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Thursday 1st Aug 2019

7 tips on how to HALVE the number of meetings you have and HALVE the time they take

Meetings are the killer of productivity and part of being a 'productivity ninja’ is centred on valuing your time and the time of others. It’s time to be productive and not just busy. Here are my 7 top tips for how you can become a productivity ninja and halve the number of meetings you have and halve the time they take.

Have you heard the adage ‘If in doubt, have a meeting!’? Many businesses and their leaders have created a ‘meeting culture’ whereby they need a meeting to decide what they are going to be meeting about and then another meeting to prepare for the meeting itself and another to de-brief after the meeting! Wow, that’s a whole lot of meetings going on! Meetings are the killer of productivity and part of being a ‘productivity ninja’ is centred on valuing your time and the time of others. It’s time to be productive and not just busy.

According to powwownow, the average business person attends 207 meetings per year, amounting to 636 hours sitting through face-to-face meetings, in addition to 5 working days spent travelling to those meetings.

MeetingSquaredResearch reports that the average worker attends 3.7 meetings every week, spending 1hr+9mins preparing for each meeting and 1hr+22mins attending the meeting.

And just for a piece of trivia, do you know WHEN the most frequent start time of a meeting is….11.00am.

It’s time to take control and start thinking about what is worthy of your time. It’s time to turn into a productivity ninja!

7 top tips for how you can halve the number of meetings you have and halve the time they take

#1 Challenge whether the meeting needs to take place

I started my career as an apprentice in construction, and one of the first training programmes I attended was a health and safety course about managing risk. The trainer asked the group the number 1 strategy for managing risk? The answers flew back from the group, and the trainer kept digging and probing, making us think. Seriously I was getting brain ache until he revealed the answer; eliminate the risk in the first place. WOW, such a simple principle. We were all thinking about managing the risk as opposed to questioning whether it needed to exist in the first place.

The same principle applies to meetings.

How many times have you walked away from a meeting and said; ‘that was a complete waste of time!’ Maybe if you’d have challenged whether it was needed in the first place, you could have got back a valuable hour or two.

How to half the number of meetings

Challenge whether the meeting adds value and whether it needs to happen at all.

#2 Learn to say ‘NO’ to the unimportant things

I shared this tip in last weeks blog – Overwhelmed? How to focus on controlling the controllable – and it applies equally here.

Some meetings need to happen, but do you need to attend? Can one of your team or colleagues attend and debrief you afterwards?

Sometimes in life, it’s about learning to say NO to the unimportant things so that you can say YES to the important, value-adding things.

Four questions I always ask myself when I’m invited to a meeting;

What’s the purpose and objective? (this is linked to tip #1 and does it need to happen in the first place)

Do I need to attend, what is my role/contribution?

What value am I going to add?

What value am I going to get from it?

Too many people fall into the trap of feeling like they are going to miss out if they don’t attend; ‘what if there is something I need to know?’.

They become a meeting junky, always present physically but mentally somewhere else thinking about all the things they could be doing, which are more relevant and add more value.

If you don’t attend and don’t get the debrief you would expect, it is not your failing. That is a weakness in the meeting governance.

Don’t try to be everything to everyone by attending every meeting and ending up being nothing to anyone because you have no time to do the important things.

Learn to say ‘NO’.

#3 Always meet to an agenda

How many times have you turned up to a meeting, and nobody is quite sure what it’s about or what you’re hoping to achieve?

63% of meetings are held WITHOUT a pre-planned purpose, objection and agenda. How do you know if you achieved what you set out to accomplish if nobody knows what the objective is from the outset? Without an agenda, you certainly won’t be able to implement tip #1 or #2.

So before you accept a meeting ask for an agenda or include one in the request if you’re the organiser.

How to half the number of meetings

In addition to an agenda appoint a ‘chairperson’ whose role is to keep the meeting on point, and a ‘timekeeper’ to hold the meeting to time. If you’re the organiser always circulate the agenda before, and if you’re an attendee ask for one if you haven’t received one.

#4 Get into the ‘productivity zone’ before the meeting

An agenda not only provides the structure, but it is a useful tool to help you and others prepare and get in the ‘productivity zone’.

How many times do you hear comments like “I didn’t know we were talking about that” Or its sister statement…” if I knew we were going to be talking about X then I would have brought Y or researched z” or “I didn’t know I needed to talk about abc.”

You get my point.

Set the meeting up for success by ensuring everyone knows what is expected from them before it takes place.

#5 Meetings should always have a fast start and a tight close

This is simply about respect.

Being respectful and valuing your own time, but also valuing and respecting the time of others! One of my clients locks the door if you’re not in on time and you miss the meeting. People soon get the message which drives the behaviour of not being late!

How to half the number of meetings you attend

Put the meeting in your diary 10 minutes before it is due to start. That way you turn up, have time to get in the right headspace and hit the ground running on time. It is so easy to fall into the camp of being lastminute.com or running internal programmes like; ‘I’m always late!’ By adopting the 10-minute rule you take all of these ‘excuses’ out of play.

If the meeting is going to over-run, call it out early and give people the option to close on time with specific points still outstanding or agree on a continuance. Just try not to make it a habit, reduce the agenda points if it’s regularly occurring.

#6 Always ‘Close’ the meeting

I’ve attended several meetings where a discussion point came to a close, and that was the end of the meeting. No summary, no next steps, no agreed actions. Everyone leaves and makes their way back to their desk…or their next meeting!

Now, if you haven’t been strict with tip #5 then the ‘close’ or summary will always be the first thing to go. Don’t let this happen.

A meeting close is one of the most critical stages.


It’s where you ensure everyone is on point in terms of what you’ve achieved, what you’ve agreed and any agenda items outstanding. It’s also the point where the next steps and actions are confirmed with action owners taking responsibility to deliver.

How to half the number of meetings you attend

Depending on the type of meeting, Minutes and an action log may be appropriate as a follow-up but at the very least an email summarising the outcome and next steps. This removes any ambiguity as to what was discussed, what was agreed and what the next steps are, PLUS it helps the meeting junky wean themselves from attending every meeting (see tip #2!).

#7 Try ‘stand up’ meetings

If you want to introduce short, sharper meetings try standing up around a high-level coffee table, whiteboard or flip chart.

When you stand up you tend to move around more, which gets more oxygen into the body, particularly to the brain, and therefore your sensory acuity is stronger. The meeting will probably be more productive, plus people will be focused on getting to the point quicker.

Take these top 7 meetings tips and focus on being PRODUCTIVE, not BUSY.

Get back a whole bucket load of quality time in your diary for productive, big-ticket, high-value activities which will catapult you forward in realising your personal and professional goals. 

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