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(diego cervo/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(diego cervo/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Career tips

Six ways to waste less time at meetings Add to ...

Adriana Girdler believes in calling a spade a spade, but when it comes to meetings, she prefers the term “sessions.”

Why? Because people hate meetings, said Ms. Girdler, an efficiency expert with 20 years of experience helping companies streamline their operations.

“A meeting is ominous. We have to go to a m-e-e-e-ting,” she said in an interview, drawing out the word to emphasize how long and boring it is. “Whereas a session is fast, it’s efficient.”

Unlike a meeting, which tends to last an hour, a session can be 10 minutes, if that’s all that’s needed. “God had his talk with Moses in about 10 minutes,” she noted.

Through the company she heads, Burlington, Ont.-based CornerStone Dynamics, Ms. Girdler said she often hears complaints from workers who don’t have time to finish tasks because they are bombarded with meetings.

“They’re firefighting; they’re dealing with daily activities instead of being able to focus on special projects that are going to help achieve the company’s vision or bottom line.”

In addition to scrapping the term “meeting,” Ms. Girdler has some other suggestions for making time spent in them more efficient:

Brand your meetings

Is the purpose of the session to convey information, to brainstorm ideas or to find a solution to a problem? Let attendees know ahead of time what to expect. Knowing which type of meeting you’re having will ensure the right people are in the room and will keep people focused on the task at hand, Ms. Girdler said.

Stick to a short agenda

Have no more than five items on the agenda, with time limits for each. It will give the meeting structure and flow and if someone goes off on a tangent, will allow the facilitator to bring things back on track. It also allows participants to think in advance about the subjects, and prepare their suggestions.

Don’t combine agendas

“A lot of people combine their meetings and they talk about everything,” Ms. Girdler says. “They may not get enough time to talk about the actual problem and come up with a solution.” If the meeting is intended to solve a certain problem, focus on that and leave unrelated items for another day.

Shorten meetings

Try a month-long experiment where no meeting can last an hour. Shorten the scheduled meeting time to 45 minutes, then half an hour. You might be surprised how much more efficient the meetings themselves are, and your day becomes as a result, Ms. Girdler said.

Have fewer meetings

Try to have a meeting-free day once a week, she said, and watch how your organization’s efficiency grows on those days. When people don’t have to keep checking their calendars and preparing for their next meeting, they can hunker down to work. Consider whether a meeting is even necessary. Can the information be conveyed through e-mail instead?

Have clear rules

Post rules of conduct in the board room and review them at the beginning of each meeting. For example, no phones or computers allowed, and only one person can speak at a time. Get a consensus on the rules at the start of the meeting, and ensure they are followed. This helps to keep people focused, Ms. Girdler said.

That means turning off your smart phone, no matter how tempting it is to try to get other work done during meetings, she said. You may think you’re multitasking, but sending text messages while someone is talking to you makes you appear rude. “If you don’t have everyone paying attention, it gets out of control,” Ms. Girdler added.

Following these steps will help ensure that your meetings, or whatever you decide to call them, are better organized and more effective. And employees will find they actually have the time to act upon the ideas coming out of these gatherings.

“You should go to work and have fun,” Ms. Girdler said. “You should go and feel like you’re contributing. You shouldn’t have to hit your head against the wall because you don’t feel you’re being listened to, or you’re constantly up against all these roadblocks.”

Dianne Nice is the online editor for GlobeCareers.com. Send your expert tips to dnice@globeandmail.com.

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