Minimize Meandering Meetings

It’s not a great title, but it’s a great topic. If you work 40 hours per week, and 50 weeks per year, it’s almost certain that you spend hundreds of hours in meetings – including one-on-ones, small groups, large groups, and possibly even those optimistically titled “all hands” gatherings that are less often actual “meetings” and more often simple exhortations and/or lectures from the top brass.

It doesn’t matter. Most of them waste at least some of your time spent in attendance. Many of them waste every minute.

That’s a big reason it makes sense to minimize the number of meetings you attend, and – even better – to minimize the time you spend in meetings you can’t avoid.

Here are some simple but valuable techniques to cut back on the time you waste in meetings:

Pre-empt Meeting Invitations

Just like the best way to avoid a punch is not to be there when it’s thrown, the best way to save time in meetings is not to attend.

But in many situations – whether you’re working for an audience, customers, clients, or employers – you can’t simply duck most meetings to which you’re invited. However, if you can tactfully avoid those invitations, there’s no harm in staying away.

One strategy to minimize the meeting invitations that come your way is to talk in advance with the people who invite you. Rather than whine about the time you’ll waste in future meetings, ask them to clarify and help you understand the reasons you’re invited. Ask questions like:

  • What exact value do you bring?
  • What role will you play, and why is that important?
  • Are there parts of the meeting you can legitimately skip?
  • Can you participate in some other way: Virtually? By preparing and providing materials? By afterwards reviewing and responding to notes on the meeting?

There’s a good chance that asking why you’re invited will help point out how much more sensible it would be for your invitations to be rescinded, or at least scaled back in number.

Take a More Active Role

When you can’t get out of a meeting, you can still take steps to make it a more valuable use of your time. You can try techniques such as:

  • Clarify the meeting’s agenda, and do what you can to focus the bulk of the conversation on the most important items.
  • Pay close attention to what’s said about each item, and intervene when people begin to meander or repeat.
  • Summarize the discussion of an item, once it has adequately covered the topic, and then push for a specific decision regarding next steps.
  • Look for opportunities, when talk about an item is concluded or exhausted, to ask a question that moves the meeting to the next agenda item (or to a meeting wrap up, when appropriate).

Another approach is to ask, at the appropriate moment of each discussion, how the item will impact your area of expertise, or how you can impact it. This not only unearths information that is more relevant and valuable to you, it helps to underscore any reasons you don’t need to be there. Gradually, this approach will eliminate many invitations to meetings that waste your time.

Say “Thank You”

It’s a little thing, but remember to say “thank you” to the person who just orchestrated an efficient and meaningful meeting. Regardless of your position within the group who attended, your “thank you” sends the message that well-run meetings are preferable.

What’s more, others will probably echo your “thank you,” and the added weight of all this positive reinforcement will help promote the tendency to make future meetings more valuable.

Without stepping on anyone’s toes, you can use these and other techniques to save significant time that you would otherwise waste in meetings. You’ll also gain appreciation from others for helping everyone else get back to doing something more important.

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