How to Avoid Meetings That Are a Total Waste of Time

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Because that’s an hour of your life you’ll never get back.

 Sign on a wall reading "blah blah blah"We’ve all walked out of a meeting wishing we’d never walked into it. According to one study, more than $US37billion per year is wasted globally from unproductive meetings – not to mention the effect on team morale. If you glance with dread at your calendar before a scheduled meeting, then follow these tips to make sure your next meeting is a smash.

Prepare collaboratively
Make sure every person knows the agenda of the meeting so you can all plan accordingly. There’s no point in arriving with a stockpile of information if your attendees have nothing to bring to the table. Not good at sharing? Use specialist software to make it easier. The program Do enables you to set an agenda, share it with colleagues and upload research files so everyone’s on the same page. The Charlie App also helps you research the people you’re meeting.

Break the habit
In 2013, Dropbox executives sent out a company-wide email with the subject line ‘Ameetingeddon’. It informed employees that all recurring meetings had been deleted from their calendars. “If you check your calendar, you’ll notice that it’s feeling a bit light – on midnight we flipped the switch,” the note read. “Ahhh, doesn’t it feel fantastic?”

When a meeting is auto-set to weekly, it can end up going ahead even if there’s nothing pressing to talk about. Instead, schedule a catch-up as and when needed.

Halve it
There’s a general consensus that most meetings last an hour, but do they really need to? When business coach Peter Bregman decided to compress all his meetings to 30 minutes, he noticed significant benefits – not only was he more productive, but clients arrived on time, came prepared and were also more courageous in their answers. If a meeting has to be longer, plan in breaks. As Tony Schwartz says, “Manage your energy, not your time.”

Make someone accountable
At Apple, under Steve Jobs’ command every meeting was led with an “accountability mindset.” To make sure each topic discussed was actioned, rather than forgotten, one person was in charge of each item on the agenda. In Apple-speak, they called them the ‘DRI’ (the directly responsible individual). Researchers from Harvard University have found that, on top-performing teams, peers hold themselves accountable, which “frees the boss from being the playground monitor.”

Think before you accept
TED talker David Grady suggests many of us suffer from ‘Mindless Accept Syndrome’ – an involuntary reflex that makes us say yes to every meeting request, even if we know little about the person or their agenda. His advice? “Next time you get a meeting request, click the tentative button,” he says, “Then get in touch with the person, tell them you’re excited to support their work and ask them what the goal of the meeting is.” You can then make an informed decision about whether it’s better to arrange a face-to-face, schedule a video call, or politely decline, saving everyone’s time.

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