A cartoon image of a group of people in a boardroom with more employees on a large screen, striving for shorter meetings.
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How to commit to shorter meetings at work

24 Oct 2022

Meetings can take up a lot of time if we let them, but these tips will help keep teams focused and engaged.

We’ve all been in meetings where we’re thinking: ‘This could have been an email.’ We’ve also all been in meetings that have every right to be meetings, but should have ended 20 minutes ago.

With more meetings taking place through online platforms such as Zoom and Teams, keeping employees engaged during meetings has been more important than ever.

Earlier this year, workplace management platform Asana surveyed more than 10,000 employees globally as part of its annual Anatomy of Work Index.

It found that managers are losing as much as 62pc of their workdays on ‘work about work’, while 24pc of workers believe too many meetings directly lead to missed deadlines.

Furthermore, almost half of respondents said more efficient meetings could limit notifications, while 33pc of workers admitted that their attention span is shorter than it was a year ago.

All of this points to a need to really consider when a meeting is necessary. And for the meetings that do happen, a more efficient approach is needed.

So how can this be achieved?

Start with an agenda

Firstly, when setting up a meeting, you need to know exactly what goals you are trying to achieve in the meeting and set up a clear agenda accordingly. Think about the questions you want answered and the problems you want solved.

It’s also worth considering the order you have your discussions in. Many people start with ‘housekeeping’ tasks such as team updates, and finish with bigger brainstorming points. Consider flipping this so that the deeper conversations happen at the start when energy is high.

Set time limits for each topic

To avoid getting railroaded by one topic on the agenda, consider how much time you want to give each discussion and add these timings to the agenda.

This will not only give you a realistic idea of how long the meeting should take, but it will help you to keep track of any conversations that are going down a rabbit hole.

Don’t be afraid to park it

The nature of brainstorming and wider discussions may mean that a particular topic may need longer than you had originally planned. To avoid lengthening your planned meeting too much, you have two options.

Firstly, don’t be afraid to call time on a discussion that has gone on too long, put a pin in it, and make a plan to discuss it another time. Alternatively, you can reassess your agenda and decide to park another discussion for a later date and give that extra time to the topic at hand.

Start at an unusual time

Most meetings start either on the hour or on the half hour. This makes it much more tempting to block off 30 minutes or 60 minutes for a meeting without giving much thought to how much time is actually required.

Once you have plotted your agenda and figured out how much time you need for the full meeting, you might find you only need 40 minutes instead of an hour, or even 15 minutes instead of half an hour.

With this in mind, set your 40-minute meeting up at 2.20pm instead of 2pm. That way you’ll be striving to finish at the 3pm mark as opposed to letting your 2pm meeting run on an extra 20 minutes.

Make shorter meetings a goal

Quietly taking action to make meetings more efficient can be helpful, but stating it out loud as a team-wide goal will create more accountability and keep other employees focused.

One way to keep employees engaged during meetings is by assigning tasks throughout such as note-taking or logging updates.

When creating a goal for shorter meetings, one member of the team can be the designated time keeper so that the host can focus on the discussion points themselves and feel confident that the timekeeper will stop the meeting from going off track.

No really, could this have been an email?

Before you open that calendar, review your meeting goals and agenda again and really think about whether or not a meeting needs to take place.

Think about whether or not every team member needs to be there. Do you have actual questions to answer or points to discuss? Or do you just need updates on where certain tasks are at?

If the only items on your agenda are questions that can be resolved via asynchronous methods such as a group email, a shared document or an instant message, it could be worth cancelling the meeting.

Save the meetings for important discussion points, brainstorming sessions and larger updates that may require some time for questions.

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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