Smart ways to cut down on meetings

Meetings are a necessary part of office life. They can help your team reach an important decision, or build consensus on a critical issue. Meetings may also be helpful when you just need to talk things through as a group.

However, meetings can also be time killers. Here are some smart ways to reduce the amount of time you spend in meetings.

Create an agenda… and stick to it

Every so often, you just need a good brainstorming session. If it’s not one of those times, have a solid agenda for your meeting. Circulate it at least a couple of days ahead of time, and encourage people to ask questions or suggest changes as soon as they get the agenda. Don’t save these things for the meeting, or you won’t stay on track.

What should go into your agenda? A list of what topics you plan to discuss, who will be leading each discussion and how much time will be spent on each topic. It’s pretty simple. The bigger challenge is often sticking to the agenda once the meeting has started.

Of course, you’ll want enough time in your agenda for relevant questions and discussion. But if a discussion starts to veer off topic, it should be moved out of the meeting and discussed at another time. As the meeting organizer, it’s up to you to enforce this.

Also, make sure you start your meeting on time. There is no bigger time killer than spending 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning of a meeting waiting for all the key players to arrive. Start on time and stick to your agenda, and you’ll be more likely to end your meeting on time, too.

Invite fewer people

Does it ever feel like you’re having a meeting just because everyone wants a say on a certain decision that needs to be made? Even when that decision isn’t particularly relevant to their role. It happens to all of us.

You’ll cut your meeting time down significantly by inviting only the people who really need to be there. Others may be interested in what’s being discussed, and that’s great! We all want an engaged workforce. After the meeting, send those people a summary of what was discussed and what decisions were made, and let them know you’re happy to have their input.

Other times, you’ll find the opposite is happening. Somebody has a big decision to make and doesn’t really feel comfortable doing it without everyone else’s input. Most issues aren’t this critical. When each employee’s role is clearly defined, and they feel empowered to make important decisions within that role, you may find you need far fewer meetings.

In other words, don’t use meetings as an exercise in hand-holding or passing the decision-making buck to the next person. If it seems like this is what’s happening, try a quick phone call or one-on-one chat instead.

Try standing

Don’t hate us for this one, but a 1999 study from the University of Missouri showed that meetings are 34% shorter if you’re standing up (source). True, it’s a 15-year-old study, but we have a feeling the results still stand today (see what we did there?).

Try taking away the chairs during your next meeting. Allow us to state the obvious and say that standing is harder than sitting. People will be less likely to veer off-topic during a standing meeting, because they’ll really want to get back to their desks.

You might want to make an exception for the person responsible for taking notes during the meeting. And you’ll definitely want to make an exception for anyone who can’t stand for 30 minutes. But try this one out, at least once, and let us know how it goes.

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