If you pulled up your work calendar right now, how many meetings are scheduled over the next week? 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. So, how can you break the cycle of unproductive meetings?
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, causing a meeting to be unproductive; 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 improve them and start running effective meetings.
Without further ado, let’s tackle your meetings’ trouble spots.
When your meeting reminder pings every hour on the hour, it’s tough to find focus 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. According to Asana’s ROI of Work Management Report, time wasted in meetings is a top barrier to productivity. Here are a few things to try to reduce unproductive meetings and save more time for impactful work:
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 or video meetings, if you’re simply sharing information, consider another more efficient method. Written status reports, a fifteen-minute stand-up, or online check-ins work just fine for many use cases and allow you to press the cancel button on your next meeting more often.
Schedules riddled with meetings interrupt deep work—that focused time you need to tackle complex issues and important projects. Even if you get better at canceling unnecessary meetings, regular interruptions in your focus time can have a negative impact on your overall output. 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. If you need to, block out parts of your calendar to show people that you’re heads down working and that you’ll decline invites during that time.
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. Empower yourself and your team to be careful about where you commit your time at work, and click “decline” if you don’t see the benefit. You can always ask for the notes afterwards so you can follow up if need be. Chances are, though, you’ll be just fine.
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 for the sake of time management. Consider these tips:
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 that long.
When you plan your meeting agenda (more on that below), estimate how much time you’ll need for each topic, add up the times, and then choose the overall meeting length appropriately. Maybe all you need are 15 minutes, or maybe you need 45. Whatever the case may be, 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.
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 don’t have to literally stand together huddled near your desks. 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 so people stay engaged—and to give yourself a deadline. Use a timer to get used to the idea of the shorter timeframe and hold people accountable as well. Depending on the size of your group, you may want to give everyone 30 seconds to a minute of speaking time—and hold them to it.
Staying focused during a meeting when everyone wants to talk about their weekend plans can be difficult. Especially if your team is distributed or remote, it can be a fun time to catch up with people you don’t see very often. 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:
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. If you do want to work in a little time for team bonding, you can kick off a meeting with five minutes of unstructured chit chat—but be sure to stay on top of the time so you can move onto other important topics.
Send the agenda with the meeting invite if at all possible. If you start creating an agenda before you set up the meeting, maybe you’ll find that you don’t actually need to get together! In any case, sending an agenda with the invite will give people permission to opt out if the material isn’t in line with their goals.
When you create your agenda, if you set it up in your work management tool, you can also have attendees collaborate and add items before the meeting. This gives you the chance to add tasks and offers attendees 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:
While inviting everyone you can think of to your meetings may seem like the right choice, it may actually be making them less productive. Looking to move mountains during your meetings? Or at least keep your project on time? Check out these tips for ultimate productivity during those strategy sessions:
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. This is another important reason to create an agenda before you schedule the meeting. Once you’ve created your agenda and sent out the calendar invite, 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.
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 or chosen to skip. 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—you can keep everything in the same place.
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, the assignee, 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.
Bad meetings happen to everyone. It’s ok. 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 adopt your changes to improve their meetings as well. Asana can serve as a guide toward fewer, shorter, more impactful meetings. And when you find a meeting is necessary to meet your objectives, it can serve as a way to keep you on track and productive.
How to run effective meetings
Do you want to run more effective meetings? Follow these tips to create a detailed meeting agenda, engage your team, and run great meetings—every time.
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