Meetings are often a necessary evil that comes with working with other people. There is information to be communicated, hands to shake and whiteboards and powerpoints to be stared at blankly. Anyone who has attended more than a handful of meetings in their lifetime will have inevitably encountered at least one meeting that could have been an email. The average employee spends 6 hours a week in meetings with executives spending a staggering 23 hours according to a report published by the MIT Sloan Management Review.
The Harvard Business Review did a poll of senior managers and found that 71% said that meetings were “unproductive and inefficient”. If you take that into account with the average of 23 hours spent in meetings, you get a wasted time allotment of over 16 hours a week. That’s a total of two full-time shifts. As a project manager, I value my time quite highly and find that I never quite have enough of it to accomplish everything. While I spend considerably less than 23 hours/week sitting in scheduled meetings, there are often informal meetings that require my attendance and input.
A quick google search on meetings reveals a combination of satirical comics and recommendations for how to increase the efficiency of meetings. As a society, we love to poke fun at our obsession with meetings while simultaneously viewing them as an essential part of the business world. I am literally typing this article while waiting for a meeting that was supposed to start 20 minutes ago. This is an example of how meetings can become a black hole; an inescapable pit of despair and a lack of productivity that eats away at your schedule and reminds you that you will never, ever be able to regain those precious seconds.
Meetings have their rightful time and place, and there are many things that are accomplished far more effectively when communicated face-to-face. Improving the efficiency of scheduled meetings is a great place to start but before we consider how to improve meetings, we should first ask if we need to be having a meeting in the first place. What is the information that needs to be communicated? Does it require the simultaneous input of multiple people? If the answer is yes, schedule a meeting. If it is a piece of information that needs to be transmitted to multiple people but does not require input, send an email.
Having wasteful meetings creates an attitude of contempt for the concept of meetings in general. When we do have meetings, we need to ensure that we have the full attention and engagement of all participants and that the time of everyone involved is respected. That way when the meeting is required, everyone shows up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed rather than jaded.
Do not go out and cancel all your meetings. But do go through your calendar and evaluate which ones are truly necessary. And if it isn’t necessary, please for the love of all that is good in this world, just send an email.