Many businesses have a deep-seated meetings-driven culture, but if you’re struggling to meet deadlines or stop your in-tray overflowing, there’s a chance you’re spending too much of your time at work in meetings.

It doesn’t take a time management genius to work out that too many meetings, taking up too many of your working hours can have an significant impact on your productivity, not to mention your stress and anxiety levels.

Earlier this year, research carried out by TLF Research for software company eShare revealed the extent of the problem. The survey of more than 1,000 office workers in the UK revealed that, on average, workers attend 3.7 meetings a week. For each meeting we spend an average of 1 hour and 9 minutes preparing, followed by an average of 1 hour and 22 minutes spent in the meeting itself. That means we spend 25% of our working week preparing for and attending meetings.

Put in another way, office workers are spending more than 1 day a week on meetings. During a 40-year career, that works out as 2 entire years of your life or 10 years of the total amount of time you spend at work. But the most enlightening statistic revealed by the survey is that 40% of UK office workers say at least half of the meetings they attend are unnecessary.

“With the average office worker spending more than a day every week on meetings, addressing the waste of hours resulting from ineffective and inefficient meetings could be the single biggest boost to productivity for any organisation,” says eShare’s CEO, Alister Esam.

Banning meetings altogether isn’t an option for most businesses. They can after all be highly effective ways to share information and boost collaboration. Thankfully there are ways to manage meetings more effectively, saving you precious time for getting on with what you should be doing – your work:

Make them shorter

Think about how much time is necessary for addressing the topic of any given meeting – do you really need 60 minutes? If you allot an hour for a meeting, there’s a good chance those attending will fill the entire time slot one way or another. Reducing the length of your meetings to 30 minutes – or even 15 – could mean people will be more focused and there may be less time wasting.

Also make sure your meetings are run with military precision. Always start them on time, even if some of the people attending haven’t arrived. Consider making it a rule not to let anyone who’s late to the meeting by more than 5 or 10 minutes join, as this may help encourage punctuality.

Stay on schedule throughout meetings and aim to always end on the agreed time, even if the agenda hasn’t been fully covered. Set a timer if it helps and be strict about finishing up when it goes off.

Invite fewer people

As well as asking yourself how long you need for a given meeting, consider whether it’s absolutely necessary to invite every single person involved. Do you really need 10 or more people to achieve your meeting’s goal?

Cutting down on the number of attendees will help with the company’s overall productivity – as a rule try for 5 people who are vital to the issue in question, or even fewer. Having fewer attendees will also help to keep your meetings short, plus there’s less chance they will overrun.

Use smart scheduling

If you tend to have meetings throughout the day it can make you a lot less productive, as there may not be enough time in between meetings for you to concentrate fully on your work.

One way around this is to encourage people to schedule meetings at either end of the day – either first thing in the morning or just before you clock off. This means you’ll have a large block of time every day to get important tasks and projects done without interruptions.

Alternatively, if you have lots of meetings try to organise them back to back in the morning or the afternoon. While this still means you could be spending half of your day in meetings, you’ll have the rest of the day free for work, which should help you be far more productive.

Stick to the point

If you don’t already do so, try keeping your meetings on track by having a committed plan of action or agenda before you start. This can help prevent interruptions and irrelevant discussions during the meeting itself (make sure all attendees have the agenda in advance so they can come prepared). Also try to avoid long introductions and repetition, and discourage anyone who tries to hijack or dominate meetings by talking at length about anything that isn’t relevant or repeating something that’s already been covered.

Another way to keep your meetings more to the point is to consider banning mobile phones, laptops and tablets (or at least making sure these devices are switched off before meetings start). This will help prevent attendees being interrupted or having their attention diverted during the meeting.

Reserve your right to say ‘no’

Finally, be assertive about turning down meetings that aren’t essential to your work or those that interrupt your deadlines. If you’re working on an important task or project, and having to go to an unnecessary meeting means you won’t be able to finish it on time – or that it interrupts your concentration – you should have the right to say you can’t go. If this isn’t possible and you can’t get out of going to the meeting completely, give yourself a time limit. Make sure the meeting’s organiser knows you only have so much time to give them, and leave when necessary.

Having too much to do in too little time can cause problems with stress. If you’re struggling, we offer a range of emotional support services that may help. 

For advice and information call +44 (0) 1788 556 366 or chat to an advisor online 24 hours a day.

Was this article useful?