Improve Productivity by Calling Fewer, Shorter and Effective Meetings

Too much of a good thing usually ends up being a bad thing. And new workplace statistics are proving this out.

Meetings and collaboration are considered to be keys to business success. However, when too much occurs, and is handled improperly, productivity can be seriously impacted. Check out these stats:

  • 37 % of employee time spent in meetings
  • Managers average over 60 meetings per month
  • 47% consider meetings to be their biggest time waster

With the advent of collaborative calendars, conference calls,  and video conference technology it's easy to set up a meeting and invite a large group to join.  Meetings have become so ubiquitous, we have meetings with the goal of meeting.  We get the alert email or pop up 10 minutes prior, continue to keep working and in less than a minute forget about the meeting, show up 5 minutes late only to realize we are one of the early ones.  Then we leave an hour and twenty three minutes later to be twenty three minutes late to our next meeting not quite sure what the purpose of the last meeting was.

Sure it's a bit extreme but I've had some of those days and too be honest I may have been leading both meetings.  Is there a better way?

First let's set some goals:

  1. Fewer
  2. Shorter
  3. More Productive


 Having fewer meetings mean eliminating meetings and finding alternatives.  There are typically four types of meetings:

  1. Report/Information/Status
  2. Decision Making
  3. Creative/Brainstorming
  4. Team Building/Educational

Most meetings are informational or status related.  These are the ones that are typically good for elimination and replaced by email communications.  Some questions to ask to determine if you need to have the meeting:

  1. Will the meeting primarily be one directional with the leader doing all the talking?
  2. Will an email communication with the same information accomplish the goal?
  3. Is the meeting to communicate a project status?

If the answer to some or more of the above is "Yes" then try to eliminate the meeting and replace with email communications.


The default meeting time seems to be one hour.  Typically a one hour meeting will get filled with one hour of time regardless of accomplishing the objective sooner or not.  Changing this to 1/2 hour will accomplish the following:

  1. Reduce meeting time as much as 50%.
  2. Allow more key people to more easily fit into their schedule.
  3. Force the team leader to prepare for 1/2 hour meeting.

If the goal can be accomplished in 15 minutes, that's even better.  Many companies have a daily morning 15 minutes to kick off the day for a team or project.

More Productive

After making sure the meeting is necessary and shortening it to 1/2 hour or less if that's all needed there are several more steps to take to make the meeting more productive:

  1. Invite as few people as possible.  Only ones that would actively be needed to make a decision or participate in brainstorming exercise.  Having management there to sit in or listen in would probably point to other issues within the company.
  2. Make sure you have a defined purpose for the meeting and the outcome desired so you can design the agenda to get the outcome.  Provide this information well ahead of the meeting so others can prepare accordingly.  This is not only critical to having a meaningful meeting but also to keep it short and on time.
  3. Create the agenda to deliver the outcome in the predetermined time.  This will also help you determine who will be needed for the meeting or who will not be needed.  Open ended meetings are easy to prepare for but most likely will be a waste of time.
  4. Determine a course of action if time runs out before the outcome is reached.  End on time and regroup whenever possible rather than keeping people hang on.  Late meetings tend to demoralize, exhaust and take away from the intended goal.
  5. For decision making meetings it's better to use the meeting to support decisions made rather than using the meeting to make decisions.  
  6. For creative or brainstorming meetings the goal in the meeting is quantity of ideas rather than analysis or judgment.  Better to leave that for outside the meeting.


Metcalfe's Law is to networks what Moore's Law is to semiconductors.  Originally used to describe the quadrupling in value of any network doubling in size such as telephones and faxes and later expanded to include the internet. It can even include collaboration as a network.  But are all nodes of a network of equal value? Over 150 years ago, Henry David Thorough provided a counter argument to this law in his book, Walden, "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate."

We tend to be in autopilot when it comes to holding meetings.  Our technology has improved where setting up, being alerted and attending meetings are easier than ever.  However, technology hasn't advanced enough yet to determine if a meeting is truly needed.  It hasn't advanced to help us invite the right people, build an effective agenda and prepare to make sure the outcome is reasonable enough to result in the short duration of the meeting.  So for the time being it's up to us to make meetings matter and save ourselves and our colleagues valuable time.

If you liked this post, you may also like some of our others on productivity or IT management.