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2 Billion Meetings a Year are a Waste of Time

by Frank Strong

meetings are a waste of time

Meetings make many sleepy.

In the United States, educated guessers say we hold about 11 million meetings per day, which adds up to 4 billion meetings a year. Those same educated guessers, Harvard historian types, point to survey research finding people believe about half of all meetings are wasted.

Net impact?  Two billion wasted meetings a year.

The problem isn’t education or a lack of resources. There are thousands of quality results for searches on “productive meetings.” Quora’s got a bunch of helpful answers too on the topic, so long as we don’t get distracted by fascinating questions such as If a tiger fought a lion, which animal would win?  (Spoiler:  Dant.  Dant-dant-dant).

The culprit then?  Email!
Email as the catalyst for meetings

How is email, which is often accused of being a time suck in and of itself, also getting tagged for being the root cause of meeting madness as well? According to this Marketplace story on unproductive meetings:

email has contributed to more meetings because it makes it too easy to invite a whole list of people for a gathering, even if there’s not a good reason for it.

Add in WebEx or GoToMeeting to the mix, and the meeting isn’t just a call that breaks up the day into chucks of time too small to tackle any creative work…rather you’ve now also got an additional implied task:  a presentation to create.

Some companies have made headlines for banning email.  Those emails bans may well have cracked the door open for bans on meetings too as Lifehacker called for earlier this month:

Unchecked, meetings can be a superfluous time suck. While it’s possible to have better than average ones, try setting at least one day per week aside with a complete meeting ban.

The idea is that, at least from the perspective of those doing regular creative or productive work, meetings are an interruption. An abnormality to the normal workflow that throws everything off. Managers can sometimes handle this because meetings are their job, but every meeting has to be weighed against the productivity it kills.

 

Standing room only

I oppose meetings.  I oppose them because while like to be part of the decision making process, they are often a compound waste of time:  a) they are often unproductive matters of routine rather than necessity b) cram more than a couple in a day, and they tend to waste the in-between time as well c) they often get moved, so it’s a complete disruption to prepare for a meeting, only to have it change six times.

When in role as a manager, I can also see the flip side: the importance of getting everyone on the same page.  Meetings can be important. Two things I’ve found worked well to keep them short and to the point:

  1. Have a report or agenda that provides a standard flow for every meeting.
  2. Make everyone stand; no sitting allowed.

How about you?  Are half of your meetings a waste of time?  How have you successfully reduced either the number of times you hold a meeting, or have reduced the duration of meetings?

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10 leadership tips for 1:1 meetings with employees

2 Responses

  1. Several years ago at one of my old employers I publicly announced I was not going to attend a particular set of meetings any more because they were nothing but weekly gripe sessions at which nothing was accomplished.
    When management suggested that insubordination could lead to dismissal I told them so could lack of production. I’d like to say it started a revolution and led to major growth and change but it didn’t. Boss was entrenched in his ways and told me that it just meant we would have to work longer hours on some days.
    They were surprised when I left. I’ll never claim to be the smartest guy but I learned a long time ago that as hard as my head is the walls always win an extended head banging contest.
    Meetings need to be managed.

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