5 Ways to Avoid Unproductive Meetings

A woman taking notes in a meetings

Unproductive meetings aren’t just a waste of time and money — they’re also shockingly common. Seventy-one percent of senior managers say meetings are unproductive and inefficient, according to the Harvard Business Review.

How can you beat the odds and avoid unproductive meetings in your company? These are our top five meeting productivity tips:

  1. Keep your meetings small.
  2. Only hold meetings when it’s necessary.
  3. Create and distribute an agenda ahead of time.
  4. Don’t be afraid to end the meeting early.
  5. Use video conferences whenever possible.

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of those tips.

1. Keep Your Meetings Small

Although it may be true that two heads are better than one, that doesn’t necessarily mean that 15 meeting participants are more productive than five.

Need proof that small meetings are more productive than large ones? Look no further than the blog of Stanford University professor Robert Sutton, who analyzed several studies to find that the most productive meetings are attended by only five to eight people.

So, only invite participants who are absolutely essential, and save the big meetings for company-wide announcements and presentations.

2. Only Hold Meetings When It’s Necessary

While regularly scheduled meetings may seem like a straightforward way to get everyone on the same page, they can end up being nothing more than a serious waste of time.

According to Atlassian, most employees attend 62 meetings per month. Since about half of all meetings are reported to be unproductive, that results in about 31 hours of time spent in unproductive meetings each month.

The solution is simple: Take a critical look at your team’s recurring meetings and identify areas where you can cut back.

For example, maybe you could reduce your weekly meeting time from one hour to thirty minutes. Or, perhaps you could spread out your hour-long weekly meeting into five 10-minute daily meetings — you’d even save 10 minutes in the process.

3. Create and Distribute an Agenda Ahead of Time

Without a structure, meetings can easily veer off-topic or even be derailed completely. Want an easy fix? Take the time to create and distribute an effective meeting agenda.

Meeting agendas don’t just help participants stay on-topic: They also allow participants to gather their thoughts and materials ahead of time, so they’ll be able to say what they need to in a succinct and organized manner.

Need help writing a great meeting agenda? Check out our previous blog post, “How to Write a Meeting Agenda for Conference Calls.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to End the Meeting Early

Have you ever felt the need to extend a meeting so that it reaches its scheduled end time? Many managers have, but that instinct to stick to a rigid schedule is seriously misguided.

Meetings shouldn’t be about filling a time slot. Instead, they should be about addressing the topic at hand so everyone can get back to work as quickly as possible.

So, next time your meeting has covered everything on the agenda before the scheduled end time, don’t make small talk until time’s up. Instead, simply end the meeting right then and there.

If you’re meeting with a non-remote team, you may want to try implementing stand-up meetings, where the participants stand for the duration of the meeting. Because standing is less comfortable than sitting, doing this can help keep meetings short and sweet.

If you have a topic that demands an hour or more of meeting time, be sure to factor in a few brief breaks. Why? Research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that people assigned a 50-minute task performed significantly better when given two short breaks during that time period.

5. Use Video Conferences Whenever Possible

Video conferences have no shortage of advantages: They save time and money, require no travel and improve relationships, to name a few.

Turns out, employees stay much more focused during video conferences than they do during audio calls. According to a survey from Lifesize, 82 percent of video users are less likely to multitask on a video call than an audio call.

So, next time you’re planning on hosting an online meeting, opt for video whenever you can. Need video conference presentation tips? Take a look at our previous blog post, “Conference Call and Online Meeting Presentations: How to Keep Your Audience Engaged.”

If you implement any of the five tips above, you’re sure to experience more productive calls. This is good news for everyone: Productive, successful conference calls and meetings won’t just save your company money, they’ll also save your employees time and energy.

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