t’s the end of the day, and you just left another meeting. As you sit in front of your computer screen, you see on your calendar you spent the entire day going from one meeting to another. You think, “dang, I barely had time for a bathroom break!”   

Then you look at all the emails you’ve received and start going through them one by one. Finally, a reminder pops up, and you’ve got a presentation in 2 days. You look at your calendar and see you’ve got three days of back-to-back meetings, and you think, where am I going to find the time to work on that!  

I’ve talked with managers and executives who report spending an average of 5.5 hours a day in meetings. That’s 26.5 hours a week. According to a study by Bain and consultants, about 37% of meetings add no value and, in many cases, impede decision-making and essential work getting done efficiently.    

The impact of poorly run meetings include:   

    • Attendee leaving confused and frustrated. Many commented that they don’t know why they are attending. They question the information shared during the meeting and often daydream or work on other projects while attending a meeting.
    • Many of the meetings were scheduled a year in advance, and the purpose of the meeting is to update attendees rather than make decisions, solve problems, and improved working relationships.  
    • The number of people feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of meetings has grown steadily over the last year due to the quarantine.   
    • Attendees report a sense of always “being on,” unable to take care of their physical or mental health, and an inability to prioritize work, develop their staff and increase productivity. In some organizations, poorly run meetings are a significant cause of burnout and feelings of overwhelm.   

What you’ve just read is the reason I’ve written this article. I desire that you’ll try these suggestions and let me know if it works. I want to know whether you use none, one, or all 5 of the ideas and how they worked for you so others can learn how to eliminate productivity-killing, soul-sucking meetings.    

The five main reasons a meeting doesn’t work are:   

  1. There’s no clear purpose for the meeting.   
  2. Attendees don’t understand or are ill-prepared to offer advice, recommendations, or information helpful for decision-making.   
  3. Meeting times are too long. Attendees fill up the time allotted for the meeting.  
  4. Ineffective boundaries and expectations   
  5. Participants use derailing or distraction tactics.

Step 1: The Invitation   

The first improvement is to be intentional. You and everyone attending the meeting should know before the meeting … what you will talk about, what decisions are going to be made and who’s on the agenda, and why.   

Being intentional means asking, “why do we need to meet?” Reframe the question to;    

What do I want the attendees to know, be able to do better, and how will the meeting enhance their critical thinking or problem-solving skills?   

As the meeting host, be clear and tell attendees the expected outcomes for EACH meeting. If you are an attendee, ask questions. You can’t be your best if you don’t know what’s expected of you. 

Step 2: Have an agenda.   

Time is one of the few non-renewal resources. Making time is the most precious resource we have at our disposal. If you’re reading this, then somewhere in your head, you’ve also decided that you’re going to take control and make the most of your time.    

Ask for or send out the agenda at least 48 hours before the meeting, so attendees know the purpose of the meeting, your expectations on their contribution(s), and prepare their presentation, comments, or flush out an idea succinctly.    

Another reason to send out an agenda ahead of time is to honor the diversity of thinking styles in the room. Some people are quick thinkers. Others need time to compose their thoughts and assess the impact on work already in progress.    

Set time limits for each question to be answered, and make sure you’re clear on who has the final say on the decision. If that person’s not in the room… you what’s the desired outcome?  


Step 3: Boundaries and Expectations

In my opinion, this one step will improve your use of your time and that of the attendees by 80%. Set clear boundaries and expectations on how and what work to accomplish.    

Avoid these five behaviors, and you’ll see dramatic improvement.    

    • Death by delaying – make it apparent who has the Big “D.” The person who has the Big “D” is the person who will make the decision, and everyone has to agree to move forward. The person with the Big “D” isn’t always the person with the highest-ranking position. It is the person who is responsible for the result. 
    • Overcomplicating and presenting too much information will make it difficult for people to have confidence in the proposal, killing new ideas and implementation strategies.   
    • Focusing too much on what will go wrong or being too optimistic can blind you to seeing what’s essential or recognizing the strength of the talent in the room. For every reason, something won’t work, have a reason why it will, or identify what’s needed to make the idea work.
    • Remember to take minutes and distribute them immediately after the meeting. Doing so ensures everyone knows what they are responsible for, what follow-up actions, and how to ensure follow-through.  
    • Nostalgia – attendees may not present a balanced picture because of what’s happened in the past. Someone who is too argumentative may go off on tangents and doesn’t listen, teaches the group why try to offer a different opinion.   

The last thing I’ll say is this… take charge of your calendar and time. The bottom line is that you’re responsible for achieving your goals, including having goals that include self-care and balance.