Meeting Productivity Gone South? Save Hours with These 5 Tips

A lot has changed this year, and smooth transitions require significant back-and-forth—and usually that means a lot of meetings. These days, remote workers, which make up around two-thirds of the American workforce, are spending 29% more time in meetings, and the adverse effects like increased screen time, Zoom fatigue, and diminished productivity take a toll.

Of course, meetings are necessary for communication, alignment, and collaboration, so how can leaders mitigate the costs without clearing calendars altogether? Here’s the secret: You don’t need more meetings, you just need to fix the ones you’re already having.

Here are five ways to run more effective meetings.

1. Keep meetings small.

If there are too many people in the room, focus and motivation decrease dramatically. Senior team members dominate the conversation, introverts often go unnoticed, and some people continue working on other projects and leave the meeting wondering, “What were we talking about for the last hour?”

“In a group of 20 or more, you can’t keep track of the subtle cues you need to pick up,” said Paul Axtell, author of Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations. Different limits works well for different teams, but Axtell suggests keeping meetings to seven people at the most.

2.  Set a clear agenda and objectives beforehand.

Asking your team key questions ahead of the actual discussion can make a huge difference in focus and efficiency. When you set a meeting, write the agenda directly in the event to keep everything connected, and ask clear, direct questions rather than stating general topic

For example, ask “When will the blog be done?” rather than “Blog timeline discussion.” You can even run a quick flight on Balloon, a collaboration software, asking those questions so your team can share vital information asynchronously, and the meeting can serve as a quick wrap-up of next steps. Asking direct questions and setting a clear agenda beforehand ensures that your team won’t rely on you to do the heavy lifting. Instead, they’ll come prepared, and everyone can get back to work faster.

3. Cap meeting time at one hour.

If you’ve ever been caught in a call that just won’t seem to end, you know how draining lengthy meetings can be. In case your team members do have meeting-heavy days, making each meeting shorter gives them time to breathe, eat, stretch, and execute heads-down work in between. What’s more, shorter meetings are actually proven to increase productivity.

“Classic studies have found that groups adjust both their rate of work and their style of interaction in response to deadlines and time constraints,” says Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School and the author of Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan. You can even try paring down hour-long meetings to 40 minutes, and half-hour meetings to 15.

4.  Block off no-meeting days.

The time it takes to concentrate after an interruption is called “switching time,” and it can take up a surprisingly large chunk of your day: Switching time generally lasts 15 minutes, so for every quick call or meeting, you and your team are losing precious time in the workday.

Avoid wasting time recalibrating after distractions by blocking off entire days for heads-down work for everyone on your team. On meeting-heavy days, try to focus on more administrative tasks, and save the deep creative work for no-meeting days so you can really get into a flow state.

5. Never hold meetings for updates.

There are so many alternatives to meetings—emails, Slack messages or apps, flights on Balloon—that you should never hold a meeting for updates. So much of in-person (or over-Zoom) communication comprises pleasantries, small talk, and long-winded tangents, so try another avenue to get the information to the right people like assigning tasks in Asana. Forcing yourself to type things out will improve your written communication skills, and every minute counts, so use them well!