Have you ever heard anyone complain a meeting was too short? (Neither have I.) Ever been frustrated at a meeting by rambling chitchat chewing up time while work remains undone… or by stragglers routinely wandering in 10 minutes late? In the spirit of brevity and productivity, here are 5 simple steps for more efficient, effective meetings.
1) Spend twice as much time on the agenda as you normally would. One problem commonly afflicting meetings is unclear objectives. If you’re not exactly sure what you’re trying to accomplish, you can be sure it won’t happen quickly. As meeting organizer, it’s your responsibility to have clarity about objectives. Consult with another team member if you need to; a little extra time at the front end will save more time at the back end.
2) Spend twice as much time on the attendee list as you normally would. Ask yourself, carefully: Do all of these people really need to attend? Or could some of them just receive a brief email summary or quick call afterward? If you can reduce a half-hour meeting list by, say, four people whose presence isn’t essential, that’s two hours of productive time effortlessly returned to the company.
3) Schedule the meeting for the half the time you originally intended to. Meetings are like accordions – they stretch naturally to fill the allotted space. If you schedule a meeting for an hour, you’ll probably take the whole time, even if a fair amount consists of amiable, random off-topic conversation. In all likelihood if you schedule that same meeting for 30 minutes, you’ll do what you need to in the tighter time period. When I was in the corporate world I routinely halved meeting times and was seldom disappointed. Try two-hour meetings at one hour, one hour meetings at 30 minutes, and 30 minute meetings at 15. My strong suspicion is they’ll work out fine.
4) Don’t start 1 second late. Way too much time is wasted on late arrivals. It used to make me crazy that certain people would be habitually late, thus regularly wasting some 5 to 10 minutes for the entire group – and penalizing the punctual. The simple solution? Don’t wait for latecomers. Start the insant you’re scheduled to. Soon enough people will get the idea… no one likes to be embarrassed by straggling in during the middle of a cogent discussion. Do this a few times and you’ll develop a reputation for promptness. I knew numerous (though not enough) managers who had super-punctual reputations and they were respected for it.
5) Consider – if it’s appropriate for your business needs – holding a stand-up meeting. There’s actually intriguing research showing that stand-up meetings can be more efficient. In one study, groups that were standing took roughly one-third less time to make decisions than those who were seated… with no loss in the quality of decisions. For logistical reasons, stand-up meetings aren’t always practical, but they’re worth considering.
A final thought – and this analysis should always precede point 1) is to ask yourself: Do we really need a meeting at all? Might there be other ways – a few phone calls, a couple of informal personal conversations, a memo to the team, perhaps, that could achieve the same results as a meeting? There are plenty of times of course that you do need a full-on meeting, but it never hurts to impose the discipline of asking that question.
I recognize that some of these suggestions – optimizing agendas and attendee lists – do require the meeting organizer to spend added time on the front end, but I’m confident the organizational math is sound:
Time saved in a meeting = productive time returned to the company… and a little more time spent by one at the front end is preferable to a lot more time spent by many at the back end.
This article first appeared at Forbes.com.