When you spend the day sprinting from meeting to meeting, the time flies by. And that’d be great, except for one thing - you didn’t actually complete any real work. Your speedy work day turns into a long evening spent in front of the computer, trying to catch up on emails and mark some of those overdue items off your to-do list.
Internal meetings can be effective. When email threads get out of control and everyone on your team is confused, a quick meeting can provide much-needed clarification. Meetings can also be great for team-building and collaboration. When meetings have a dedicated purpose and provide value, they’re an excellent use of everyone’s time.
And then? There are meetings for the sake of meetings.
Purposeless, valueless meetings distract from important tasks, waste budgets, kill employee motivation, and burn morale. At best, one person benefits from the meeting - at the expense of the time and talents of everyone else involved. When meetings get out of hand, productivity slows or stops. Dedicated employees have to work overtime to finish their work, and others miss deadlines or reduce quality to keep up.
It’s high time to cut down on the time you waste in meetings. Here’s how to do it.
1. Invest in Collaboration Software
One of the biggest offenders for unnecessary meetings are status update meetings.
Status update meetings are often organized by project managers and consist of everyone getting together to report on their progress towards deadlines and goals. While collecting statuses may be crucial for reporting progress and resolving roadblocks, the organizer is often the only one who benefits from the meeting.
Tech tools can eliminate the need for status update meetings by enabling all members of a team or project to communicate with each other in a shared discussion space.
Project managers and other leaders can access the communications at any time to gather updates and compile reports. If they have questions, they can reach out to individuals directly, rather than scheduling a meeting for the entire team.
2. Measure the Cost of Meetings
If you’ve ever evaluated your own finances to see where you’re spending your money, you know how shocking it can be to discover just how much money you spend each year on dining out or coffee. Calculating the cost of meetings can be equally shocking.
In a study on productivity conducted by Bain & Company, researchers found that a weekly meeting of mid-level managers at a large manufacturing company cost more than $15 million each year.
Want to highlight the impact of valueless meetings to your c-suite or employees? Give them a figure like $15 million.
Calculating the cost of meetings might sound complicated, but it’s actually simple. Check out the Harvard Business Review calculator, which lets you estimate meeting costs by plugging in the duration of the meeting, the number of attendees, and the annual salary of each person who attends.
Leaders from Bain, writing about the results of their study for Harvard Business Review, noted:
“[S]enior executives rated more than half the meetings they attended as ‘ineffective’ or ‘very ineffective.’ … It’s hard to know exactly how much of this squandered time could be rescued. But our data suggest that most companies have an opportunity to liberate at least 20% of their collective hours by bringing greater discipline to time management.”
3. Choose a Meeting-Free Day
Join companies like Asana, Aria Healthcare, and Moveline, and establish a meeting-free day - a single day of the workweek where meetings are prohibited.
But won’t people just schedule the meetings on other days of the week? Apparently not, at least according to data collected by David Rubinger, a data scientist at Polar.
Rubinger found that while setting a meeting-free policy at Polar on Tuesdays and Thursdays reduced the number of meetings on those days by 55%, the number of meetings scheduled on other days of the week remained consistent. People weren’t rescheduling meetings for other days - they were cutting them out altogether.
When people see how much they’re able to accomplish in a day without meetings, they’ll crave that productivity throughout the rest of the week. They may be less inclined to schedule meetings on other days of the week, and they may learn how to get the information they need without relying on meetings.
4. Enforce the Use of Meeting Agendas
Recurring meetings aren’t always a waste of time - meetings can be an effective way to get consensus on decisions or to resolve ongoing issues. However, if you have ten people in a meeting and only three of those people are needed to discuss an issue, the meeting lacks value for the other seven attendees.
This issue can be resolved if meeting agendas are enforced. Organizers must provide an agenda for the meeting at least 24 hours before the meeting takes place - not five minutes before the meeting starts. This allows everyone to see if they’re needed for the meeting, and if they’re not, they can skip it.
Setting agendas also keeps people on task during meetings, which can lead to shorter sessions. If people have a specific list of things to accomplish during a meeting, they’ll stay on track and skip tangential discussions.
In an article for Forbes, Kevin Kruse writes:
“I asked seven billionaires to give me their No. 1 piece of advice for productivity and time management. To my surprise, many referenced the evils of meetings, and it was Mark Cuban who told me, ‘Never take a meeting unless someone is writing you a check.’”
Though plenty of studies show that most people feel that more than half of the meetings they attend lack value, they continue to attend. People are afraid that, by declining meetings, they’ll alienate coworkers or invoke management retribution. And honestly, if you decline by saying, “this meeting is pointless, so I’m not attending anymore,” that will probably be the case.
There’s a better way to politely decline meetings without offending the organizer: offer a reasonable explanation and an alternative solution. Explain the demands of your workload, and offer to remain available over IM during that time slot in case an issue comes up that needs your input. Everyone understands time constraints because we all have them. Offering to be available shows people that you’re happy to help if needed.
Sometimes, people get stuck in a cycle of meetings for the sake of meetings, and it takes someone bold to decline a meeting and break the cycle. When you stop attending meetings, other people will realize they can do the same. You may find that people just start canceling valueless meetings because everyone involved realized it was a waste of time.
Being selfish with your time at work isn’t necessarily a selfish act. When it comes to unnecessary meetings, selfishness can lead to more productive working hours for everyone.
Can you think of any meetings you hold or attend that could be skipped without negative impact? Take the bold step of declaring that you’ll no longer waste your time on unnecessary meetings today, and share your commitment in the comments below: