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10 Simple Ways To Have More Productive Meetings

Who hasn’t struggled to stay awake through a three-hour meeting, or left a department-wide pow-wow wondering what the point was?
It’s amazing how many bad meetings we have to suffer through at work: Each month, people spend about 31 hours in unproductive meetings, and the U.S. spends a whopping $37 billion on salaries for hours spent in unnecessary meetings.
As someone running four growing companies, I have long understood that time is my most valuable asset. I also happen to have ADHD, so sitting through long meetings is extra difficult – especially if they lack focus. That’s why I’ve developed a framework to ensure every meeting I attend – or lead – is worthwhile.
Make photos productive and maybe even fun. Photo by Jeremy Jude Lee.
Make meetings more productive … and maybe even fun. Photo by Jeremy Jude Lee.


1. State The Objective
How many times have you gone to a meeting with only a vague agenda and sat through a discussion with no end in sight? The most effective meetings are ones where the objectives are clear. A simple statement of what you hope to achieve can shave an average of 17 minutes off of your meeting. In my experience, a basic agenda, shared in advance with any relevant documents, keeps everyone on track.
2. Be Exclusive
When I get a meeting invite, I’ll usually ask (politely) if I actually need to be there. Often, office politics get in the way of who really needs to attend. Google GOOGL -0.09% caps attendees at 10 and Amazon has a “two pizza” rule (i.e., never have a meeting where you can’t feed the whole group with two pies). It all serves one purpose: only invite essential personnel, and you’ll find things stay on track.
3. Time It To The Second
I’ll often request 22-minute meetings. This idea comes from an Ignite talk by Nicole Steinbok, and may sound a little silly, but I’ve found it’s a hyper-effective way to keep everyone conscious of both starting and ending times. People tend to fill the amount of meeting time they’re given, so I generally get just as much done in 22 minutes as in a standard half-hour meeting.
4. Leave A Buffer
It’s amazing how often we’ll book back-to-back meetings without thinking about the logistics – the time it takes to walk from one office to the next, for instance, or to top up your coffee. Building in even five minutes between bookings (and there are plenty of calendar apps, like Calendly, that can do it automatically for you) will help avoid snowballing late starts for the rest of the day.
5. Ditch PowerPoint
At Amazon, Jeff Bezos banned PowerPoint outright. Too often, we’re stuck listening to a presenter read an entire slideshow, verbatim.Visuals can be a great tool, but if you’re using PowerPoint as a crutch, your meeting is going to feel like it’s on life support.
6. Change Your Scenery
A boardroom is usually the most sensible meeting space for a group, but when you’ve got a one-on-one booked, a walk-and-talk outside makes for a nice change of pace. Not only can it be an opportunity to get some privacy if you’ve got an open-concept office, but walking also helps creativity, according to a recent Stanford study. Plenty of big thinkers love walking meetings – in fact, they were Steve Jobs’ preferred method of conversation.
7. Provide Some Entertainment
Some people might hear “icebreaker” and groan, but a round-table question gets the conversation going. Or take it one step further and incorporate a team-building activity to break up a dull topic – the meeting we did with a short improv lesson had us all on the floor laughing and energized to tackle our agenda.
8. Unplug Your Laptops
Studies have found that students who use laptops have a harder time remembering what they learn in lectures and are less likely to understand complex ideas; the same goes for the office. When you’ve got half an eye on your email, you can’t be fully present. So unless you’re taking minutes or absolutely need your computer, turn it off.
9. Meet Face-to-Face
How many conference calls have you tuned out of? I’m guilty of it, too: letting my mind wander when I’m not physically in the room. One study found revealed that 65% of employees regularly do other work while a conference call is happening. (A full 47% have even gone to the washroom during a call). A good meeting is about connecting minds and ideas, and face-to-face is ultimately the best way to make that happen. That’s not always possible, but there’s really no substitute for face time.
10. Lead With Purpose
Great meetings happen when you have great leaders. It’s not always easy to be the one ensuring things are moving along, but someone has to be accountable for running meetings that don’t suck. Once you’ve set standards for efficient, effective and entertaining meetings, your team will follow – and meetings may start to be the best part of your workday.

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