How to Make Meetings Shorter (for Real)
If you work a typical office job, even remotely, you probably spend more time than you'd like in meetings. Last year, a survey from the AI customer engagement company Dialpad found that 83 percent of 2,800 respondents said they spent four to 12 hours a week in meetings. If you're a founder or executive, that time may ramp up to more than 20 hours.
No one could blame you for being exhausted. Whether they're virtual or in-person, meetings require focus and can be draining, especially for introverts who aren't energized by interactions with coworkers.
Unless your company takes the bold stance of eliminating types of meetings, as Shopify said it was doing earlier this year, it's unlikely you can escape them entirely. But you can at least try to make them shorter, especially if you're the organizer. Worker gatherings are typically way too long, dragged down by Zoom issues, idle chitchat, and the lack of a clear agenda.
No strategy is perfect, but here are some ideas for cutting down the time you're stuck in meeting hell.
If you're the meeting scheduler, consider doing away with one-hour or 45-minute meetings unless they're mission-critical or involve many teams presenting updates. Ask yourself: Can we get everything done in 30 minutes? How about 15? Don't overcommit on time you set aside in the calendar.
Before you send the invite, ask yourself: "Do all of these people need to be at this meeting?" You can always fill in those who aren't in attendance with a short update, if needed. Meetings with too many participants are also likely to last longer.
The person who organized the meeting should lead the discussion and be mindful of keeping it on track and on time. If that's you and it's not your strong suit, assign someone else to lead the meeting. Don't have a meeting with no one in charge; that's a great way to wander and go too long.
The pandemic shutdown made Zoom a tool that nearly everyone had to start using, from CEOs to K-12 students. But weirdly, people didn't seem to get much better at navigating Zoom's many control buttons and getting sound to work. It's 2023 and meetings are still marred with, "Can you hear me? Am I on mute?"
Let participants know in advance that the virtual meeting room will open up 10 minutes early for a "get your mic and camera working" grace period time. If possible, have someone in the meeting room to help get those kinks worked out.
Be consistent with what virtual platform you use for meetings. Switching from Zoom to Microsoft Teams to Google Meet introduces more variables that can lead to delays.
For all types of meetings, make sure there's an agenda. Nothing makes a meeting drag longer than a lack of action items and aimless conversation.
And speaking of conversation, put a five-minute limit (or shorter) on small talk. If a team hasn't met in a while, some pleasantries are fine, but don't let it derail the agenda. For regular meetings, table social chat until after the meeting.
If participants feel rushed and are resistant to the idea of shorter meetings, remind them that time is money. You can find several "How much is this meeting costing us?" calculators that will give you a good sense of how much money long meetings waste.
As with all-virtual meetings, consider opening up the online meeting room and in-person space five to 10 minutes early, and make it clear ahead of time that hybrid meetings are not going to be paused for those online to get set up.
It's hard to regulate people's distractions when they're not in the room, but for anyone participating in person, consider adopting a "no phone distractions" policy during meetings. Phones are silenced and put away except for emergencies. Instead of giving people an excuse to reach for their mobile devices to look at your agenda, consider printing it out. Nobody likes wasting paper, but getting people's eyes off their screens may be worth it.
Speaking of agendas, yours, no matter the meeting type, should include target discussion times for each major topic. You might only need five minutes for some topics, while others may require 15 minutes or more. Mark those times down so participants know what the time priorities are. If you want to take that idea to the next level, do what podcasters do to keep track of time: Have a Pardon the Interruption-style countdown timer for each topic. You can find lots of countdown timer apps or sites online for free. BigTimer.net is one of the easiest to use. It works from any browser, can be customized, and doesn't add any cost to your meetings.
Now, let's talk about food. Yes, food. Have you ever been in a meeting and had things go completely off track due to a birthday cake or a spread of food that takes up 10 or 15 minutes before a meeting? People filling up paper plates with goodies from a fruit and veggie tray can be a huge time suck, not to mention an annoyance for those joining online who can't partake in the goodies.
If you must have snacks for a meeting, make sure it's grab-and-go food. Bagels are great. A breakfast taco bar with 10 kinds of salsa? Say goodbye to your target wrap-up time.
Finally, if all the topics of discussion have been hit and action items assigned and there's still time left on the meeting clock, don't hesitate to adjourn early. You'll be an office hero if you can help your fellow coworkers reclaim some of their time. Be vigilant: Don't let long, inefficient meetings become the norm.
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