How To Stop Wasting Time And Money In Meetings

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It’s really easy to run a meeting poorly. Especially in a startup environment where close, dynamic collaboration and rapid updates are the norms, it’s far too tempting to say “Yeah, let’s have a meeting about that—gimme 10 minutes.”

We’ve created the perfect recipe for disorganized meetings to rule our days. For example, we opt for more casual, open-office workspaces. We’ve adopted all sorts of agile-based practices that prioritize individuals and interactions over processes and tools. As the lines between “official meetings” and conversations or updates continue to blur, we need to become more intentional about how we’re organizing our meeting and spending our team’s valuable time.

The Challenge With Meetings

Meetings are incredibly expensive. Having lots of people sitting around yapping about whatever’s on their mind will very quickly burn through even the largest of budgets. On top of this, meetings are generally unproductive because they’re not planned properly.

You know how it goes: you half-discuss something and then inexplicably drift into talking about everyone’s favourite taco shop. This can be fun — everyone’s having a good time (plus, they’ve got a new taco shop to try out) — but it’s also a waste of time.

Wasting time is obviously bad for the budget, but it’s bad for morale, too. In his talk at the 2018 DPM Summit, Sam Barnes goes so far as to argue that wasting someone’s time in a meeting qualifies as cruelty, as you’re taking away precious time that they could be using to do something worthwhile.

How To Manage Meetings Better?

To hold successful meetings, you need to put some thought into your approach. Remember that the meetings you hold are a reflection on your leadership. It’s a reflection of the culture you have created. To approach your meetings in a way that yield more productivity and wastes less time, here are some rules for managing meetings better:

#1 Think Strategically About Meetings

A meeting is a tactic that can be used to accomplish a goal — but it certainly isn’t the only tactic you can use. Before you even book the meeting room, ask yourself, “Do we really need a meeting for this? Will an email do instead?”

Meetings are always an interruption to something else — if people are in a meeting, they’re not going to be working on the individual pieces of the project that they’re in charge of.

So, to start, be clear exactly why you’re having a meeting. There should be a goal, and you should be able to articulate that goal simply at the beginning of the meeting. Going into a meeting knowing what you want to get out of it will help you best decide who should be there, when it should happen, and how long it should take.

#2 Always Create & Share An Agenda

Assuming you do need a meeting and you’ve got a clear goal, create an agenda. It’s tempting to forgo the meeting agenda because after all, it does take a few minutes to write up. However, even the simplest agenda, for the shortest meetings, provides an essential framework for the meeting so that you’ll actually end the meeting having produced the desired result.

The agenda needs to explicitly show the way you’ll hit the meeting’s goal. The agenda should include goals, topics, the person assigned to lead each discussion, and a time allocated for each point.

If you’ve found meeting agendas to be ineffective, make sure you’re providing the agenda in advance, preferably at the same time as the meeting invitation. This way, everyone comes to the meeting prepared to discuss the topics at hand.

Overall, having an agenda will help you stick to the meeting goals and keep the conversation on track!

#3 Be Selective

How many people do you need in your meeting? The correct answer is this: as few people as possible!

The more people you invite to the meeting, the less focused it will be, the more interactions there will be — and the more expensive it will be!

Look back at your meeting goal. Is it something your entire team need to be involved in in order to achieve? If not, don’t invite everyone. You can always follow up with people you didn’t invite later, or send just send a recap email out afterwards with the important takeaways.

#4 Factor In Time To Arrive & Prepare

The way we schedule our day in calendar apps makes it tempting to block off our time in back-to-back chunks without accounting for ramping up, winding down, or even taking a coffee break. Don’t make this mistake when planning a meeting.

It’s important to factor in prep time for two main reasons:

  1. It gives you a few minutes before the meeting starts to review your notes and switch contexts in order to be in the right mindset.
  2. It sets a precedent for attendees — it shows that you value everyone’s time, and that you expect meetings to start on time. Far too often, the time wasted in meetings is the time spent during the first 10 minutes while everyone trickles in, gets settled, finds their notes, etc. If people haven’t prepared appropriately for the meeting in order to achieve its goal, postpone the meeting. It’s a better use of time to meet when everyone is adequately prepared.

#5 Minimize The Duration

There’s a strange phenomenon with time management — somehow, even a small task can magically expand, taking an enormous amount of time to complete. This is referred to as Parkinson’s Law, which is based upon the observation that work expands to fill whatever time you set aside for it.

If you set aside an hour for a meeting, your meeting is likely to take an hour. In longer meetings, you might have a more in-depth discussion, exchange more questions, bring up more tangents, and go over more details than in a shorter meeting. But again, you have to look at your meeting goal — can you accomplish the same goal in a 30-minute meeting, without the extra discussion?

If you truly need just 15 minutes for a meeting, simply schedule a 15-minute meeting. Don’t fall into the trap of scheduling 30-minute meetings merely because it’s the default setting on your project scheduling software.

When you manage meetings well by minimizing the duration, you’re protecting your team’s time as well as your budget!

How To Manage Meetings: Takeaways

To recap, in order to waste less time and money in meetings, manage them well by taking the following measures:

  1. Think strategically about meetings
  2. Always create and share an agenda
  3. Be selective
  4. Factor in time to arrive and prepare
  5. Minimize the duration

Once you’ve covered off these essential meeting management tips, then you can focus on adding some fun into your meetings! Bring donuts. Vary your meeting style (go for a walking meeting, or do it standing up). Meet in a new location. Whatever you do, make sure you’re managing your meetings properly. You’ll save yourself — and your team — lots of time.



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