If you've ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of time you spend in meetings, you're not alone.

According to a study from Harvard Business Review, business leaders spend an average of 72 percent of their time in meetings during any given week. And the more time you spend in meetings, your email inbox is likely filling up while the meetings add more to-dos to your growing list.

Not only can excessive meetings leave less time for you to complete work, but it can cost your business a significant amount of money. In fact, up to $37 billion per year is spent in unproductive meetings.

So how can you make your work day more efficient by attending fewer meetings -- and encourage the rest of your team to do the same? Consider the tips below.

1. Block time on your calendar for priority work.

If you have an opening on your calendar, team members will likely assume you're free to attend meetings. But if your entire day ends up getting filled with meetings, you won't get any work done.

Instead of keeping your calendar open, block off time on your to complete priority work tasks. If you know you have an important project due at the end of the week, block off a few hours each day to ensure you have plenty of time to dedicate to the project.

If colleagues can see your calendar, block this time with labels such as, "Do not book" or "Priority work time." This way, your team will understand that you ideally cannot attend a meeting during this time. But if for some reason, either an emergency or something urgent comes up, you can always accept meetings on a case by case basis.

Encourage your team members to do the same, so they're as productive as possible, rather than spending all day in meetings.

2. Require each meeting to have an agenda.

Have you ever attended a meeting only to think, this issue could have been solved in an email? To avoid this, make it a requirement at your company for each meeting to have an agenda.

The agenda should cover key points that need to be covered during the meeting, and the meeting organizer should be responsible for ensuring all meeting attendees stay on track with the agenda.

In addition to following an agenda, it's important to stick to the original meeting time. If you schedule a meeting for 30 minutes, don't let it extend to a 45 minutes or an hour. This will only lead team members being late for their next meetings or cutting into their work time.

Finally, make sure your team members walk out of each meeting feeling solved about the reason for the meeting, and that the meeting organizer outlines any next steps or to-dos.

3. Only invite the most critical people to each meeting.

In addition to some meetings lacking structure, another challenge many business leaders -- and all employees -- face is getting invited to meetings they don't need to attend. Sometimes, 10 team members might get invited to a meeting when only three need to be involved.

As a leader, the more your company grows, the less realistic it is for you to attend every meeting. Instead, trust your team members to move forward with meetings without you.

If you don't think you need to attend a meeting, simply decline it and let employees know they can handle the meeting on their own. Over time, this will push your team members to think twice about who to invite to each meeting, cutting down on time spent in meetings and making your team more productive overall.

Meetings are important for ensuring your team is on the same page and stays on track to reach your business goals. But spending too much time in meetings -- especially unproductive ones -- doesn't help anyone and can lead to decreased profitability at your company.

By following these recommendations, you can ensure you only attend the most critical meetings and dedicate more time to mission-critical work.

Published on: Jan 18, 2019