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Are Meetings A Waste Of Time? Here’s What You Should Do Instead

May 9, 2021

It’s no secret that meetings have become an almost dreadful part of working life.

You see jokes about them on the internet. Employees complain about the wasted time that interrupts their day. One humorist wrote that “if you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’”

The bad reputation has only become more obvious with the rise of remote work. It’s hard enough to stay focused in person. It’s even harder when everyone’s a floating head, and Netflix is just a few clicks away.

But despite all the hate, we still have a ton of meetings. Like all the time. Recent research shows that executives spend nearly 23 hours a week in meetings.

Why is that?

It’s simple: they’re an absolute necessity, like going to the dentist or doing our taxes. You may not love it, but sometimes there’s no way around them.

So if we have to deal with meetings, why not make the most out of them?

We’ve got a few simple tricks to help you ensure your meetings aren’t a total waste of time.

Why Do We Need Meetings?

We can’t beat up too badly on meetings because every once in a while, they’re awesome.

We’ve all been in some (or at least one) meeting that went really well, where we felt a closer connection to our team or came up with some idea as a group that no one would have found on their own. Maybe you have spoken up about something and felt heard by your boss. Maybe she said those three magic words to you: “Great idea [insert your name here].”

Or maybe you’ve been that boss, and you got all excited when that one team member you’ve believed in brings up a game-changing idea.

If you’ve seen even a glimpse of a good meeting, you’ve seen how powerful they can be. The best ones foster collaboration and creativity. They bring people together and offer a sense of community.

The bad ones are the real problem.

What Makes Meetings So Unproductive?

Few things suck the energy out of a room like a bad meeting. If you’ve sat in a single good meeting, you’ve probably sat in 100 bad ones.

You know the ones. You look out and see your team hiding their phones under the desk like High School students, competing for who can find the perfect GIF to represent their boredom. Those are tough.

The frequency of unproductive meetings can trick us into thinking that all meetings are bad, but that’s not the case. Bad meetings have certain qualities that make them unproductive.

Too Much Basic Information

How many times have you heard or spoken the phrase: “that could have been an email”? That’s because. Most meetings dedicate a large portion of their time to simply informing, reviewing, or catching the staff up on something basic.

Excessive Brainstorming

While meetings do create opportunities to foster creativity, some meetings can go a bit too far by opening up to the floor. People start sharing ideas or experiences that stray away from the original agenda, and pretty soon, you’ve gone 20 minutes over and didn’t hit some of the key points, forcing you to, you guessed it, schedule another meeting.

Poor Agendas

Crafting a meeting agenda is an oft overlooked artform. It can’t be too packed, but it also can’t be too loose. You need to find the right balance to make sure everything can get accomplished in the allotted time.

Lack of Focus

Although meetings can foster a sense of community, it’s still important to keep excessive conversations to a minimum. A few minutes of “catching up” with everyone can quickly stretch into the majority of the meeting time and throw off the focus of the group.

Keep in mind that no one sets out to run an unproductive meeting. These pitfalls just sneak in and quickly derail any sense of getting something done. It’s the little things that make a big impact.

Luckily, the same is true for saving your meetings.

6 Meeting Rules to Increase Productivity (and Happiness!)

It doesn’t take an elite group of specialists to host a good meeting. It just requires implementing a few rules. We’ve found these 6 to be particularly helpful:

  1. No meeting Mondays

Everyone has a little bit of Garfield in them because we all hate Mondays. A lot of us love lasagna, too, but that’s really the point.

No matter how high your company’s morale is, no matter how much you get your employees to love their jobs, no matter how many times you stock the breakroom with their favorite snacks, a little part of them will always feel bummed when Monday comes around.

This doesn’t have to be a terrible thing, though. You can use this reality strategically. People aren’t likely to have their greatest ideas when they first walk in the door. They usually have to get up to speed for the week.

Giving your teams a break from meetings from Mondays can help them start off strong. Plus, when you do have meetings later in the week, you’ll have a team who is more engaged and ready to participate than they would be on a Monday.

  1. Evaluate weekly meeting productivity

Businesses regularly measure and evaluate various metrics. When something doesn’t work, they try to pinpoint the problem and solve it.

Why shouldn’t meetings be the same?

Company leaders can look back on their meetings and see what worked and what didn’t. Which meetings seemed to be the most productive? Which ones left something to be desired? To help stay on top of this, the people hosting the meeting can take detailed notes about what they did to set up for successful meetings.

  1. Require an agenda in calendar invite

Meetings work best when everyone has a clear idea of what will transpire beforehand. Think about how many hours have been wasted where the meeting host spends a few minutes at the top laying out the expectations and plan of the meeting.

Why not give that information out earlier?

Putting an agenda in the calendar invite can also help ensure that leaders put out worthwhile topics to discuss, and it can give the attendee an idea of what they need to get caught up on prior to the meeting.

  1. Reduce meeting time

This one is pretty straight forward. If you feel like meetings waste too much time, make them shorter. Easy enough.

The challenge comes in making sure you still give yourself enough time to accomplish all the material on the agenda. That’s where strategy comes in.

Meeting hosts should treat their agenda like a surgeon approaches an operation. They’ve got to strategically trim all the bad stuff, making sure that they don’t harm any of the necessities. Cut out the chit chat, but keep the decision-making conversation. Throw out the recap, and send a follow-up email instead.

Another tip comes from Inc.com editor Jeff Haden. He reminds his readers that meetings do not have to fit in the default time slots (30 minutes, 1 hour, etc.). He says that “a meeting that will start at 9 is usually scheduled to run until 9:30 or 10, even if 10 minutes is all that is required to make a decision.” You can save time by determining the length of the meeting based on content, not default time slots.

Little changes like these can help you waste less time in your meetings, which will in turn allow you to reduce the time spent.

  1. Have end goals for each meeting

Companies set goals for nearly everything. Marketing, sales, customer success, product, finance, HR, all these departments and more are expected to achieve at least some level of the goals set for them.

But this isn’t often true for meetings.

At best, the person leading the meeting might have some sort of agenda, but they rarely have goals. In education, every class period has student learning outcomes: expectations for what the student should walk away with after that particular session.

Meetings can utilize the same thing. Verbalizing or writing these goals down can help companies make sure that their teams accomplish what they set out to do. If the goal is to make every employee aware of new market trends, then it’s easy to measure the success by simply seeing if they can articulate the trends by the end of the meeting.

  1. Assign a note taker

Note taking gives evaluators an easy way to look back on the productivity of previous meetings. It also creates a sense of accountability because of the light pressure people feel when they know they’re being observed.

Assigning a note taker can be tricky, though because it’s such a tedious task. Tools like Vowel alleviate this burden from the staff by having the technology take the notes for you. Users can bookmark certain sections of the conversations, search for specific words, and even create action items for next steps. The tool also has a recording and transcription feature that enables teams to capture the entire meeting in case they want to revisit it in depth.

Your Meetings Don’t Have to be a Waste

Better meetings enable everyone to do their jobs better, and better meetings aren’t impossible to reach.

By following these simple steps, you can change the narrative around meetings in your office. You probably won’t ever get to a place where everyone always loves coming to your meetings, but you can make sure that you get the most out of the time you have together.

Renny Chan, Head Growth Marketing

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