Imagine: you are asked to spend two hours of your day with 7 other people in a room, doing nothing. Just be in the room listen and then leave. If you are working in a bigger than average organisation most likely this has happened to you more than just once. Even worse: it might have become a daily habit. Spending hours on end with a bunch of people talking about stuff, without actually doing anything and making any impact. That activity is an enterprise killer, which is known by the term: “the meeting”.
The inconvenient truth: most meetings are just a way to please the ego of the organiser of the meeting. The organiser needs attention and the easiest way to get your attention is to book a meeting and since most of us are just conditioned to show up, we just show up to please the organiser. The worst thing is: nobody asks questions about how you spend your time. Being in meetings all day is a perfect excuse to most managers that you are at work, while the only thing you do is the opposite: avoiding work.
A meeting is never just an hour of your time, it is an hour of every participant’s time: having a meeting with 7 people and you is a full working day of productivity that is going down the drain just by one meeting. That is just the meeting time, worst case you have to do some travelling to do to get at the meeting place, though there is at least switching time involved to get in a somewhat productive state over the meeting itself. It is more like 1.5 working day lost due to that one hour meeting.
How to overcome being killed by meetings and become productive once again
Old habits die-hard and meetings are one of the worst habits we have developed over the years. Let’s start to break this bad habit:
Do you really need the meeting
Always ask these questions first:
- Do you (the organiser) need to consume other people’s time?
- Do you (the participants) need to attend this meeting?
- What value will this meeting bring to its participants?
- Is there an other way to solve the issue besides scheduling a meeting?
Know the goal of the meeting
Is the meeting for information sharing? Cancel it. Meetings are either for problem solving or for decision-making, nothing more. If you want to share information with a group, just make sure you have an enterprise social network solution available in which you can share the information (or request to share information) with the group. This is by far more efficient than stealing everybody’s time and put them in a single space. If there is no goal mentioned for the meeting, always cancel it, poorly prepared meetings are timekillers.
Don’t accept default durations of meetings
Why should a meeting be 15 minutes, 30 minutes or 60 minutes? Scheduling software offers these standard durations, however do you need 30 minutes? Would 18 minutes be sufficient? Why not schedule 7 minutes if you only need 7 minutes. Plan for the time you need, create a constraint and me sure that you finish within the scheduled time.
Only concrete things are worth having a meeting about
Abstract things don’t exist and therefore can be discussed for days on end. Only have meetings about something really concrete (a product, an issue that can be reproduced a piece of design) are worth having since you can do something with it.
If the meeting is about an issue and the issue has a location go there, not to a meeting room
Issues become more tangible if you experience them, not when they are conveyed in words on a Powerpoint slide. Meeting rooms are just isolated places from reality, nothing really happens there besides meetings. If you can go elsewhere which has a better connection to the subject of the meeting, go there.
No agenda, is no meeting
If there is no agenda, there is no structure, no preparation and absolutely no value. If people appreciate your appearance and added value of you in a meeting, they should appreciate your time first. Appreciation starts with preparation so that you waste as little as possible. Also preparation helps to come to the insights which people must attend (as little as possible).
Meetings end with actions, owners and deadlines
If you don’t end up with actions you’ve had a conversation, not a meeting. A meeting ends with a set of actions in which each action has an owner and a deadline. Reporting back on these actions doesn’t require a new meeting, it requires communication and an agreement on how to update others on the progress.
Actual things you could do tomorrow to reduce your meetings
Over the years I have introduced, experienced and heard about many successful solutions to adapt your workaround in an easy way to become more effective and to spend less time on meetings. They might inspire you to take action and to start changing the way you work right now.
The issue with meetings is that everybody can schedule them, it isn’t a scarce resource. Well your time is scarce, though when it is managed by somebody else it is not perceived as scarce. To create a better understanding on what you are wasting by scheduling meetings make time a really scarce resource. You can do so by creating meeting credits. One meeting credit is one hour of one person’s time. So if you want to schedule your weekly look-at-me meeting with 10 people it will cost you 10 credits. By limiting the credits you force people to think critically about meetings in general and specifically in who should be attending the meeting and who not, since if you invite too many people or organise too many meetings you’ll be out of credits and you won’t be able to organise yet another meeting.
The standup meeting with a twist
Stand up meetings are supposed to be short meetings, however since some people improved standing into an art form they can go on for hours. There is a simple change you can apply I heard of: ask all the participants to drink a big glass of water before the meeting starts. As soon as the first person has to go to the bathroom the meeting has finished. Drinking water is healthy and not having meetings for hours is also healthy, so why not combine both?
Record and repeat
One alternative I just heard from my friend Björn de Visser was to record and repeat. He is always thinking when he has to do a meeting with a repeatable topic: “Can I make a Webinar out of it”. Indeed, why would you do a meeting more than once (or repeat parts of the meeting) even though the audience is different. That is just poor time management from your own side. Focus on the new things in a meeting, everything that could be repeated could be used in the preparation of the meeting or to consume it afterwards, this way you can have a really focused meeting on the things that really matter.
Just talk with each other more often. There is the Allen curve that shows that the more we are apart, the less we communicate. However it is not when we have a meeting that we communicate more with each other, we talk to each other, however that doesn’t imply that there is real communication. Social platforms are a great way to keep in touch with each other and to overcome the Allen curve and to keep the communications going. Meeting can then be used to make decisions, instead of just catching up.
In the end
It is about you managing your time, not the time of others by scheduling meeting in their calendars. That goes of course both ways, others shouldn’t be managing your time by scheduling meetings in your calendar.