How to Prevent Meetings From Stealing Time


One day I noticed a flock of rainbow lorikeets outside my window. They looked for all the world as though they were having a meeting. Why? Was it to debate the quality of their breakfast or compare notes about the wet weekend? Perhaps, like so many of their human counterparts, they were congregating because the boss had ordered a meeting every Monday.

Did they have an agenda? One bossy Lorikeet seemed to make most of the noise. Was he pushing his own barrow, talking on and on without good reason?

A late bird flew in. Will someone spend time bringing the latecomer up to speed, I thought, or had the meeting been held up awaiting the tardy arrival?

Do these questions sound familiar? How often do you end up in meetings that steal time, with no clear outcomes? They meander through topics with no attention on the clock and no apparent progress? How often have you walked out of a room with no clear actions?

Time isn’t just wasted with unproductive and poorly run meetings—it is literally stolen. With a finite number of minutes available to us each day, spending time in meetings that go nowhere should be a crime.  When we account for pay rates and compute the amount of money sitting there yawning and staring into space, the high cost of ineffective meetings is undeniable!

The solution to time theft isn’t meeting avoidance. A well-run, on-target meeting is a key form of business communication. The key is good planning and follow through.

Steps for an Effective Meeting

If you’re the initiator of the meeting, before you call it ask yourself:

  • Do I really need one? Is there another way to inform stakeholders and reach decisions?
  • If a meeting is needed, who REALLY needs to be there? Don’t invite all the stakeholders unless it’s vital. There are other ways to share information.

If a meeting is in order, the next step is preparation:

  • Draft an agenda. If you can, invite contributions from invitees before finalising.
  • Place the most important topics at the top. This way, critical items will be covered if time runs out or someone must leave early.
  • Think through what closure looks like for each item. This will keep you on course and help determine when to move on.
  • Assign a start and end time. You might even allot specific time increments to each item.
  • Circulate the final agenda before meeting time, a few days beforehand if possible. This lets attendees prepare if needed.

At the meeting, continue the efficiencies:

  • Start on time. If someone comes late, don’t stop and recap. Latecomers need to catch up later with another attendee or from the minutes.
  • Stick to the agenda. If other relevant issues are raised, hold them until agenda items have been completed. The new issues may need further research – the potential is high for unplanned-for topics to take everyone off-purpose and even cause friction.
  • Get closure and action points on each item before moving on.
  • Have an attendee (not yourself if you’re the chair) take minutes and note actions to be taken and by whom.
  • You might delegate someone else to help keep time. This can help keep everyone conscious of elapsed time.
  • Finish on time. This demonstrates your commitment to efficiency and your respect for other peoples’ time.

After the meeting
Immediately after the meeting, distribute the minutes with a summary of action items and accountabilities. This closes the communication loop and provides a written record that can be used to brief absentees and to manage the commitments made in the session.

Every now and then, add ‘review our meetings’ to the agenda.

Robyn Pearce CSP


Robyn Pearce is a researcher, author, international speaker, business woman and time management specialist. She is also a Past President of The National Sperakers' Association of NZ and immediate Past President of IFFPS - the international body for professional speakers based in the USA.

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