How Much Time Do We Spend in Meetings? (Hint: It’s Scary)
Let’s face it. I believe every single one of us has found themselves in one of the following situations:
- You found yourself wondering why you are in a meeting in a certain meeting and then reached for your phone to look at memes to avoid dying of boredom.
- You found yourself struggling to keep your eyes open as a boring speaker droned on and on in the boardroom about something you did not even understand.
- You found yourself discussing with colleagues about how dreadful and soul-sucking a meeting was.
Almost everyone agrees that meetings are not a lot of fun. Yet, meetings constitute a large part of what we call work. Many people see meetings as a necessary evil, a sacrifice that employees have to make in order to keep the company alive.
But have you ever taken the time to think about how much time is spent on meetings, and what overall effect they have on the company and its employees? (Hint: they do more harm than good)
The facts and numbers around the time spent in meetings paint a scary picture. Every single day, there are about 11 million meetings held on average every single day, with employees attending about 62 meetings every month, on average. And that is in US workplaces alone. The average middle level manager spends around 35% of their time in meetings.
For those higher up the corporate ladder, this figure can go as high as 50%. That is more than 2 days a week being spent on meetings. According to a study by Bain & Company, organizations spend about 15% of their time in meetings.
As if all this time being spent on meetings is not enough, most people consider meetings to be unproductive. A whopping 37% of meetings are considered to be adding no value to the organization. A detailed look into what actually happens in meetings should be enough to leave you worried.
According to this infographic, 91% of employees have daydreamed during a meeting, 39% have reported sleeping during a meeting, 45% have felt overwhelmed by the number of meetings they had to attend, 73% have done other work during a meeting, and 47% of employees have complained that meetings are the number one time waster at the workplace.
These numbers show that a lot of time is being spent on meetings that people would rather not attend and that do nothing to improve the bottom line of the company.
Apart from boring employees to death, meetings could also be costing your organization in more ways than one.
WHY TOO MANY MEETINGS ARE HURTING YOUR ORGANIZATION
Most meetings are held because there is a belief that they held boost the organization’s productivity and vibrancy. However, they might be doing the complete opposite of that.
Below are some ways in which meetings might be hurting your organization.
They Are A Waste Of Time And Money
Have you considered the amount of man hours meetings are taking from company time?
Let’s assume that you just held a one hour meeting with 15 participants.
In that one hour, you have already taken 15 man hours from the company. With several meetings being held each week, the numbers can quickly add up.
When aggregated over the course of one year, the numbers become staggering. This does not even take into account the time spent preparing for these meetings.
For instance, a May 2014 study found that the attendees of a certain company’s weekly executive committee spent 7000 man hours each year on the meeting, while their subordinates spent 300,000 man hours per year preparing for and supporting this weekly meeting.
To find the monetary cost of an hour long meeting, estimate the average hourly rate of each of the attendees and multiply it by the number of attendees. For instance, if the average hourly rate of the attendees in a meeting is $50 and there are fifteen attendees, that means that the cost of the meeting to the organization is about $750.
Using company in our example above, it would mean that the cost of the weekly executive meeting is $350,000, without taking into account the subordinates who spend their time preparing for and supporting the meeting.
When you consider that most meetings are rarely productive, matters become even bleaker. Research shows that across the United States, meetings that are not even necessary waste over $25 million every single day, or about $37 billion every year.
This does not take into account the additional resources that might be required for a meeting, such as drinks and snacks.
The amount of time and money wasted in meetings is compounded even further by opportunity cost. Every minute an employee spends in an unproductive meeting is a minute lost that could have been spent on something more important.
Not only does the organization have to pay employees for the time they spent daydreaming and doodling in meetings, but it also loses out on the revenue that these employees would have brought in had they not been sitting in an unproductive meeting.
Meetings Kill Productivity And Creativity
Meetings are also one of the greatest killers of creativity and productivity at the workplace.
Let’s assume that you have four one hour meetings in a day, with each meeting scheduled an hour after the other.
Technically, this means that you have four hours to attend meetings and four hours to concentrate on actual work. In reality, you have less than four hours to concentrate on actual work. Before every meeting, you might need about ten minutes to prepare yourself, pass through the bathroom, grab a cup of coffee, and so on.
After the meeting, you will need another several minutes to go back to your desk and refocus on your work. This eats significantly into your actual working time.
To make matters worse, this leaves you with about 30 minutes or so to work on something before having to leave for another meeting. This is not enough time to get into deep work – a term that describes the ability to concentrate on a task without distraction.
If you are working on a cognitively demanding task, it might be difficult to get into the level of concentration required to do any meaningful work in thirty minutes.
