Approximately 50% of meeting time is wasted. Here’s how you can stop wasting your and other people’s time.
1. Define the type of meeting
What type of meeting is your meeting?
- Status update — goal is to provide visibility into the status of a project
- Information sharing — goal is to share knowledge
- Decision — goal is to make a decision
- Working session — goal is to brainstorm and share ideas or solve problems
- Team planning/building — goal is to ensure team is performing
The type of meeting drives the agenda. Make it crystal clear what the objective of the meeting is, and what you need from the people you are asking time from.
2. Confirm that an email is not sufficient
Think long and hard about whether or not an email would suffice. A well structured email with clear asks to the right people can replace most meetings — especially status updates and information sharing.
Scheduling a meeting is asking people to stop what they are doing and pay attention to something else. Respect their time.
If you’re not sure, send the email. If people don’t respond or are confused / not aligned, try to understand why. Maybe they did not read it or don’t have the time, in which case remind them. All else fails, set up the meeting.
3. Come prepared and help others
Every second you spend preparing for the meeting has 100x value during the meeting. It will also help show you are a smart and trustworthy individual. Who doesn’t want that?
- You have thought deeply about the topic. You have your own thoughts, ideas, conclusions, arguments, frameworks, whatever. You don’t use this meeting to block time to figure out it out — that is taxing to everyone else.
- You have written down your thoughts in a structured and clear manner. Material depends on the type of meeting. If it is a status update — share a quick summary (maybe that might prevent the need to even meet!). If it is a working session, share a framework for how you plan on brainstorming. If it is a decision, share your opinions and the arguments/data to back them up.
- You start the meeting on time. You lead by example by being there early and ready to go. You remind people who are late that they are late.
Helping others means:
- You only invite people that you need to be there (and make it clear they are mandatory). Anyone that you think might want to be there but don’t actually need to be there, don’t invite them — tell them offline that you will share notes. Attending a meeting has nothing to do with status and does not get you promoted. Reducing the number of people is a great way to reduce the number of meetings people have.
- You covered the logistics: meeting name, agenda in the invite, attendees are free at that time, email sent beforehand w/ material and objectives, dial in is clear and remote-friendly, room booked is appropriate. Time booked is appropriate — you usually don’t need an hour if you are prepared.
- You shared your thoughts in advance of the meeting (at least a day before) to everyone invited. Ask them to come ready if they can. This will speed up the meeting.
- You had discussions 1–1 with key stakeholders as to what will be covered in the meeting if a key decision is being made to get their buy in or opinion. This increases your chances of success.
4. Stick to the plan
Kick off the meeting reminding everyone of the objective so folks are clear. Break down the components to meet the objective and go through them one by one — structure helps focus.
People love talking. But a meeting is not the time to talk about sports or share your thoughts on a different topic, or repeat what someone else said. That is not cool, it is wasting time. Tips:
- If the topic gets side tracked, call it out: “this is an important topic but does not relate to this meeting’s objective / we are not ready to discuss this”, write the new topic on a post-it, and put it on the wall — that is the wall of topics could be discussed offline.
- Actively listen. If someone talks over someone else and ignores what they said, call them out: “I want to go back to what x said and ensure everyone agrees” etc.
- If someone is speaking more than others, ask that person to give everyone a chance to speak. Call on folks that are more quiet — introverts are people too.
- If someone is multi tasking and not paying attention, call on them “what do you think”? Either they don’t care or they don’t matter to the objective. Take note, follow up with them offline, and ask them if you should avoid inviting them going forward.
If the right people are not in the room, stop the meeting and reschedule. Otherwise, set sail! You will be surprise how effective a meeting can be when folks are focused and prepared. This helps high velocity decision making which is a strength for any business.
5. Take notes and names
Ensure someone is taking notes in the meeting. If no one is, you are. Meeting notes are essential in having a paper trail of what was discussed, decided, and what are the next steps. Notes can be easily pointed to when disagreements arise or someone wants to understand why a decision was made.
Don’t write an essay or who said what. Stick to the highlights: what was concluded and what were the agreed next steps.
Recap at the end of the meeting and ensure everyone has the same take aways. Every action item should have name and a preliminary timeline. If everyone took the last minutes of a meeting to synthesize their own take, jot down their action items and other things of note, the outcome would be more thoughtful, deliberate and intelligent.
Send out the notes to everyone so they also have a record. Follow up on the thread if people are not delivering on their promises. Celebrate them if they are!
Leave enough time at the end to recap on accomplishments and next steps. Give people enough time to transition to the next meeting (hopefully not).
6. Decline meetings that don’t have this
If you are invited to a meeting that ignores these concepts, decline and send the organizer this article.
Take back your time. Being busy does not mean you are productive. Uninterrupted time is critical to deep, meaningful work.
Walk out of meetings during which you are not adding or getting value. As Elon puts it: “It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time”
Recurring meetings are the worst — replace them with ad hoc meetings that are scheduled on a as-needed basis. This is especially true with 1–1s.
It is easy to put a recurring meeting on the calendar and hard to remove it. People don’t like hurting other people’s feelings by telling them they don’t get any value from the meeting. Help them understand there are other solutions:
- Improve offline communication — many meetings exist because people want to be kept in the loop. Solve for this by having structured status updates offline to relevant people. Hold them accountable for reading it. Point them to it if they feel excluded. Welcome input.
- Shorter, smaller meetings — many meetings exist because they made sense when they were first scheduled, but may not make sense any more. Cut the invite list, reduce the frequency or time, ask to be removed if you are not adding value.
- Collaboration tools — many meetings exist because people need to work together. Quip does a good job centralizing notes, documents and action items. Tools like Slack if used responsibly for quick responses, can be a great way to avoid a meeting. Silence these messages if you want to be focused. Use email if the request is involved.
Managing a meeting is an art form, and it done right can add tremendous value. You have to be inclusive of everyone’s opinion, ensure the meeting stays on track, that the objective of the meeting is met, and that you don’t come off as a a-hole. If it was easy, we wouldn’t have so many terrible meetings. Practice. Give and ask for feedback.
The more productive you are, the more time you will have to do work. Or better yet, get out of work!