5 Tips to Stop Wasting Time in Meetings

5 Tips to Stop Wasting Time in Meetings

Do you spend more time than you would like to in meetings? If yes, then read this.

I’ve been to so many companies and spoken to so many people who have too many meetings. People not only complain that they spend too much time in meetings, they also complain that the meetings are a waste of time as they rarely achieve anything, and the discussions easily go off track.

But most problems with meetings can be easily avoided if we just follow these 5 tips:

1. Pushback on Purpose

When you receive a meeting invitation, what do you normally do? Do you just click “Accept” and then curse the gods for giving you another meeting? It doesn’t have to be this way.

If you want to spend less time in meetings, then start by pushing back on the purpose.

Check if the invitation says what the purpose of the meeting is. Does it say what the objective is, why you are having this meeting, and what the desired output is? If not, then you have every right to push back.

Respond to the invitation by simply saying; “Please can you clarify what the purpose is?”. If they can’t do that, then you have every right to say, “It’s not necessary for me to attend this meeting”. And if they can explain the purpose, then that’s great because it means the meeting has a much lower chance of wasting your time.

I’ve also seen countless examples of meetings where most individuals didn’t have to be there. Even if there is a clear purpose for the meeting, it’s also important to clarify if the purpose is relevant to your job. Are you actually able to contribute to the meeting? Or are people just inviting you because they think it might be useful? If your job is not directly relevant to the purpose of the meeting, then you don’t need to be there.

2. Check the Necessity

A lot of the time we hold meetings to brainstorm and make decisions. It’s quite easy to assume that if we want to brainstorm and make decisions then we need to all be together in the same room. But actually, we don’t, because we live in the 21st century.

In the 21st century, it is (unfortunately) perfectly normal for families to sit together at the dining table and not talk to each other whilst they each send messages to strangers on their mobile phones. If families can do that at the dining table, then why can’t colleagues hold meetings by messaging each other using their phones?

I once worked with a group who had a lot of trouble making decisions. They were always going on business trips or customer meetings, so that meant they hardly ever had a chance to meet together, so they kept waiting and waiting to make decisions.

When I heard about their problem, I asked them a simple question; “Have you ever heard of the internet?”. After more discussion, they eventually found a way of making these decisions using technology instead. This meant they made decisions much faster, and also meant they spent less time in meetings!

So always challenge if this needs to be a meeting. It doesn’t even need to be a phone call. The objective of this meeting might just as easily be achieved by sending messages to each other.

3. Have a Decision-Making Process

Another challenge the group above had was that they had no process for making decisions. They would just get together, discuss, and keep discussing until they all had reached an agreement. Whilst that can work, it’s not always the best way of making a decision.

Generally, when groups make decisions, they need to go through several steps:

Propose: Someone should propose the decision to be made.

Input: Ideas, opinions and expertise should be shared on what the right decision should be.

Decide: Either one person, or a group, should make the final decision based on certain criteria and justify their decision.

Act: Once the decision has been made, it needs to be acted on. Actions should be delegated to the right people.

These steps are quite straightforward but working as a team to clarify them can save a lot of time. And with regards the ‘Decide’ step, if time is limited it is sometimes better to have one individual make the final decision, because waiting for everyone to agree can sometimes take too long.

4. Change Agenda Topics to Questions

Tom wants to call a meeting to discuss the topic of “Choosing a New Vendor”. That’s the title of the meeting, the purpose of the meeting and the meeting agenda right there all in those 4 short words.

Tom’s meeting is not going to be very effective. It’s going to be hard to focus, the discussion is going to go off in all sorts of angles, and ultimately, it’s going to be a waste of time.

A very simple thing Tom can do to make the meeting more effective is to split it into a list of questions that need to be discussed, and allocate a time limit to each question, like in the example below:

Meeting Purpose – Choose a New Vendor

Agenda:

1. What are our expectations of the new vendor? – 30 Minutes

2. What are the decision-making criteria? – 20 Minutes

3. Which vendors meet the criteria? – 10 Minutes

4. Which one of the remaining vendors is our best choice? – 15 Minutes

This way, everyone will find it much easier to stay on the same page, achieve the objective and finish the meeting on time.

One particular advantage of using questions instead of titles is that they focus our attention a lot more. For example, compare these two:

Choose Best Vendors Vs Which vendors meet the decision-making criteria?

If you got a group to discuss “Choose Best Vendors”, you would have lots of people with lots of different ideas. But if instead they discussed “Which vendors meet the decision-making criteria?” then they would all be focused on evaluating which vendors meet those specific criteria. The advantage of using questions is that they make it easier for everyone to focus on exactly the same thing.

5. Track Time

I have a really useful app on my MacBook called Alinof Timer Pro. It’s a countdown clock that I can put on full screen and then show on a big screen using a projector. I use it a lot during my trainings whenever I run a group discussion.

The advantage of it is that I don’t need to remind people of the time limit, they can all see for themselves. Another advantage is that each group works at the same pace, and I avoid having some groups finishing earlier than others, they normally finish at the same time.

But probably the biggest advantage is that discussions rarely go over time when I do this. This is because of something called “Parkinson’s Principle” which means that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. In other words, if I give you 10 minutes to make a decision, you’ll probably use the full 10 minutes. And if I give you 30 minutes, then you’ll probably use 30 minutes! But if I give you no time limit, then you’ll probably take even longer!

So, a simple way of saving times in meetings is to track the time. Either assign a time keeper who reminds people of the time at 5-10-minute intervals or get a timer and put it where everyone can see. This way, people are much more likely to finish the meeting on time!

Summary

Did you know that the average human being spends 77% of their lives in meetings? Well, actually that’s not true. But it could be true for you if you’re not careful! So, make sure you do the following:

1. Pushback on Purpose

2. Check the Necessity

3. Have a Decision-Making Process

4. Change Agenda Topics to Questions

5. Track Time

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