Meetings kill productivity. The more you attend, the less time you have left over to think, create, and produce.
As painful as meetings can be, however, you can’t clear your calendar entirely without losing track of important projects (and hurting a few feelings along the way). Rather than lock yourself in your office and communicate via email, cut down your meeting responsibilities and reclaim your calendar by following these tips:
1. Automate Scheduling
Workflow automation tools can help you skip the hassle of setting up and organizing meetings, which is half the battle. A good scheduling tool will automatically find the time and place that works best for everyone so you don’t have to refresh your inbox to make sure everyone got the memo. You can also use workflow automation tools to deliver important documentation, like agendas and minutes, to cut down on post-meeting hassles and get back to work.
2. Get Picky With Your Presence
Just because you could participate in every meeting doesn’t mean you should. Before you accept an invitation, think about whether this meeting truly requires your presence. If you need to know the information but don’t need to weigh in on the discussion, ask to receive the minutes or send an employee to represent you. In some cases, you may be able to attend the first part of the meeting and make a graceful exit after the relevant parts are over.
3. Set a Hard Attendance Limit
Just as Jeff Bezos follows his famous two-pizza rule, you can keep meetings short and relevant by setting a cap on how many people can attend. Excessive guest lists don’t just waste the time of the people who don’t need to be there — they also waste the time of the biggest stakeholders as outside voices provide unnecessary input and extend the conversation. Invite fewer people to the meetings you organize, and be selective about whether you attend the crowded meetings of others.
4. Cut Meeting Times in Half
Do you really need to spend a whole hour kicking off that project or discussing the postmortem of a recent initiative? Maybe you do, but you can probably achieve the same outcome in half the time if you get right to the heart of the matter. Shorter meetings encourage people to arrive on time, and they get moving quickly. Try halving some of your regular meetings to evaluate whether you get different results.
5. Replace PowerPoint with Paper
Death by PowerPoint is a real phenomenon that kills the brain cells of professionals everywhere. The longer a presenter talks, the less you care about what the slides say. Ditch PowerPoint presentations in favor of paper handouts. Give everyone a chance to read the information at the beginning of the meeting, then host a conversation with your newly informed audience. This will allow people to absorb much more than they would by watching you drone with a clicker in hand.
6. Require an Agenda in Advance
Don’t attend a meeting if the person organizing it can’t clearly articulate the purpose of the meeting. Every meeting should begin with a question and end with an answer. Before you attend anything, ask the organizer to send the meeting agenda. Not only does this allow you to judge the necessity of your presence, but it also ensures that others at the meeting will arrive ready to discuss the issue.
7. Watch the Clock
Start your meetings on time every time, regardless of who is — or isn’t — present. Some companies tacitly encourage employees to waste time by allowing meetings to start late. This disrespects the people who made punctuality a priority and often leads to meetings going past their scheduled end time. Keep your meetings within the promised timeframe on both sides to earn attendees’ respect and accomplish your objectives faster.
8. Implement a No-Meeting Day
What would happen if no one met at all for one day every week? Would the walls of your company come crumbling down? Find out for yourself by banning formal meetings on specific days. If people enjoy the change and productivity remains high, see if you can stretch your meeting ban to two days.
9. Try Speed Meetings
For those times when you need to meet but don’t need to solve every problem simultaneously, try speed meetings. Schedule five- or 10-minute gatherings with only the essential personnel to talk about pertinent information and come up with action items for each party. These meetings should only include two or three people. Put a few speed meetings in the same hour to knock out easy conversations.
When you have more efficient meetings, something magical happens. Requests in your inbox begin to dwindle as your meetings accomplish more in less time. One day, you may look at your calendar and shudder in horror as you remember how much unnecessary time you used to spend in conference rooms.