7 Steps to Help you Run More Productive Meetings

by Amy Steinberg Published Sep 18, 2018 Last updated Sep 18, 2018

“…Meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years, to the point where executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in them, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s. And that doesn’t even include all the impromptu gatherings that don’t make it onto the schedule.” 

– Leslie A. Perlow, Constance Noonan Hadley, and Eunice Eun, Harvard Business Review

The amount of time a typical office worker spends in meetings is shocking, especially for senior-level managers or executives. Scott Dockweiler with the Daily Muse notes that mid-level managers spend roughly one-third of their time in meetings while upper management spends about half of their working hours in meetings. What is worse, Dockweiler notes, “is how unproductive these meetings usually are.” Below are seven tips to help you make sure that your meetings are efficient and productive.

1) Only hold meetings if necessary

“There are many reasons to schedule a meeting…Some are one-off meetings for non-recurring items, like annual strategic planning, putting out a client fire or team building events. But, most get set because entrepreneurs are inexperienced and don’t know any better. That is largely related to their not trusting the team to do their jobs or their needing to control every single decision that is made. It is this last category that is the killer.”

– George Deeb, Managing Partner at Red Rocket Ventures

While some meetings are necessary, many meetings are scheduled on a whim when a meeting is not the proper solution. Time management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders describes how the phrase, “Let’s schedule a meeting,” has become a default response to a wide variety of issues that are better solved through other means. For instance, she notes that managers often call meetings before thinking through things when they are short on ideas or unsure of how to tackle a project.

2) Consider some of the alternatives to meetings

“…Sometimes meetings are necessary, but rather than a first-response, meetings should be reserved for special occasions, when only a face-to-face meeting will do the job.”

– Dustin M. Wax, Lifehack  

Copywriter and social media specialist Alexandrea Roman outlines the following alternatives to formal meetings:

  • Sending team members individual requests for project updates
  • Using group e-mail blasts to make important announcements and request feedback
  • Holding offsite teambuilding gatherings to brainstorm and bolster professional development
  • Connecting on a one-on-one basis with each team member to discuss goals

3) Always distribute an agenda in advance of your meeting

Distributing an agenda before your meeting enables your participants to prepare for your meeting and organize their questions and comments. Additionally, agendas help keep attendees on track and provides a framework for topics that need to be addressed. Here are a few tips to help you prepare a useful agenda before your next meeting:

  • Distribute the agenda at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting if possible
  • Limit your agenda to one page
  • Ask meeting participants to come prepared with any pre-workor questions they have

If you are scheduling an impromptu meeting, there might not be time to prepare and distribute an agenda. In these cases, make a quick but firm announcement of the purpose of the meeting and top three topics at the start of the meeting.

4) Let participants know how long the meeting will last

Informing attendees in advance of the length of your meeting will enable them to plan their workday and make any necessary adjustments to their schedule. They know how long the meeting team has to accomplish set goals and are less prone to digress or veer off topic.

5) Be a stickler about keeping attendees focused on meeting topics

This task can prove to be difficult, especially if you have one or more attendees who have a tendency to wander off topic. An effective way to handle attendees who digress is to politely but swiftly thank the attendees for their enthusiasm. Then ask the employees to jot down their suggestions so that you can schedule an off-line discussion to vet their ideas. Then remind all attendees that you need to stick to the key meeting agenda items in order to finish the meeting on time.

6) Always finish your meeting within the promised time constraints

A meeting that is lengthy or runs overtime is considered to be one of the Seven Deadly Sins of Meetings. When a meeting is long or extends beyond the scheduled window of time, attendees are more apt to become restless, distracted, and frustrated by the interference in their work schedule. You can help ensure that your meeting finishes on time by using a visible timer, sticking to your set agenda, or even having a bell set to ring at the end of your meeting.

7) Seek feedback from attendees

Improving the flow and content of your meetings should be an ongoing process. There is always room for improvement, and your meeting participants often hold the key to helping you design efficient, productive meetings. More importantly, seeking feedback from your meeting participants accomplishes three key goals:

  • You gain useful information that can help you improve your next meeting
  • Your meeting participants feel valued when their ideas opinions are solicited
  • Employees are more apt to share their thoughts and ideas moving forward

The Bottom Line

There are many measures you can take to enjoy a more limited but more productive meeting schedule. By following the seven steps above, you can optimize your efficiency by reducing the amount of time you spend in meetings.