Why meetings kill productivity (and what to do about it)

An ineffective meeting can derail productivity even after it’s over.

By Hannah Massen

Have you ever left a meeting and thought, “What a waste of time. I could have been getting my work done!” If the answer is yes, you’re certainly not alone. A study from MIT Sloan Management Review found that while meetings take up an ever-increasing amount of employees’ and executives’ time, only 50 percent of meeting time is effective, well-used and engaging. That number is even lower for remote meetings. 

And get this: An ineffective meeting can derail productivity even after it’s over. The same article details something called “meeting recovery syndrome,” in which attendees lose work time while they mentally recover from a bad meeting. 

While meetings are useful for collaborating on projects and getting everyone on the same page, excessive and poorly run meetings can have significantly negative effects on your coworkers’ productivity and motivation. So if your attendees are visibly daydreaming during your 2 o’clock check-ins, try these strategies for running more productive meetings.

Know when it can be sent in an email 

The first step to holding more productive meetings is knowing when you don’t need to have one at all. Before you send out an invitation, ask yourself:

  • Is the matter urgent or time-sensitive? 
  • Am I looking for discussion, ideas or input from multiple sources? 
  • Are we meeting about a project that hasn’t been kicked off yet?
  • Does the meeting have a clear agenda? 
  • Is there enough time to prepare for this meeting?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, schedule a meeting. If not, send it in an email. Yes, it’s that simple. 

Have an agenda and stick to it 

Few things are more irksome than meetings that get wildily off track, ending with the creative and sales teams locked in a roundabout argument that takes up time allotted for your presentation. Or worse, meeting invitations that are sent without a clear title or agenda, leaving attendees wondering why they were invited at all. 

Don’t be the person who schedules these meetings. Include your agenda in the invitation so people can determine whether they really need to be there and, if not, decline the meeting or suggest someone else. Your agenda might only have one item, and that’s fine! Just make sure you stick to your list of action-items or topics so the people who do attend know what to expect and when to chime in. 

Make it hard to zone out 

Meetings aren’t only more productive when participants are engaged, but they’re more memorable too. People are less likely to forget what their coworkers talked about when they’re part of the dialogue instead of scrolling through Facebook. 

Laptops and phones should be off the table, except for the person who’s taking notes. For every screen in the room, there’s at least one other person glancing at it while their neighbor shops online. Actively facilitate the meeting by asking different people to share their thoughts. At first, you might feel like that teacher who calls on the kids in the back row, but the more perspectives you bring to the table, the better your conversation will be. 

End on a high note 

If you see people shifting in their seats or glancing at the clock every minute, that’s your cue to wrap things up. The goal is to make it through your most important agenda items, then end before everyone checks out. Take a moment to recap the highlights of the meeting, remind people of upcoming deadlines, then pause for any last questions and comments. Make sure that Q&A time is built into your schedule so your last “Oh, and one more thing” doesn’t cut into people’s lunch break.

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