6 ways to kill unnecessary meetings

Reclaim your time

TallyPro is taking aim at the top 11 productivity killers we recently uncovered. Starting at the top, we are ready to zap the No.1 – unnecessary meetings – turning them from a snoozy bore fest to a brief, but effective forum…

A meeting should be a form of getting some aspect of work done or decision made. Time is a commodity and those hours spent in meetings should produce a return on your time investment.

The average UK worker sits through 6,240 meetings during their working lives, according to a survey of 2,000 workers by Sennheiser Communications. Therefore, if each meeting lasted an hour, it would mean they would spend 780 working days, or more than three years and four months at work in back-to-back meetings.

“I really think that some people call meetings just to show who’s boss. They love walking in to a meeting room, and try to make themselves look important to those who haven’t made the invitation list.” 

– Parveen, Sales, Tech company

While many of us are bystanders suffering from the bravado of a boss who likes the sound of their own voice, some of us are ones holding these meetings. How can we turn this burden into something productive for everyone involved?  

How to rid yourself of unnecessary meetings

At TallyPro we want to help stamp out those pesky productivity killers starting with six ways to make meetings more productive.

1. Have a fixed agenda with goal/target

“They are time thieves. Especially meetings without an agenda and target outcome.”

– Kate, Commercial Director, Recruitment firm

Kate is not alone. It’s guaranteed that most of you reading this will be nodding along in agreement having experienced the same frustrations. Louise Roches, a business development manager at an international business process outsourcing company, finds herself in unnecessary meetings all the time.

She says: “Often I find meetings are held for meetings sake: it’s what people deem as required and/or appropriate.”

“Take a couple of minutes before stepping into that room to write down exactly why you need everyone’s time. It will help assess whether it’s necessary, and if it is, what it is that needs to be accomplished.”

Louise adds: “Have an agenda and try where possible to stick to it. Stay focused on the topic in hand and document outcomes. Consider whether a meeting is the best approach, could a single phone call achieve the same results?”

2. Set a time limit – no more, maybe less (everybody loves to finish early)

An hour is a long time to be sitting down and talking about one topic – I think we can all agree on that. Productivity expert Carson Tate wrote in the New York Times that in her office, “our website developer, for example, schedules our project-update calls for 25 minutes. We complete all of our work in that time, then have five extra minutes to address any unscheduled concerns or to develop new ideas.”

Shortening meetings to a strict time scale also really helps with narrowing its focus. By doing so, everyone involved has a much clearer idea what the meeting is about and what the outcomes need to be.

More than 70 per cent of employees said they constantly zone out whilst in meetings with the average worker switching off by 20 minutes in, Sennheiser Communications reports.

It also stands to reason that if employees know for certain that they only owe 25 minutes of their time, they are more likely to be engaged and willing to contribute when they feel as though their time is being used valuably. And if you hit every point before the time is up, take the opportunity to let people leave early – everyone loves to finish early, no matter if it’s just five minutes ahead of schedule.

Set your time frame – tell your staff it will not go over by one minute – stick to it! Easy, right?

3. Only invite absolutely essential personnel

How many meetings have you sat in and thought, “why am I even here?” Well, you’re not the only one. So often a blanket invite gets sent out to attend a “compulsory meeting,” in which you find yourself unsure of the topic or, in fact, quite the opposite, as Louise says occurs frequently.

“Often I am included in meetings where I should not be, therefore I stay quiet and add no real value,” she adds. “All too often when sending invites, individuals add a blanket invite, not considering if all the invitees are relevant or required.  I think this approach is flawed as often the meeting runs over as not everyone is ‘in the loop’, it wastes time for everyone, the meeting loses credibility and doesn’t achieve much.”

She continues: “I have a weekly meeting to discuss my Pipeline Report. These meetings are a 1:1 call with my line manager and we discuss at length each entry to see if any support can be provided from the business.  These meetings are quite useful and my manager may highlight something that I have not considered…. 

“In addition to this meeting we have a joint business development call with the three business development managers for two hours where we go through exactly the same conversations. It’s a total waste of time!”

Stop sending out invites to everyone – take five minutes to really think about why each person needs to be invited. If you end up with a very short list – can this meeting be changed into a couple of one-on-one calls or just stop by their desks?

4. Give a call to action at the end

If you step across a threshold into a meeting room, there’s the expectation that at the end of it all, there will be some sort of resolution or at least a focus on what the next steps are. But we often walk back across that threshold feeling none-the-wiser and maybe even a bit confused at what just happened and what’s next… It will likely be another meeting.

Before calling a meeting, or agreeing to attend one, ask yourself a few questions about whether it’s going to help achieve any goals or whether you need to be there.

If the answer is no, respectfully decline. If it’s a yes – make sure that at the end of it all, you can look back over what has been discussed and assign individuals or groups with the next steps in the productivity wheel.

Don’t let people walk out of there feeling unsure – you called the meeting… make sure you follow through with your end of the bargain. They gave their time, give them the peace of mind that they were there for a purpose and it doesn’t end when they leave that room.

5. Is a meeting the answer?

Shortening a meeting is effective in maintaining focus and not wasting time, but is a meeting always the answer? So many of us feel as though meetings are a waste of time… it ranked No.1 in TallyPro’s productivity killers for a reason.

So, it comes down to deciding whether or not they are essential and can we eliminate the need for them.

We have so much technology at our fingertips, especially at the office. Save time and keep the right people on task by eliminating a few unnecessary meetings a day and either arranging one-on-one time, stop by their desk, make a call, instant message, or you can even call a standing meeting between a small group in the middle of the office to hash some minor details out.

6. Maintain focus

It seems obvious – but time and time again we see meetings being called and then idle waffle being discussed along with long tangents about nothing important, and then suddenly that’s an hour of our lives we’ll never get back.

Researchers at Sennheiser found that most meetings are made up of endless internal catch-ups, client meetings and lengthy appraisals with the boss.

Before walking in to a meeting, write down what the emphasis of the meeting should be and what needs to be achieved. Send it in an email to those that need to attend and empower them to interrupt you if you begin to drift off focus – it’s easily done.

By doing so, it not only allows meetings to be contained and concise, but it gives employees another incentive to be fully engaged. If they’re keeping an eye on you to make sure you stay on track, they are, maybe unintentionally, involved in the subject matter.

We’ve given you the knowledge to make your meetings more productive but do you really know how much of your time you’re spending in unnecessary meetings? What’s more do you know how much time your employees spend in meetings? 

Mapping out where you or your employees spend time is essential if you’re serious about boosting productivity. There’s really no reason not to now that it’s so easy – learn more about our time tracking software and start spotting those time leaks.