We’ve all been there.
You find yourself stuck in a meeting that doesn’t seem to end when you’re not really sure why you’re there in the first place.
Meetings can be beneficial to brainstorm ideas, share quick recaps when email threads get too long, and for decision making. But sometimes you get snowed under with a lot of meetings, especially if you’re in a managerial position at work or the higher you go up the hierarchy ladder.
The problem doesn’t just arise with the fact that these meetings take up a significant portion of your working time, but actually, some of these meeting functionalities could be fulfilled through other ways that would save everyone’s time and the company’s money.
The Why: you should quit unnecessary meetings
Actual work piles up
35% of an average employee’s time is spent in meetings, while that number can go up to 50% if you’re in middle or upper management. So if you’re spending half of your working time in meetings, when are you producing the actual work you have due?
Every hour spent in a meeting, and every hour spent preparing for a meeting is less time dedicated to execute and finish tasks; which leads to people missing deadlines or trying to miraculously fit the work into the remaining time thus reducing the quality of the output. Dedicated employees who refuse to deliver below standards usually work over time, whether that’s at home or on their way to and from work. Yes, this gets things done, but creates another thorn in the flesh, which is work-related stress. 46% of people surveyed by ComPsych feel stressed because of the workload they continuously have due. This work-related stress has side effects, such as insomnia, social withdrawal, depression, and hostility.
Instead of getting stuck in this vicious cycle, if unnecessary meetings were eliminated, employees would have more time in their hands to finish their tasks and lighten their workload.
Distraction off work
If you’re a manager, you might have a schedule that consists of one–hour slots, booked depending on the length of the task or meeting. However, if your job involves more cognitive thinking that demands lengthy blocks of work to execute, then being interrupted by meetings in the middle of the day will disrupt your focus.
Creative tasks and planning usually require straight hours of thinking and executing to get things done productively; and according to research by the department of informatics at the University of California , it takes 25 minutes to regain focus after a distraction (which in our example is a meeting). If you have 1-2 meetings daily, that contributes to the loss of a considerable portion of your working time just trying to get into the cognitive thinking mode again.
Hundreds of hours lost
It’s not like meetings take up working time from the organizer’s schedule only, it occupies everyone’s schedules; so unless the agenda and content are rich and result in a significant outcome, then everyone’s time is being wasted on this meeting.
The average meeting time is one hour, and an average of 5 people attend each meeting, so if you multiply the number of attendees with the time, you’ll find that hundreds of hours are wasted monthly on meetings.
This usually occurs because of a habit that meeting organizers like to do: over-invite. Disregarding the topic and issues to be discussed, inviting people from every department feels satisfactory and gives importance to the meeting..even if the parties involved could be reduced to only one or two people, really. So next time you book a meeting, give it some extra thought about who you want to invite, and who would actually contribute to what you want to achieve. You don’t have to fill the room with 12 confused people to have a consequential meeting.
Billions of dollars wasted
Do you know how much that last meeting you went to cost? Harvard Business Review created an interesting calculator that estimates how much money is wasted on each meeting. Globally, 37 billion dollars are lost every year in meetings!
Once you know how much you spend on meetings in your company, you’ll be devastated at the sum of money that you could have had in your pocket otherwise. The cost of each meeting depends on:
- It’s duration.
- The number of attendees.
- The salary of each attendee in the meeting.
So if you want to cut down your spending, you could shorten each meeting’s time, decrease the number of people you invite to the most relevant ones only, or even eliminate that meeting altogether if it’s not crucial.
The What: to do instead
Now that you’re somewhat convinced that meetings are not as essential as the world makes them out to be, the following are a list of alternative solutions that will boost your productivity and save you time, effort and money.
- Use apps to track projects
In companies where you’re working on several projects simultaneously, it is not the smartest thing to do to call up a meeting just to track how every member is progressing in a project.
An easy and efficient alternative is to exploit the tools that the Internet gifted us with. Applications and websites like Trello, Slack & Kanban are systematic tools that organize work plans and offer a platform on which you can communicate with your team members regarding each project.
Using these tools, you can track the progress of each member in each project, and give comments or feedback right away, without having to meet to discuss the status of the work due.
- Communicate via email, or quick face-to-face updates
Pretty obvious, isn’t it? Establish a rule in your team or communicate to your colleagues that responding to internal emails should be a top priority, especially when you’re requesting outstanding work or waiting for their confirmation on something. If your inbox usually overflows with new emails on a frequent basis, use tools that help control its organization so that urgent and important matters are not overlooked.
If an issue is better communicated verbally, have a quick chat with the involved party instead of allocating a meeting time for it. Following Steve Jobs’ example, you can have walking meetings in the open space of your company, which acts as both a refreshing activity and a way to indirectly improve cognition.
- Have a no-meetings day
Out of the five working days you have in a week, dedicating one day where no one is allowed to book you in a meeting is a functional way to be more productive and to get things done.
Mark it on your work calendar that day X is your no-meetings day so that everyone in the office would stay clear from booking you. Instead of postponing the meeting to another day, they might rethink its significance and cancel it; or it might even inspire some people to implement the same concept. If you’re in a managerial position in the office, you can also declare it as a policy that there’s one day per week where no one has any meetings.
- Set working blocks
On days where you’re bound to have at least one meeting, try to set a couple of hours as uninterrupted working blocks, during which you will be focused on completing outstanding work.
At the beginning of each day, list and prioritize the tasks that need to be done that day and check if you have meetings; then book multiple 2-hour slots on your calendar as work blocks. Given that the brain cannot function for more than 45 consecutive minutes, you can divide these blocks using the Pomodoro technique into 25-minute work times & 5-minute breaks. This way, you’ll increase your efficiency, and you’ll have more productive days.
- Share announcements/updates alternatively
If you’re going organize a meeting just to share an announcement or an update with everyone in the office, you might as well just NOT do that, and share that piece of information alternatively.
If you only need people to know about something without necessarily anticipating comments, then just send them an email. You don’t need to waste time gathering everyone just to inform them about something that they could have read at their liberty.
Likewise, don’t include a slot in your meeting agenda just to brief people about something. Instead, send over a brief document at least 24 hours before a meeting, so that people could read it and attend the meeting informed and prepared.
- Cancel short meetings altogether
Yes, that’s right. Cancel that meeting. Don’t conform to that office norm if it’s dispensable. I mean, if a meeting is going to take less than 30 minutes, why set it up in the first place? The intent of such short meetings could probably be fulfilled through other quick methods like the ones listed above. Try canceling any short meeting you come across; if several trials lead to the success of the concept, then adopt the habit of procuring an alternative to meetings that are set for less than 30 minutes.
All in all, some meetings are unavoidable as they will significantly contribute to work progress; so we can’t really encourage you to aim for a 100% elimination of meetings in the office. You should, however, kill the unnecessary, hollow ones and professionally manage the important ones.
Here are a few tips on how to manage the meetings you organize:
- Set a definite meeting agenda and send it to the invitees 24 hours before the meeting;
- Don’t over-invite; select those who would really contribute;
- Set the meeting time for less than usual, you’ll still be able to deliver the content you had planned;
- Begin and end on time;
- Create an action plan at the end of the meeting rather than a summary.