Do your work meetings waste time? Use these tips to improve.

Meetings are a waste of time. Fix them.
  • In this article, you will learn ways to avoid four common meeting pitfalls:
    • Having too many meetings on your calendar
    • Meetings that are too long
    • Lack of focus for your agenda or discussion topics
    • Meetings that aren’t as productive as they could be

If you pulled up your work calendar right now, how many meetings are scheduled over the next week? Five? Ten? Most calendars are overloaded with meeting invites and, more often than not, employees walk out of them hoping that one day it won’t feel like meetings are a waste of time. Stay tuned, because we’re going to help you revitalize your approach and ensure your meetings are effective.

There’s a 50/50 shot that you dislike meetings. In a survey conducted by the folks at Igloo software, 47% of respondents found meetings to be generally unproductive. But simply wishing that meetings didn’t waste time won’t make them better—or cancel one altogether if it never should have been called in the first place. So, how can you break the cycle?

First, take a minute to give good meetings some love. When run effectively, meetings foster collaboration and communication, keeping employees motivated. A staff meeting, for example, can cover critical topics that affect the entire department or company. But, if it’s not well organized, collaboration and communication are undermined; attendees may come out of the staff meeting wondering if it was really necessary.

So, in the spirit of increasing productivity and overall morale, consider why some meetings take home the “meetings are a waste of time” prize. Is it because they either have too much of something (they happen too often or they’re too long), or not enough of something else (focus or actionable outcomes)? We’ve called out four common ways meetings waste time below and listed specific things you can do immediately to start improving them.

Without further ado, let’s tackle your meetings’ trouble spots.

I have too many meetings on my calendar

When your meeting reminder is pinging every hour on the hour, it’s tough to find time to dive into your next project. You want to give the important work you’re doing the time it deserves, but meetings seem to be dominating your day. Here are a few things to try:

Cancel unnecessary meetings

Millions of meetings take place each and every work day (estimates range up to 56 million per day in the U.S.), but how many are truly necessary? While complex topics and brainstorming sessions are best suited through in-person meetings, if you’re simply sharing information, consider another (more efficient) method. Status reports or online check-ins work just fine and allow you to press the cancel button on your next meeting.

Establish a no-meeting day

Schedules riddled with meetings interrupt deep work—that focused time you need to tackle complex issues. Owning your time is critical to boosting your productivity. Try spearheading an initiative that keeps your team’s calendars meeting-free on, say, Thursdays (or any other weekday)? Make it part of the culture, and encourage others to respect the no-meeting day.

Say no

Every meeting invite has the option to decline, but how often do you click that box? Look at the agenda, the attendees, and the duration. Be careful where you commit your time at work, and click “decline” if you don’t see the benefit.

My meetings are too long

Are you constantly wondering if the duration of your meetings could be cut in half? They likely can be, but it’s up to you to decide how you value your time and get a little creative with your meetings. Consider these tips:

Think of your time as a valuable commodity

Because, well, time is valuable. The average meeting length is 31-60 minutes, a convenient correlation to calendars that offer you increments of 30 and 60 minutes for scheduling, but that doesn’t mean every meeting has to be this long.

When you plan your meeting agenda (more on that below), estimate how much time you’ll need for each topic and choose the overall meeting length appropriately. Participants will be more focused when they know they’ve got, let’s say, 10 minutes for a particular topic. A sense of immediacy will keep the discussion on task and ensure all agenda items are covered (so you don’t have to schedule a new meeting for the items you failed to get to).

Try a stand-up

What’s that? In the tech world, a stand-up is a quick daily status meeting where team members are literally standing as they report on what they’ve just done, what they’re doing next, and what problems they see ahead.

If you have a recurring status meeting, try a 15-minute stand-up with your team, rather than booking a conference room for a full 30-60 minutes. You can meet over coffee in the morning, outside on a nice day, or in a lobby area. The key is to pick something different from the norm—and to give yourself a deadline. Use a timer to get used to the idea of the shorter timeframe.

My meetings lack focus

Staying focused during a meeting when everyone wants to talk about their weekend plans can be difficult. But planning ahead and setting clear expectations for your meeting might actually get your crew enjoying their weekend earlier, rather than just talking about it. Put the following ideas into action:

Identify the purpose and goal of the meeting

Start the process early, writing down what needs to be accomplished, rather than creating an agenda on the fly. Having a concrete agenda in place before the meeting offers clarity to attendees and keeps everyone on track. Keep it in a central place, like a work management tool to easily tie agenda items to tasks and project timelines. Also, add time blocks to your agenda so you don’t spend too much time on any one topic.

Share the agenda and other helpful context ahead of the meeting

Send it with the meeting invite if at all possible. If you set it up in your work management tool, you can also have attendees collaborate and add agenda items before the meeting. This gives you the chance to add tasks and offers an opportunity to come prepared to discuss the right topics. To easily build an agenda for all kinds of meetings, take advantage of these templates:

My meetings aren’t as productive as I’d like

While inviting everyone you can think of to your meetings may seem like the right choice, it may be making them less productive. Looking to move mountains during your meetings? Check out these tips for ultimate productivity during those strategy sessions:

Select the right attendees, and outline their roles

Are the right people in the room for each of your meetings? Does everyone know their role and why they were invited? If half the agenda applies to only three out of fifteen attendees, you’ll want to rethink your agenda and/or guest list. And if a key stakeholder can’t make it, reschedule rather than trying to meet without them, as you’ll likely have to schedule a follow-up anyway.

Assign a note taker

Designate your note taker before the meeting. When one person is in charge of notes, the rest of the group can focus on participating rather than creating their own record. Notes are also helpful for anyone who might have missed the meeting. Make sure notes are shared immediately after the meeting and that all attendees know where to find them. A work management tool is a great place to file meeting notes and agendas.

Assign action items as you go

You can make these decisions as you progress through the agenda, and your note taker can record them (or, if you use a work management tool, go ahead and create the task and assign it in real time). Be sure to include deadlines and other important dates on each action item. If you can’t come to a clear decision on an agenda item, assign someone the task of finishing the review and trust them to make the decision; this empowers teammates to do great work.

Love your meetings again

Use the tips above to make meetings work for you, not against you. Brand yourself as a role model for better meeting habits. Colleagues will take notice, and they may soon be adopting your changes to improve their meetings as well. Asana can serve as a guide toward fewer, shorter meetings. And when you find a meeting is necessary to meet your objectives, it can serve as a way to keep you on track.

Manage your team’s work with Asana. Start a trial today.