A recent survey by management software developer AtTask and market research firm Harris Interactive asked 2000 office workers how they spend their time each day. Results showed that 7% of our time at work is spent in wasteful meetings. In fact, 45% of those surveyed feel time spent in wasteful meetings is the largest contributor to lost productivity. Meetings are necessary for communication and collaboration, but how do we ensure that the time spent is not wasted?
Before the Meeting: Never schedule a meeting without a thoughtful agenda. In fact, businesses and teams should have an agenda template that is used for all meetings. The template should obviously include logistics like date, start and end time, and location. The agenda should also assign a meeting leader and list others invited. Attendees should include only those that will benefit from or provide value to the meeting. The agenda should state an objective for the meeting to ensure the meeting has a clear purpose and expected outcome.
Finally, the agenda should list the topics for presentation, review, and/or discussion. Times for each meeting topic should also be determined and shared to allow attendees to prepare based on the amount of time devoted to each. If an attendee needs more time for a certain topic, this can be adjusted prior to the meeting. @JamiePrip suggests limiting the number of items on your agenda to big-picture topics for the organization. In addition, he warns meetings that are open-ended tend to go longer than they need to.
Agenda templates can be built in a document program such as Microsoft Word, in your email/calendar program, or use a pre-built agenda in an application such as Do for Apple products or cloud-based tools Worklife and Minute. Agendas should be shared with meeting attendees several days prior to the meeting to allow for sufficient preparation (jamieprip.com).
During the Meeting: The meeting leader’s responsibilities are to ensure the meeting starts and ends on time and to keep the meeting on track. If a topic is going longer than planned, table it for a future meeting in order to get through your agenda on time. If a topic is going off-track, pull it back to focus. A timer, such as The Time Timer, can provide a visual reminder. Have someone assigned to take notes during the meeting, including top points of resolution or non-resolution and any future action items. The applications mentioned above (Do, Worklife and Minute) include features to assign and track tasks resulting from the meeting. Before adjourning, summarize results and next steps. Time for this should be built into the agenda.
As an attendee, you may also take notes during the meeting. These notes are likely more personal to your responsibilities and actions. Circle, highlight, or star actionable items so that they are easy to pull from your notes after the meeting.
After the Meeting: Meeting notes and next actions should be stored in a central location and shared with attendees and others as appropriate. Any “next steps” should be clear and include target dates and names. Individual tasks from the full meeting notes, as well as any highlighted in personal notes, should immediately be added to your project and/or task management system.
In summary, there are 5 key steps to an effective meeting:
1. Have a Clear Objective
2. Create a Thoughtful Agenda
3. Assign a Meeting Leader
4. Assign a Note Taker / Task Manager
5. Summarize Results and Next Steps
If you are missing even one of these steps, your meeting can quickly turn from productive to wasteful.