Unproductive meetings are a significant barrier to productivity, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Learn what to do before, during, and after your meetings to make them valuable and productive for everyone involved. Because when it comes to meetings, quality is better than quantity.
Picture this: You’re sitting in a meeting with no clear purpose or action items. People are talking, but nobody is writing anything down. When the meeting finally ends, you’re exhausted, emotionally depleted, and just plain cranky.
Sound familiar? If it does, you’re not alone.
Workers lose nearly three hours per week to unnecessary meetings. Faced with an onslaught of invites, we’re tuning out—with more than half of workers multitasking during meetings and just 43% contributing to smaller virtual syncs. Suffice to say, many of us are sitting in meetings that are unproductive, unnecessary, or just plain boring.
It isn’t that all meetings are bad—it’s that we’re not getting good value out of our time. We don’t just need fewer meetings, we need better meetings that are actually useful for everyone involved. Because ultimately, hosting more efficient syncs means you need less facetime to get things done.
That’s where meeting management comes in.
Meeting management is the process of coordinating and executing a meeting in order to get the most value out of your time. It includes the actions you take before, during, and after a sync to help things run smoothly—like creating an agenda and assigning action items.
When you manage meetings well, your syncs are efficient and productive. Attendees understand the meeting goal and have the information they need to arrive prepared, so they can stay focused and help make your time together as productive as possible. More efficient syncs also mean you need fewer meetings to get things done, so you can streamline your schedule and give everyone back some precious focus time.Free customizable meeting agenda
Not every meeting needs to happen. If you constantly find yourself in unnecessary meetings, consider taking a more holistic approach and conducting a meeting doomsday. It may sound scary, but a meeting doomsday takes a simple meeting audit to the next level—encouraging team members to delete all recurring meetings from their calendars and then start fresh with updated invites. In fact, we just conducted a meeting doomsday at Asana. Led by organizational physician and entrepreneur Rebecca Hinds, our audit saved participants an average of 11 hours per month.
A bit of extra work goes a long way toward making your meetings more efficient. Follow these nine steps to plan effective meetings and make sure your syncs are valuable for everyone.
Before anything else, you need to understand the purpose of the meeting. The purpose is what you and your stakeholders need to achieve during your time together in order to make the meeting a success. Most importantly, this includes the topics you need to discuss and the decisions you need to make. Defining your meeting’s purpose is also a good opportunity to evaluate whether you need a meeting in the first place. If you’re having a hard time coming up with discussion topics or if you can easily answer questions offline, consider using asynchronous communication instead.
Follow these three steps to define your meeting’s purpose:
Set an achievable goal to keep your team focused and on track.
List all the topics you need to discuss to achieve the meeting goal.
Highlight topics that require a decision in order to achieve the meeting goal.
For example, imagine your team is meeting to determine the budget for a blog redesign project. Here’s how you would define your meeting’s purpose:
Meeting goal: Finalize project budget numbers for blog redesign project.
Required topics and decisions:
Projected spend for other team projects and total remaining funds.
Priority of blog redesign in relation to other projects. Decision required—should we prioritize the blog redesign and pull funds from other projects, or make do with leftover budget?
Review two budget scenarios for blog redesign. Decision required—should we create a cheaper MVP version or go for the full redesign?
Budget approvers. Decision required—who needs to approve our finalized budget?
Now that you’ve determined your meeting’s purpose, you can decide who does (and doesn’t) need to attend. To make the meeting more efficient, it’s best to limit the number of people to those who absolutely need to be there. Attendees should be stakeholders whose input is required to make decisions and achieve your meeting goals. After the sync, you can always send meeting notes to stakeholders who should be informed but don’t need to be involved in the decision-making process.Read: Your guide to RACI charts, with examples
Every attendee should have a role to play in your meeting. Before the meeting starts, clarify everyone’s roles and responsibilities so it’s clear what each stakeholder is responsible for and how they should prepare. In the next step, you’ll include this information in your meeting agenda so every attendee can see it in advance.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are some common meeting roles:
Facilitator: Hosts the meeting, introduces topics from the agenda, and keeps stakeholders focused and on track. The facilitator is often the meeting organizer.
Notetaker: Records written notes or meeting minutes to document the meeting. For recurring team meetings, try to rotate note-taking responsibilities so the same person isn’t stuck with the task each time.
Decision-makers: Responsible for making key decisions in order to achieve your meeting goal.
Contributors: Provide updates and input needed to achieve your meeting goal. Contributors might make presentations, provide project updates, or just weigh in with their opinion.
A good meeting agenda serves two purposes—it helps you plan and execute your meeting in a timely way, and it gives stakeholders the information they need to prepare and arrive ready to make decisions. The key is to share your meeting agenda in advance, ideally at least 24 hours before the sync starts.
Your agenda should inform stakeholders what the meeting objectives are, what you’ll discuss, and what decisions you need to make. If you’ve already defined your meeting’s purpose, you have this information ready to go.
Here’s what to include in your meeting agenda:
The goal of the meeting.
Meeting participants and their roles.
An overview that lists what you’ll discuss during the meeting, including key decisions you need to make.
The duration and allocated time for each agenda item.
Any materials attendees should read in advance.
Free customizable meeting agenda
The length of your meeting plays a huge role in how productive it can be—especially for virtual syncs. According to cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Sahar Yousef, “you need to have a really good reason to schedule a block of time longer than 30 minutes.” In fact, a 2020 Microsoft study showed that video fatigue sets in at the 30-minute mark for virtual meetings, meaning it becomes much harder to focus past that point. On the flip side, we can usually maintain focus for 45 to 60 minutes when we’re talking face-to-face.
