How to have fewer meetings

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Do you sigh every time you get an invitation to a meeting? Do you sit in meetings and try hard not to fall asleep? Do you want to walk out of a meeting?

You’re not alone. If you’re like me, you despise meetings. I love to talk, but I hate meetings. I hate meetings so much, I spent the time to write a blog post on how to have fewer meetings at work. I’m going to share as many tips/tricks as I can.

Hopefully, this guide gives you ideas on how to hold fewer meetings at work and regain your sanity.

Meetings are costly

One of the most important foundational elements of meetings is that they are expensive. First, it requires context switching, which eats up time before and after the meeting. This is especially painful if you are on a maker’s schedule. Then you have the meeting itself, which takes time and is frequently unproductive. Then, you have the number of people involved in the meeting (oftentimes too many people).

Research shows that 15% of an organization’s time is spent in meetings. Atlassian recently did research on the time wasted in meetings that you should check out.

For example, a fifteen-minute meeting with four people is an hour of aggregate time (4 people x 15 minutes each). HBR created a great calculator to help you do the math on the time cost of meetings. If you manage a team, make sure to hammer this point home with everyone on your team. Meetings need to serve a clear and distinct purpose.

 

Different types of meetings

First, if you think about meetings, there are a few categories that they tend to fall into (I’m sure there are more categories I’m missing). I’ve listed the most common meetings below:

  • Information delivery (i.e – a company all-hands meeting). These are tough to avoid, as the purpose is to deliver information.
  • Brainstorming – these meetings are also tough to avoid as the back and forth of communication can help everyone be efficient.
  • Status Updates  – these meetings are terrible (unless they are daily standups). Avoid at all costs. We offer a tool to help.

The worst part about status updates is that these meetings occur frequently, oftentimes once per week. This means the worst meetings are the ones that occur over and over.

 

The most wasteful part of a meeting

Let’s dig into the meeting format even more. For many meetings (especially status updates), the leader will try to dig into what’s going on. The beginning of the meeting is to understand what people are working on (or where they might be stuck).

This is a massive waste of time.

This should be done before the meeting even happens. At Friday Feedback, we can save the first fifteen minutes of a weekly status update meeting by asking a few simple questions beforehand. These questions are:

  • What did you work on this week?
  • Is there anything you’re stuck on?
  • What are your priorities for next week?

A major advantage of this approach is you give everyone the floor to share what’s going on. I’ve been in too many meetings where there’s one loud, talkative person who stifles conversation. As a leader, you need to encourage conversation from everyone in the group.

In addition, it’s great to get something in writing that you can reference later. This is especially useful if you manage a remote team.

 

Ways to spend less time in a meeting

Ok, now let’s get into the specifics on how to spend less time in meetings. If you are a team leader or executive, we strongly recommend creating a document based on the following principles and sharing with the rest of the team or company. Elon Musk recently sent an example to Tesla employees which you can read about.

 

Prepare an agenda beforehand

When you send a meeting invitation, make sure to outline the purpose of the meeting beforehand. I like additional context before the event begins, as there’s nothing worse than getting into a meeting only to realize that 90% of the conversation could have been done beforehand.

The best way to accomplish this is to share agenda items before the meeting begins. There are times where the entire point of the meeting is to collaborate on next steps but people need to know why the meeting is being held in the first place. An agenda is a great way to establish the ground rules.

 

Send MEeting invites as optional

In addition to preparing an agenda, when you invite people to the meeting, send invites as “optional.” This encourages some people to opt-out if their participation isn’t required. There’s no shame in asking, “why should I be in this meeting?”

 

Create a meeting feedback loop

Next, you need to periodically survey your team and ask how meetings are working out for them. It’s important to have a feedback loop to help you iterate and improve over time. For example, you can ask employees to rate the reoccurring meetings that happen on a 5-star scale.

Make sure to follow-up and ask, “why?” to dig deeper into the root cause of the low performing meetings.

 

Setup “Speedy Meetings”

If you use Google Calendar for meetings, make sure to enable the “Speedy Meetings” feature. You can see how to do this by watching the video below:

This is one of my favorite features as if you have back-to-back meetings, it creates a time buffer automatically.

 

End the meeting on time

While this final tip won’t save you from having a meeting, it will help keep the meeting shorter. Don’t let meetings run over the allotted time. It’s disrespectful of other people’s time to let meetings run over, especially when people another meeting right after.

 

In Conclusion

To wrap up this article, meetings are expensive. If you do what most people do, you will waste an enormous amount of time. Use the tips above to save time on meetings, and do everything you can to avoid having the meeting in the first place.

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