As a result, you might end up spending the time on less productive tasks such as answering your emails. In the end, you find that you have wasted a lot of time, in addition to the time wasted in the meetings.
HOW TO STOP WASTING TIME IN MEETINGS
It is already evident that meetings might be doing more harm than good to your organization.
The question is, what can you do it?
Below are tips on how you can avoid wasting time on meetings and make meetings more productive.
Ask Yourself If The Meeting Is Necessary
A lot of meetings are actually not necessary. For instance, I have noticed that most sales and business development meetings often require the attendees to go over their activity for the previous period of time. What they did, who they met, what they achieved, and so on.
If there are six people in a meeting and each of them takes about ten minutes to review their activity, that is an hour already spent in the meeting. Would it not have been easier for everyone to send a report of their activity via email?
Before calling for a meeting, it is important to consider the purpose of the meeting. What outcome is expected at the end of the meeting? Can this outcome be achieved another way. If you find it hard to define the expected outcome of a meeting, this is a clear sign that the meeting is not necessary.
If the outcome can be achieved in another easier or better way, this is another sign that the meeting is not necessary. For instance, if the purpose of a meeting is to update the team on progress, would it not be easier to share progress reports via email?
If the purpose of the meeting is to get the opinions of others before making a decision, would it not be easier to send a poll via email instead of calling for a meeting?
As a rule of thumb, you should avoid scheduling status report meetings. Meetings should be dedicated to brainstorming, collaboration, sharing creative ideas to resolve challenges, or making decisions. If the purpose of a meeting is to review past or existing information, then the meeting is not necessary. While reviewing existing information is important, it should not be the sole purpose of a meeting. It should be used as a foundation for discussing the way forward.
A good way of determining whether a meeting is really necessary is to ask yourself what would happen if the meeting was cancelled. If you realize that your colleagues do not care if the meeting is cancelled, or if there is another way to accomplish the purpose of the meeting, this shows that the meeting is not really necessary, and you should consider cancelling it.
However, if your co-workers demand for the meeting to be rescheduled, then this is a clear sign that the meeting is actually necessary.
Manage The Invite List
Have you ever been in a meeting only to realize that the meeting has degenerated into a series of ‘mini meetings’ where only two or three employees are fully engaged at a time while everyone else doodles on their notebooks or checks their phones?
This is a sign that some of the attendees might actually not be required in the meeting.
Very often, meeting organizers invite too many people to the meeting in an attempt at inclusion. While collaboration is important, not everyone needs to attend a meeting.
Many of those required to attend do not actually add anything to the meeting. Doing so not only wastes time for them, but also for the attendees whose input is required at the meeting. If you want your meetings to waste less time and become more productive, you should be very strict about the people you invite to a meeting.
Go through the list and check what each person brings to the meeting. If someone does not have an important contribution to the meeting, strike them out. If the outcome of the meeting does not directly impact them, they have no business being there. If they can spend the time doing something more productive, leave them out of the meeting.
If you cannot verbalize why someone needs to be there, they probably shouldn’t be. Instead of calling every team member to the meeting, why not have the manager attend the meeting while the rest of the team keeps working? The manager can then relay the outcome of the meeting to the team.
A good idea is to borrow a leaf from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ book. If the people invited to a meeting cannot be fed by two large pizzas, Jeff Bezos concludes that there are too many people in the meeting and cancels it. This is because the more the number of people in a meeting, the bigger the opportunity for disengagement, distraction and wasted time.
A meeting should only include the key players who are required to make decisions. Actually, according to Stanford professor and researcher Bob Sutton, the ideal number of members for a productive meeting is 7.
Managing the invite does not only apply when you are organizing a meeting. It should also apply when you are invited to a meeting. Receiving an invitation to a meeting does not automatically mean that you have to attend the meeting. Check the agenda of the meeting and the other attendees. Do you feel like you can add some value to the meeting?
If not, get in touch with the host and find out why they want you at the meeting. If you find that you have nothing meaningful to contribute to or gain from the meeting, do not be afraid to decline the invitation.
Set An Agenda
One of the major factors that contribute to unproductive meetings is lack of an agenda for the meeting. According to Garton and Mankins of Bain & Co, about a third of meetings do not have an agenda, and majority of meetings do not distribute agendas to attendees in advance. Why is an agenda so important?
An agenda sets clear boundaries around the topics that need to be discussed during the meeting. It outline the topics that will be covered in the meeting, the materials needed, the desired outcome of the meeting and the start and stop time.
Without an agenda guiding the discussion, a meeting can easily go off track and degenerate into ramblings, side conversations and random topics – all of which lead to wastage of time and unproductivity in the meeting.
