How to ensure your meetings are productive

You’re not alone if you feel like you spend most of your life in meetings

You can’t end them for good, but they need not be a waste of time.

How long do you spend in meetings each year? Do you, like many, think they’re a total waste of time? A group of partners from Bain & Company studied the time budgets of 17 corporations and found that, on average, 15 per cent of an organisation’s time is spent in meetings. They even discovered that an undisclosed large company spent as many as 300,000 hours every year supporting its weekly executive committee meeting. Indeed, though most companies have procedures to manage capital and human resources, “an organisation’s time, in contrast, goes largely unmanaged,” the researchers wrote in Harvard Business Review.
Your own experience may not be so extreme, and meetings are probably a necessary evil. But there are ways to make them more productive.

STOP WASTING TIME

To budget time as the scarce resource it is, start by asking whether you actually need a meeting at all.
Marcia Blenko, Michael Mankins and Paul Rogers, co-authors of Decide & Deliver, say it’s vital to first differentiate between the minor and major decisions your team needs to make. The latter may include those dealing with large investments or even just more routine decisions that add up to significant value over time. “If a meeting doesn’t bear on one of those, give it the axe,” they say.
If the meeting is indeed necessary, set a time limit and use a timer to enforce it. Not only will work expand to the time you schedule for it, but research on attention spans has shown that most people can only pay attention to a given task for 10 to 18 minutes before they check out.

RUN YOUR MEETINGS LIKE A BOSS

Once you get the timing right, make sure meetings have a clear purpose and everyone knows what is required of them. Both Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer and serial entrepreneur Elon Musk have little time to waste, so they both recommend basing decisions on facts and data instead of dabbling in personal opinions and experiences.
Mayer asks questions relentlessly, to challenge her team’s implicit assumptions. Musk encourages thinking from basic principles and reasoning up from there. Looking at the situation from the bottom up may take more energy, but it will also improve the quality of your decisions, Musk said in a recent interview.

GET THE RIGHT PEOPLE

Successful meetings depend on getting only the most appropriate people in the loop and making them accountable.
Productivity consultant and author Carson Tate says you need only four kinds of people in the meeting room. First, a decision-maker will provide the authority to call the shots. A resourceful person will provide the right knowledge and skills to inform plans and decisions. An influencer, meanwhile, has the pull and network to advocate for them. Finally, you need an executor to successfully implement the work resulting from the meeting.

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