My situation is not unique. In fact, I believe that some people have it much worse. And I am convinced that the situation has worsened since working-from-home became the new normal. Online meeting platforms enable meetings from anywhere at any time without the need for travel. The world has shrunk and with the opportunity for international collaboration across time zones, working hours have expanded.
Workplace meetings are important. Apart from developing ideas, providing direction, and getting everyone aligned with a project, they can result in higher levels of engagement and collaboration, increased accountability, creative problem solving, and a shared sense of purpose. However, becoming more aware of my meeting behaviour (thank you, Mom!), I realised that meetings often consume valuable time and energy that could have been used much more effectively to focus on more important and relevant tasks. Information published by socialbarrel.com shows that up to 74% of people perform other tasks such as responding to work emails, eating lunch, and checking personal emails while on mute in online meetings. Furthermore, in a 38-minute call, 8 minutes are wasted in getting the meeting started and 13 minutes are wasted with interruptions and distractions, leaving only 17 minutes for the actual meeting – less than 50% of the scheduled time!
When not properly planned and facilitated, meetings can be just another evil time and energy zapper. However, prioritising and applying a few basic meeting management and self-management principles may assist in winning back control of your busy day.
First, determine whether a formal meeting is really necessary. Sometimes, the issue could be handled equally well in an email or a quick phone call. If you must resolve something small, use the instant messaging system your company subscribes to instead of calling a meeting. To determine if a meeting is necessary, consider the following:
- What is the goal and deliverables for this meeting?
- Does this topic require outside input, and if so, who should be invited?
- Will this meeting make valuable use of time for the employees?
All meetings should have a purpose, agenda, and time frame. Communicating the purpose of the meeting will help people evaluate if they need to attend or not. It will also help you set the agenda and determine if the meeting was successful. Send the agenda to all the participants well in advance so that they come prepared. The agenda can also be used to keep things on track during the meeting. Make the meeting as short as possible. A lot can be discussed in half an hour. Aim to not use more than 50 minutes per meeting. Participants lose interest and a distraction is just a mouse-click away when meetings are long and extended. Always remind yourself about Parkinson’s law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
Make sure that the meeting was worthwhile. Get feedback after a meeting to determine if it was valuable, or what could have been done differently. Also send out a summary of the most important discussion points and action items to everyone.
Meeting management has to do with more than just your time and the process; it is also about managing yourself.
The ability to say no is a powerful time and meeting management tool. At times, meeting requests from others may be important and need immediate attention. Often, however, these requests conflict with your planning and take time away from working toward your goals. It is not always easy being assertive. Using a positive ‘no’ usually yields positive results. Say no, and then briefly clarify your reasoning without making excuses. This helps the other person to better understand your position. For example: “I would love to extend the meeting, but I have another project that is due by 17:00 today”.
Delegating your meeting duties effectively can greatly expand your available time. Remember, in order to delegate effectively, identify the right people to delegate to, and make the person aware of relevant information required to successfully attend the meeting on your behalf. Take the time to explain why you chose the person for the job and what is expected from him/her during and after the meeting.
Applying time management and self-management principles to online meetings have many great advantages, for example improved quality of work, greater confidence and feelings of accomplishment, and lower levels of stress. Make a conscious effort with your next meeting to see how much time you can free up and add to the list of benefits mentioned above.