Having an agenda also makes it easier for you to determine who needs to be invited to the meeting. The agenda should be distributed well in advance of the meeting in order to give people adequate time to prepare for the meeting.
One mistake that most meeting organizers make when setting an agenda is to try to accomplish too much in a single meeting. Lumping everything together in one meeting wastes people’s time and creates chaos.
People in the finance department might not be interested in learning what the IT department is doing. Instead of having a general meeting where you cover so much, it is much better to hold several short meetings with different teams. This way, you avoid wasting employees’ time discussing things that are not relevant to them.
Once you set an agenda for the meeting, make sure that you stick to it. If you notice that the conversation is straying beyond the agenda of the meeting, steer it back on track.
Don’t be overly polite to people who hijack the meeting with their own agendas, since this will only make the meeting unproductive and lead to wastage of time.
Share Review Materials In Advance
Another thing that leads to wastage of time in meetings is going through and reviewing reports and knowledge material during the meeting. The meeting should be focused on making decisions and achieving the desired outcome, not discovering new knowledge.
If there is any material the participants need to review, it should be shared a few days in advance.
This gives them enough time to go through the material and prepare for the discussion. As you send the material, make it clear to the participants that they are required to have gone through the material before the meeting.
You should also be prepared to give a highlight of the key takeaways from the material for those who might not have had time to go through the material. With everyone aware of what is covered in the material, the meeting can now be focused on a productive discussion and making decisions on the way forward.
Schedule Shorter Meetings
Humans have a round number bias. We like whole, round numbers and try to avoid uneven random numbers. For instance, you are more likely to tell someone to give you 5, 10, 15, or 30 minutes instead of 8, 17, or 23 minutes.
This also affects how we schedule meetings. You might have noticed that most meetings are usually scheduled in 30 minute or one hour chunks. Even if the agenda of a meeting can be handled in 20 minutes, there is a high chance that the time set aside for the meeting will be 30 minutes or one hour.
There is one problem with this. If a meeting is scheduled for one hour, people will find a way to fill that time, even if the decision can be reached in 40 minutes. Think of it like buying a house.
If you buy a bigger house, you will eventually fill it with stuff, regardless of how much space you have. If a meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes yet the decision can be reached in 10 minutes, people will find something to fill the remaining 20 minutes, and you can bet that the filler conversation will not be productive.
To avoid this, you should start scheduling shorter meetings based on what needs to be accomplished in the meeting, instead of rounding off the time to the nearest hour.
If the meeting can accomplish its purpose in 20 minutes, schedule 20 minutes for it and let the participants know that the meeting will end on time. Once you start doing this, you will notice that you will start wasting less time in meetings.
Plan Meetings In Clusters
I mentioned earlier that meetings reduce productivity by breaking the day into chunks of time that are not long enough for someone to do any meaningful work.
To avoid this, it is a good idea to cluster meetings together. For instance, you might encourage people to hold meetings either early in the morning or towards the end of the day. This ensures that employees have large blocks of time where they can focus on their work without interruptions.
Alternatively, you can come up with certain blocks of work time where no meetings are to be held. Scheduling meetings back-to-back also forces people to start and end meetings on time, leading to less time wasted.
Ban Phones And Laptops From Meetings
How many times have you seen a colleague checking their phone or laptop during a meeting? People have already gotten used to the notion that meetings are boring, and they therefore rely on their gadgets to save them in case the meeting becomes boring.
Unfortunately, using your phone or laptop during a meeting sends the message that whatever you are doing on your phone is more important than the meeting, in which case you don’t need to be in the meeting in the first place.
In addition, being on your phone or laptop distracts you and keeps you from giving your best contribution to the meeting. To prevent this, you should consider introducing the no-device policy to your meetings.
End With A Clear Plan
Remember, we said that a meeting should have a desired outcome. Once you achieve that outcome, you should end the meeting with a clear plan on what needs to be done and who needs to do it.
No one should leave the meeting without a clear idea of the next action points. If people leave a meeting without a clear idea of what needs to happen next, that is an indicator that the meeting was a waste of time – it might as well not have happened.
Finally, you should avoid ending a meeting with plans to hold another meeting to follow up on progress of the previous meeting. Find other ways of communicating the progress.
Organizations are holding way too many meetings which waste a lot of time and money without any solid outcome for the organization.
To avoid this, organizations should ensure that meetings are actually necessary before scheduling them, that only the right people are attending the meeting, that there is an agenda for the meeting, and that any review material are shared well in advance.
In addition, they should schedule shorter meetings, schedule the meetings in clusters, ban gadgets from meetings, and ensure that each meeting ends with a clear plan of action.
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