12 ways to stop wasting time in meetings

December 21, 2016 10:58 am


* Managing time properly is key for any leader

* Proper agendas, firm basics and ‘having fun’ are important

* Don’ts include not calling everyone for every meeting and not dragging things out

Google’s head of marketing made headlines for juggling as many as 20 meetings in a day – all of which she said she aims to make as productive as possible. And while double-digit daily meetings may not be ideal, every marketing leader could stand to manage meeting time more effectively.

To wit, nearly two-thirds of marketers said that “wasteful” meetings hurt their productivity rate, according to a recent report by Workfront.

Find a balance

“Meetings facilitate collaboration, which can lead to greater engagement, creativity, and productivity when done right,” said Rhonda Overby, president and CEO of Baltimore-based marketing and PR agency Camera Ready, in an interview with CMO.com. “If all you’re ever doing is meeting, however, that potential is undermined as there’s no time to do. Success comes with the proper balance of discussion and action.”

Endless meetings can cause marketing professionals to confuse activity with productivity. “If someone spends six hours in meetings, they’re killing more than half their workday right there,” said Dennis Collins, senior director of marketing for InterCall, in an interview with CMO.com. “Even when meetings seem completely necessary, just one extra meeting per day can negatively impact employee productivity.”

A need to generate consensus, collaborate, or advance a project are all decent reasons to bring people together. Status reports or updates are not. One simple rule: If you can’t quickly pull together an agenda or a goal for a corporate confab, scratch it.

What else should marketers keep in mind? Here are 12 do’s and don’ts shared with CMO.com for getting the most out of meetings. We bet you’ll be nodding your head as you make your way through this list.

Do send out an agenda

“The No 1 reason for a poor meeting is the lack of an agenda,” said Mark Roberts, CMO at ShoreTel. “A good agenda will outline topics to be covered, goals, required attendees, materials needed, and a start and stop time.”

Try to keep most agendas to 30 minutes, and distribute the meeting plan at least two hours prior. “Always give any assignments well in advance of a meeting so that people can be prepared with the right content,” said Marissa Tarleton, CMO of Retailmenot. Use the functionality of Web or videoconferencing tools to post the agenda as a visual reminder during the meeting.

Don’t schedule status meetings

Consider using digital tools for project management, rather than calling a meeting for progress updates. “No one wants to sit around and rehash the work they’ve been doing,” said Joe Staples, CMO of Workfront. “They should be sharing creative ideas to resolve challenges, brainstorming, and collaborating.”

Do master the basics

Try to determine the most productive time of day for the get together, especially if you have attendees in multiple time zones, Staples advised. Arrive at meetings early, and encourage others to do so. Start on time – whether or not all parties are present. “Meetings can never run later than scheduled, but we hope to accomplish the meeting goal earlier than the time allotted for the meeting,” said George Athan, CEO of Mindstorm Strategic Consulting. “This prevents one meeting to affect others.”

Never combine meeting purposes, either. “If you want to praise your team, don’t [tack it on to] a meeting about something else,” said Alexander Ruggie, PR director for 911 restoration.

Also, treat every meeting as important, said Chris Trick, CMO of ERA Real Estate. “While the tone and formality of gatherings can vary, the value of the attendees’ time doesn’t, so make sure you bring the same energy each time,” Trick said.

Do guide the discussion

“When the conversation strays off topic or moves beyond the meeting agenda, bring the discussion back and table any relevant points raised for future discussion,” Shoretel’s Roberts said. “Being overly polite to people who hijack a meeting will only result in it being less productive.”

Eliminate distractions, such as mobile devices and computers, and discourage side conversations.

Don’t streamline at the expense of valuable input

“When it is clear that the priority is speed and efficiency, it’s inevitable that some voices will not be heard,” said Patrick Partridge, CMO of Western Governors University. “That’s why it’s important to create a safe and open environment where the sharing of ideas and opinions is allowed and encouraged. Meetings tend to favor those who are more vocal, but it’s important to not overlook these additional voices that can add to the meeting.”

While maintaining meeting focus is critical, so, too, is soliciting input from more introverted or junior attendees. “Encourage open, honest, and straightforward dialogue, and be vocal about this at the start of a meeting to set the tone,” ERA Real Estate’s Trick said. Capture off-topic ideas (designate a note taker) while moving the conversation along.

Do have fun

“Once a meeting becomes boring, all productivity goes out the window,” said Eric Bosco, CEO of programmatic advertising firm Choicestream. Bosco has been known to arm a team lead with a nerf gun to shoot any speakers who run over their allotted time. (That meeting was very productive, Bosco said.)

Once a month, Retailmenot’s Tarleton has her team nominate a star performer to spin a wheel for prizes (stand-up paddle boarding, house cleaning, restaurant gift cards) at the marketing meeting. “For weekly companywide meetings, we infuse humor with two-minute long, employee-produced videos,” Tarleton said.

Don’t always spread meetings out

Consider clustering them. “Scheduling back-to-back meetings forces you to start and end them on time,” said Talent Inc. CMO Diego Lomanto. “Furthermore, the half hour between meetings is rarely productive, other than answering emails, which should be batch-processed anyway. Consecutive meetings enable chunks of time for handing deep-dive work.”

Do take breaks

Ideally, meetings should last 30 minutes or less, but long meetings are sometimes necessary. In those cases, offer intermissions. “Though it may seem counterintuitive, interrupting the meeting for a break actually helps with productivity,” ERA Real Estate’s Trick said. “If done correctly, quick five- to 10-minute breaks help your team refocus and re-engage by giving them time to get up, walk around, check their phones or email, and then return to the meeting

Don’t hold hostages

Not everyone needs to stay for the entire meeting, particularly on conference calls. “Most people don’t stop to consider this; they just issue a blanket invite for the entire meeting to all attendees,” Intercall’s Collins said. “By planning ahead and reviewing the agenda, managers can stagger invitations accordingly to ensure attendees’ time isn’t wasted. One of the biggest drops in productivity comes from distraction–that happens when people find the meeting irrelevant and yet they need to get other work accomplished.”

Don’t always be predictable

Change the scenery. Change the time. “To awaken creativity, change the routine and get out of the office,” Talent’s Lomanto said. “A change of environment can yield a change in strategic thinking.”

Consider booking meetings at unexpected times. “I often set meetings for only 15 minutes or schedule their start at the quarter hour,” Collins said. “This builds a buffer in case attendees are slammed in long-running back-to-back [meetings], and it also stands out more obviously in people’s calendars, so there are fewer no-shows or late arrivals that drain the momentum and productivity out of the meeting.”

Do close with a plan

Meetings should be a vehicle for decision-making.

“It’s common that at the conclusion of a meeting a fair amount of ambiguity may exist,” Western Governors University’s Partridge said. “It is important to reach a consensus or at least clarify the direction or decisions and to identify future actions required.”

Retailmenot’s Tarleton ends every meeting with a list of actions items and who is responsible for them. “Not only does this make meetings more efficient, it streamlines workflow in general,” she said.

Don’t be afraid to decline

Even the most thoughtful leader can find himself mindlessly accepting every meeting request that hits his inbox. “Just because you get an invite doesn’t mean you have to accept it blindly,” Collins said. “Check the agenda and attendees. If it doesn’t seem like you fit, ask the host why they want you and if it has to be for the entire duration. You’ll help them clarify their intent and might save a few minutes of your time in the process.”

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