MEETINGS are one of the most time-wasting and energy-sapping things in working life. But there are some basic rules for making them better. Here are five.

1. Have a structure. There is a school of thought that says there are only three reasons to have a meeting. First, to inform and bring people up to speed. Second, to seek input from people. And third, to ask for approval. Normally they will be a mixture of the three, but it is good to be clear from the start what you are hoping to achieve. Progress reports, or anything else that involves one person imparting information to others is far more effectively done by emailing that information. Meetings are where people exchange ideas.

2. Be clear about why you are holding the meeting. The most pointless meetings are those where everybody is hoping to get something else out of it. Know what outcomes you want from a meeting and tell everybody what they are. So you must have an agenda. Send the agenda to everybody before the meeting so they know what is expected of them. Instead of listing the topics you will discuss, list the outcomes that you want. Instead of “discuss tea rota”, for example, write “agree on a new tea rota”. This will make it clear that you are there to get a result, not just have a chinwag. Assign a certain amount of time to each point on the agenda to sharpen minds and reduce rambling.

3. Get your timing right. Hold meetings before lunch or near the end of the working day. That encourages people to be concise. Also, don’t wait for latecomers – it encourages them to be punctual the next time, and shows that you value people’s time.

4. Cut people off if you have to. It might seem rude to interrupt somebody, but if they are rambling then you have to take action. It is ruder to the other people to allow their time to be wasted. Be polite but firm. Rambling is precisely why people hate meetings. If a meeting is going on too long, don’t be tempted to have a break and re-start – get it moving to its conclusion more quickly.

5. All’s well that ends well. When you have finished, ensure that everybody understands what was agreed – and agrees what was agreed. Those who have to take action should be clear what it is, and the deadline. Get feedback on how everybody thinks the meeting went, and get recommendations for how to improve it next time.