, your attendees are probably not focused on the same problem,” they write. “This tactic also prevents people rambling, being overly subjective, and forces them to think hard about the issues at hand.”

You may want to break the meeting up to focus on one problem at a time or cancel it entirely if attendees use it as a catch-all for their issues.

Conduct Weekly Meeting Purges

You won’t be able to completely revolutionize how your team conducts meetings overnight, but you can take necessary steps to reduce the number of weekly meetings. Marta Turek suggests reviewing your meeting invitations at the start of each week to see which ones are important and which ones can get cut.

“If there's any doubt in your mind as to the purpose of a meeting, speak to the organizer and determine whether your attendance is required,” she writes.

This process can open up a few hours in your calendar each week. Eventually, you will be removed from unimportant recurring meetings and won’t have to purge them every Monday.

Limit Who Gets Invited

Brian Scudamore, CEO of O2E Brands, says he scrutinizes every meeting invite to make sure his presence there is essential. Employees often add unnecessary team members in order to keep other departments looped in or seek input from higher-ups. Not only does this clog your meeting when unnecessary people add their opinions, it also adds more meetings to everyone’s calendars.

To solve this, Scudamore recommends following Amazon’s “two pizza,” rule, where the meeting must be small enough to feed everyone invited with two pizzas.

Offer Alternatives to the Meeting

If you get pushback in your effort to reduce meetings in your company, Blake Thorne suggests looking for alternative options that still meet your team members’ objectives without taking up so much time. Examples of this include:

  • Holding the meeting virtually through Skype, Slack, or other chatbox options.

  • Holding the meeting for 10 minutes at the end of another meeting, so attendees only have to step away from their work once.

  • Reducing the frequency of the meeting from weekly to bi-monthly or even monthly.

This way the meeting still remains, but is changed to reduce the time requirement and effort by attendees.  

Turn Your Meetings Into Standups

One of the best ways to shorten your meetings is to turn them into standups. When individuals feel like the meeting time is limited, they will try to maximize productivity and cover everything quickly before the group breaks up. The team at Propoint writes that standups are able to reduce meeting times by 34 percent.

There’s nothing like the added pressure of blocking others in the hallway or feeling like a key stakeholder will walk away at any minute to make you get to the point and solve problems quickly.

Make Meetings More Productive

No sitting please. Standing meetings reduce overall meeting times by 34%.

No sitting please. Standing meetings reduce overall meeting times by 34%.

Once you have removed unnecessary meetings, attendees, and blocks of time, you can start to do more with the time you have. The next step of your meeting purge is improving productivity and making your coworkers respect the time they have.    

Start Your Meetings On Time

Craig Cincotta insists that the strict time rules should be followed throughout the company or else everyone is throwing away time and money.

This tip might seem simple, but it can actually have a massive impact on your business. If you start your first meeting of the day 10 minutes late, then you’re likely to extend it by 10 minutes to cover the whole agenda. Every meeting you or the other attendees have for the rest of the day is likely to be behind, further limiting your work time and frustrating team members.

Chronic lateness can be particularly insulting to clients who feel like you’re not making them a priority.

Avoid Calling Meetings At Unproductive Times

Studies show that meetings scheduled right before lunch (or during lunch without providing food) are less productive. Not only are your employees distracted by the idea of food, they’re likely not as sharp because of their need for a break and refueling.

In an article for CIO, Jennifer Schiff also discourages people from calling meetings early in the day or late in the afternoon when employees want to leave. She says the best time for meetings is between 9-11 a.m. or 2-4 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday.

If your company sets meeting guidelines that limit meeting hours to these times, you can increase productivity while reducing the number of meetings held each day.

Assign a Meeting Facilitator

Every meeting should have a facilitator to direct the meeting and keep everyone focused, Laura Stack says in her book, Doing the Right Things Right. The facilitator might be the senior member attending or a manager who called the meeting. This person has a few key responsibilities, which is why they need to remain objective. These include:

  • Keeping the discussion on the topic.

  • Soliciting opinions from quieter attendees.

  • Preventing a few people from dominating the meeting

Not only can a facilitator keep the peace when egos and personalities clash, they can also prevent side meetings when quieter employees voice their opinions away from the crowd.

Break Your Meeting Into Smaller Sections

There’s a reason most TED talks only last about 15 minutes: Our brains aren’t wired to pay attention to one subject for much longer than that. If you’re in a lengthy review meeting, try to break it up into multiple sections. In an article for Inc, Rohini Venkatraman encourages meeting leaders to let attendees ask questions after each section to mentally stretch their muscles. Then, every two to three sections, attendees should get up and stretch their physical muscles.

If possible, try to make the format of each section different so there’s a strong change from one presentation or discussion to the next.

Create No-Laptop Zones

Leave your gear behind to be more productive.

Leave your gear behind to be more productive.

In an article for AdWeek, Rick Peterson encourages meeting leaders to ban laptops and smartphones in exchange for pen and paper.

“Computers may be productivity tools, but they can cause the death of effective brainstorms—once people hide behind their screens, their ideas disappear and their minds head to other subjects,” he writes.

All it takes is one employee checking their email or logging into Facebook during the presentation to lose the room. By sticking to pen and paper, employees have to focus on the topic at hand and engage with each other, not technology.

Actively Listen to Your Team

What is the point of calling a meeting or inviting people to your meeting if you’re not going to listen to them? Mark Babbitt believes one of the biggest problems facing meeting organizers is a lack of listening skills. They’re too busy talking and sharing their own opinions to care about the thoughts of other people.

“Nothing is more demotivating — or disengages faster — than team members who feel they have no voice,” Babbitt writes.

If you’re planning to give a monologue the entire meeting, then put it in an email. Or at the very least schedule a conference call where attendees can multitask when you’re talking.  

Use the Last 5-10 Minutes to Assign Tasks

The team at GAIN encourages meeting facilitators to use the last 5-10 minutes of every meeting to assign tasks. Everyone should walk away with their assignments moving forward and a clear idea for their goals.

The facilitator can also send a recap of the meeting, including what was covered, what tasks were assigned, and what problems were solved after to ensure everyone actually remembers what the meeting was about.  

Meetings are likely to always be a part of your workday. By following these steps, you can reduce the number of unnecessary gatherings and get the most out of the ones you have.

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