People are being “meetinged” to death out there. It’s epidemic. Calendars booked solid with internal meetings and conference calls are the norm these days, and while I do believe meetings are important, they should be a good use of time for everyone involved. Meetings are increasingly unproductive — yet, we still feel the need to have them. Here are six ways you can improve yours:

Don’t meet.

That’s right. The No. 1 question to ask yourself is, “Do we really need to meet at all?” Sometimes, it’s fine just to make a decision and let everyone move on — collaboration is important, but you don’t have to have a meeting to be collaborative.

Have an agenda for every meeting.

This simple standard is guaranteed to cut out some meetings because most people won’t want to take the time to create the agenda! Agendas bring great value to meetings. Circulate the agenda before your meeting, so everyone can come prepared. Set goals for your meeting, and make sure everyone knows what they are. Make sure to have a timeline, and stick to it.

Limit the number of participants.

Do you really need everyone in that meeting? And if you do, does everyone need to be there for the entire time? Begin with the things that everyone needs to hear. Then, release people as you narrow the focus to items that only certain people need to weigh in on. It will save everyone time and keep everybody sane.

End 10 minutes early.

Well, not really, but trick yourself into it. Most meetings start on the hour and end on the hour, often making them back-to-back. Begin scheduling meetings to end at 10 minutes before the hour. This will give you some cushion and make your meetings flow better. Most importantly, end when you say you will end. There’s nothing worse than a meeting that “goes over.”

No phones. Yeah, none.

Meetings take longer when people are distracted. Create a “no phone zone” during your meetings. Collect them at the door if you have to. Makes sure people stay focused and over time your meetings will become shorter and more productive. (This starts with you, Mr. Leader).

Have a WWW.

I’m not talking about the Internet. Have an action list — a “who, what, when.” End every meeting with a list of who is going to do what by when. Designate someone who will capture the action items with owners and due dates for each meeting.

Some meetings may always be trials, but give these six steps a shot, and the meetings you do have will definitely get shorter and more productive. Here’s a little bonus advice — if you want to really get serious, make your meetings stand-up. You’ll find speed in those meetings for sure!


This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.