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"If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be 'meetings.'"
Dave Barry, Pulitzer-Prize winning author and columnist

Nine out of ten attendees daydream during meetings. It makes you wonder what the tenth person is doing, doesn't it? Probably talking! Meetings are notorious time-wasters, roundly criticized for their inefficacy, inefficiency, and irrelevance. Yet, we keep right on having them - the same way we always have them. If you want better results, you need more effective meetings. It's that simple. And, as it turns out, implementing effective meetings is fairly simple too.

More Than Boredom: Ineffective Meetings Are Costing You

Before you schedule your next meeting, consider the following:

  • Professionals lose 31 hours per month to unproductive meetings. You may as well just give everyone four days off.
  • Half of all meeting time is wasted.
  • 73% of attendees admit to doing unrelated work during meetings.
  • The more meetings people attend, the more exhausted they feel. They also perceive their workload to be much higher.
  • A study conducted by Microsoft, America Online, and found that the average employee only works the equivalent of 3 days per week, or 1.5 hours a day. The biggest time-waster: unproductive meetings.
  • 40% of meeting attendees admit to having dozed off.

Researchers Alexandra Luong and Steven Rogelberg theorize that ineffective meetings interrupt progress on a specific task, divert attention from that task, and drain mental resources. Not only do we waste the time spent in the meeting, we're so drained and overwhelmed that we don't get as much done after.

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith said that "meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything." It's time to shift that paradigm.

Effective Meetings: Don't Meet "Just Because"

The old adage goes, "Failing to plan is planning to fail." Many meetings amount to no more than wasted time because there is little preparation. Sixty-three percent of meetings do not have a preplanned agenda. Yet, research shows a direct correlation between prep time and meeting productivity. Why not set yourself up for success?

One of the first questions you need to ask when preparing is, "Do we even need a meeting?" If the answer's yes - if you can't arrive at your goal through a phone call, face-to-face conversation, email, or other avenue - a meeting can be the most efficient way to get there. To make sure it is:

  • Clarify your purpose. What do you want to accomplish? Who absolutely needs to be there to achieve this purpose - and who doesn't? What supplies or materials do you need? How will you know you've achieved your purpose (how will you measure the efficacy of the meeting)?
  • Establish a structure. Do you need 10 minutes or 60? Remember, meetings typically fill up all the space you allot to them! Do you need a note-taker or facilitator? When people have roles, they tend to be more productive. Do you want to ban laptops and phones? How much time does each agenda item require? Structure drives behavior. You want to stop the bad behaviors - the daydreaming and the dozing? You need a solid structure.
  • Define your desired outcome. At the end of this meeting, we will have __________. What? Answer this question, and you'll have a clear roadmap for an effective meeting. Anything that doesn't contribute to completing fill-in-the-blank doesn't belong in the meeting.

If you take time to consider all three of these elements, you'll create more effective meetings and achieve better results. It really is that simple.

What if, instead of planning their weekends or doing a mental grocery list, people actually paid attention and contributed during meetings? Instead of wasting time, you'd maximize it. Instead of draining resources and energy, you'd be leveraging them for enhanced outcomes.


Larry Hart

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