If you have to schedule longer meetings, Dr. Yousef advises that you make time for a 1-minute break at the 30-minute mark. That way, your brain can reset and you can maintain your energy for the next chunk of time.
Scheduling meetings is often a tricky process—especially if you work on a virtual team that spans different time zones. As you search for a meeting time on everyone’s calendars, keep these questions in mind:
Do you need additional buffer time for travel or setting up equipment?
Where will the meeting take place? Do you need to reserve a meeting room, send a virtual invite, or both?
What time zones are attendees in? Are you scheduling the meeting during (or at least close to) everyone’s business hours?
Meeting notes help you remember and follow up on important details—like key decisions you made, project updates, and next steps. They’re also helpful for stakeholders who want to stay informed about your project. Instead of attending as a fly on the wall, they can just read the meeting notes afterwards.
Being responsible for meeting notes can feel intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you (or your designated notetaker) start writing:
Use the meeting agenda as an outline for your notes. That way everything is already laid out, and you don’t need to take any extra steps to organize information.
Don’t feel like you need to write everything down verbatim. Instead, focus on highlighting important pieces of information like action items, project updates, and key decisions.
For virtual meetings without a presentation, try sharing your screen so everyone can see your notes. That way team members can chime in if they feel you’re missing any important information.
Ever end a meeting without knowing what to do next? You can prevent that type of confusion by assigning concrete action items during your sync. Action items document who is doing what after the meeting is over, and they serve two important purposes:
They keep everyone aligned on next steps and ensure work moves forward.
They ground the meeting discussion, ensuring that everyone focuses on a concrete action plan rather than nebulous ideas.
To keep everyone on the same page, it’s best to assign action items in real-time during the meeting itself. Make sure they’re documented in your meeting notes so you have a concrete record of who is responsible for what. If your team uses project management tools like Asana, you can assign tasks directly from your meeting agenda.
With Asana’s Zoom integration, you can transform productive conversations into actionable to-do’s. Share meeting details and context in advance, stay on track during your meeting, and capture action items without leaving Zoom.
Sharing meeting notes with attendees is a great way to recap everything you discussed. It helps stakeholders remember key decisions and action items, so everyone stays aligned before the next meeting. In addition, sharing meeting notes is a great way to asynchronously loop in stakeholders who want to stay informed about your project’s progress, but don’t necessarily need to attend meetings.
Finally, be sure to save and archive your meeting notes in a place everyone can easily access later. For example, Asana lets you take, share, and archive notes in one central location. Stakeholders can also comment and collaborate directly on meeting notes, so key conversations happen in the same place where your work is stored.
Meeting management is relatively simple, but it can take some practice to get things right. To save you some troubleshooting, here are eight tips to improve your meeting management skills:
Provide a meeting agenda in advance: Sharing your agenda ahead of time helps stakeholders arrive prepared and ready to share ideas. That way, you don’t have to waste time getting everyone up to speed—instead, you can dive right into important discussion topics.
Stick to your agenda: Your agenda is the ultimate meeting guide—it lists out everything you need to discuss, what decisions you need to make, and how long you have for each topic. Keep your agenda front-and-center during the meeting to improve time management and ensure discussions stay on track. If additional topics do come up, make a note to follow up later asynchronously or in a separate meeting.
Keep your meetings short: The longer the meeting, the harder it is for everyone to stay focused and engaged. Let your agenda determine the required meeting length, and keep in mind that not all syncs have to be 30 or 60 minutes long—they could be 15 minutes, 40 minutes, or however much time you actually need. Shorter business meetings are especially important for remote teams, since video fatigue sets in around the 30-minute mark. On the flip side, we can usually maintain our focus for 45 to 60 minutes during face-to-face meetings.
Invite fewer people: The smaller the meeting, the more efficient it can be. Inviting fewer people can make your sync more productive and give meeting attendees the space and time they need to contribute. It also saves other stakeholders from wasting time on a meeting that isn’t relevant to them. When deciding who to invite, remember that successful meetings focus on making decisions rather than simply sharing information. If stakeholders want to stay informed, you can send them your meeting notes afterwards.
Start on time: It’s ok to allocate a few minutes of buffer time to give people time to arrive, but anything beyond that can impact your meeting’s productivity. Try to start on time consistently, even if someone hasn’t arrived. If you tend to have lots of stragglers, try including a 5-minute icebreaker question at the start of your meeting to give late-arrivers time to get their bearings.
Make it interactive: The best meetings are full of creativity and energy. People don’t just show up and listen passively—instead, they participate actively in the discussion. To make your meetings more interactive, try asking directly for input and allocating time for brainstorming.
Build in buffer time for Q&A: Sticking to your agenda is important, but you also need to be flexible and allow time for relevant questions. Instead of pushing Q&A to the end of your meeting, encourage participants to jump in with questions throughout. That way they’re less likely to forget, and you can answer each question in context.
Follow up right after: Don’t wait—follow up while everyone has the meeting fresh in their minds. This includes sharing meeting notes, scheduling follow-up meetings, and assigning action items.
Meetings don’t have to be a waste of time. If there’s one thing you take away from this article, let it be this: one productive meeting is always better than a handful of unproductive ones. With a bit of advance planning, you can get just as much (if not more) done in a fraction of the time—and you’ll have more time for focus, too.Free customizable meeting agenda