Meetings: Time Management Or Time Waste?

6 min

Video chats, conference calls, dailies, weeklies, brainstorming sessions, you name it – these days they have all been haunting our calendars. And let’s be honest here, the idea make us shiver the very moment invites pop up in our calendars.  What is so terrifying about meetings and why do we despise them so much?

Tentatively accepting

When not managed properly, or managed at all, meetings stretch like accordions causing unstoppable seizures of yawing mixed with irritation. Nevertheless, meetings are an indispensable element of our professional life. We are social beings and making business is all about people-to-people interactions. For example, note that the more intricate the issue we are dealing with, the more we need something more than information sharing via computers. Not to mention processes that involve negotiating solutions or making strategic decisions. Gathering people of various skills and areas of influence is simply something we cannot do without.

Alright, it might seem that the rationale behind holding meetings is quite legit. Yet still there are quite a few that would rather watch paint dry than participate in one. Stating that I think that we have reached an important conclusion – we lost faith in team sessions because they make us… bored.

Nothing can kill our enthusiasm more than the deprivation of mental effort, except when our cognitive processes are viciously misused for tasks that will never yield significant results. That’s not only a mood spoiler, but it can also cause uncontrollable tantrum attacks. Therefore, whenever you schedule a get-together of any kind, respect its participants and do all in your might to make it worth their time and energy. This requires something more than sending an ical. Hopefully, the fundamentals of an effective meeting are the same as in case of any other project: a clear goal, good planning, and proper execution. So here’s what you should do to make your meeting rock:

1. Before scheduling

First of all, you have to state a purpose of your meeting. Ask yourself whether or not your really need one and try to be as honest as possible. To start with, you can cross out anything that serves bureaucracy or convenience. Nowadays, we are busy people trying to juggle tight deadlines and there’s no place in our agendas for time wasters. If there is a sole informational purpose behind your agenda, it also can turn out to be a bit tricky. If you aim at providing people with a set of data that is pretty easy to grasp and do not require further discussion, don’t bother people with face to face interaction. Take into account utilizing technology instead – from simple e-mail to shared documents.

2. Polish your agenda

When you are done with the preparatory stage, you can proceed to draft a proper agenda. The first step is to analyze your goal and decide if you are capable to reach it within the planned time-frame. To do so you have to point out all the necessary steps that must be fulfilled. If you have more than three sub-goals – split them into two separate events. It’s highly probable they won’t fit into one meeting, the reason being the limited cognitive capacity of our brains. To put it in layman’s terms, the attendants won’t be able to efficiently process all that dang information at once.

What’s more, remember that your agenda should be a manual for both you and the rest of the participants. Make it concise, yet precise. The idea behind of the meeting has to be easy to understand and follow. Having the perspective of other people in mind while setting up your plan has an another useful advantage – it will help you steer clear from topics that will eventually become black holes devouring space, energy, and time. Hence, avoid points that can evoke unnecessary discussion, may be misinterpreted, or will provoke people to dwell on issues not related to the meeting’s actual purpose.


3. Right people in the right place

Organizing a meeting is about gathering people, so they can cooperate together making use of their unique set of skills and expertise. That is why you should carefully revise the list of participants you have in mid. Check off only those that have something to pitch in and avoid randomness at any time. Not only will you avoid people dozing off, but you will spare yourself from cutting down off-topics generated by those that have no idea what is actually being discussed. Another way to avoid chaos is sending your carefully designed agenda to everybody concerned beforehand. Your invitees will arrive prepared so you can get cracking from the very first minutes of your meeting without unnecessary introduction and explanation.

4. Time management

Don’t try to play it safe and schedule your event to last longer than it really needs to. Meetings have this astounding quality to stretch to whichever time-frame provided. It means that if you plan an hour for the activities that should normally take forty minutes, people will tend to fill in the time you set. That is why you should not be afraid to make your meetings shorter. Limited time scope may help you to remain disciplined and will serve as a good incentive to increase the overall team effort and productivity. Even more so, if you feel you can have your meeting short, make it shorter.

However, if you want to abide to this rule, you have to demand that invitees arrive at the exact time. In case of late arrivals, don’t recap what has been already said and done. Not only will that steal your precious time, but it may also demotivate those who came punctually. Do not let people participate in the meeting if they show up fifteen minutes late. More likely as not they will not catch up with the rest of the group till the very end of the event.

5. Get people engaged

Expect participants to pay maximum attention, don’t allow let them work on things other than those scheduled for the meeting. Laptops and phones should be banned as a rule unless they are necessary for the meeting’s purpose. Control the flow – pacify hijackers the very moment they try to monopolize the discussion and make people stay on point. Keep in mind, however, that meetings are meant to facilitate group work. Do not change them into a lecture. Provide space for mental activity, such as feedback, information exchange, and dialogue. Last but not least, equip participants with a concrete action plan that should follow the event. That will create a sense of urgency and will redirect their focus onto activities that are crucial to the meeting’s goals.

How do you manage meetings?

Let’s recapitulate the most important points covered above. To organize efficient meeting, you have to:

  1. State a legitimate purpose
  2. Have a proper agenda and send it beforehand
  3. Shorten time-frame to maximum
  4. Have no mercy for people coming in late
  5. Ban laptops and mobiles
  6. Pacify hijackers
  7. Stick to the point and cut down off-topics
  8. Provide space for mental engagement
  9. Follow your meeting with action plan

Quoting a Ted Talk by David Grady: participation in the poorly managed meeting can be compared to coming to work only to discover that one has stolen your chair from your cubicle.

You don’t why and how, but somehow you have been deprived of a substantial resource – time, and time is always scarce. What is even worse, as you can always get your chair back, it may be a bit difficult to regain all those hours squandered carelessly by reckless meetings owners. Therefore, don’t be one.

Respect others and make most of the meeting you hold! What are your thoughts about the topic? Share with us your best and worst experience in the comments below.