I read a book recently by Dr. Henry Cloud called NecessaryEndings. In the book Dr. Cloud makes the point that there are things in our business and personal lives that we need to get rid of in order to make room for the best things in our life. Just like a gardener must prune a rosebush to allow it to grow beautiful perfect roses we too must prune certain areas of our business and professional lives to allow ourselves to grow and attain our full potential. These areas that we must prune include habits, patterns of thought, relationships and activities where we spend a considerable amount of time such as Meetings. Yes Meetings!!!
In today’s business culture meetings rule the day and most people would agree that they spend a large percentage of their work days in meetings. And when was the last time you heard someone talk about how great their meetings were? The problem that we all struggle with is that we spend so much time in meetings that we are not able to accomplish the individual deliverables that we are responsible for completing. We get stretched so thin that we struggle to keep our heads above water. This leads to us taking more and more work home, which cuts into our family and personal time and leads to additional stress and eventually burnout.
If we want to regain control of our lives, maintain a healthy work life balance and save our time for the best things in life then meetings are a prime target for pruning. You can prune your meetings and regain valuable time by focussing on three questions that you should ask yourself about how you are spending time in meetings.
1. What ways are you spending time in meetings that is valuable but not the best use of time?
One example of this area of wasted time is individual status reporting. We have all been in meetings where this happens. You spend 30 minutes or more going around the table listening to each person report on the current status of their respective projects or tasks. The problem with this is that if each person would have just sent in their written status prior to the meeting then a consolidated status report could have been distributed to the team prior to the meeting for review and that 30 minutes or more could have been saved for other more important issues, questions related to the specific status items or given back to the attendees in the form of a shorter meeting. It is not a matter of the status reporting not being important but is rather an acknowledgment that spending the time in the meeting reporting status is not the best use of everyone’s time. Another prevalent issue that falls into this category is having too many people at meetings. Too often people scheduling meetings will invite way more people than are required to achieve the objective(s) of the meeting. To prevent this think through the objective(s) of the meeting and ask yourself if each person you are inviting needs to be there to help achieve the objective(s). I think you will see your meeting attendee list shrinking to the delight of those not invited. My personal favorite however in the area of unnecessary meeting attendees is the optional meeting attendee. I have never understood how someone could be optional. You either need to be at the meeting to help achieve the objective(s) or not. I dislike the concept of optional attendees so much that I literally thought about an alternative name for these people for a week. I came up with the term Meeting Subscriber to represent someone who needs to be informed about the meeting but doesn’t need to attend. Meeting Subscribers get a copy of the meeting summary report for their review once the meeting has been completed. They also get the time back that they would have otherwise wasted in a meeting where they did not belong.
2. What ways are you spending time in meetings that was valuable when you first started but is no longer providing as much value?
One example of this is using meetings to do things like brainstorming. Don’t get me wrong brainstorming is an excellent use of time but it can be much more focussed if you ask participants in the meeting to think about the topic(s) and submit ideas prior to coming to the meeting. This way the meeting time can be more focussed on discussing the pros and cons of each idea and less on trying to come up with ideas to debate. Another meeting culprit that falls into this bucket is the generic status meeting. When a project manager starts a new project the first thing they want to do is establish that daily or weekly status meeting to keep everyone informed and on the same page. At first this is great because it helps the team gel and make the connections that they will need to get things done. After several weeks though these meetings turn into time wasters and should be eliminated in favor of written status reports that are distributed to the team on a frequent basis. Specific topics that require group discussion can have dedicated meetings rather than generic meetings with no other objective than to update team members.
3. What ways are you spending time in meetings that is just an absolute waste of time and has no place in your business?
This area of wasted meeting time is fairly straightforward and doesn’t require an in depth explanation to pinpoint where this is happening. If you are discussing items that are not on your agenda or if items on your agenda are not specifically contributing to the achievement of the stated objective(s) of the meeting then they are a waste of time and should be eliminated immediately. Distribute the agenda for the meeting far enough in advance of the meeting so that you can get feedback and suggestions from those attending. Vet the feedback and structure the agenda to include only the topics that you deem relevant to achieving the stated objective(s) of the meeting. Be diligent about keeping people on point and quickly redirect any extraneous discussions. Another pet peeve of mine that falls into this area of wasted meeting time is meetings that start late. The most prevalent reason for meetings starting late is people not showing up on time. The best way to get people to show up on time is to not wait on them. Make them live through the uncomfortable feeling of interrupting a meeting in progress. Next time they will try harder to be on time.
For more useful tips on how to plan, execute and follow through on meetings download a free copy of our white paper on the MeetingResult Meeting System. You too can start having fewer, faster more focussed meetings today.