Here's the biggest problem with the meeting you just scheduled: You booked it for 60 minutes.

When did it become a rule that meetings should last an hour? Yes, it's true that calendar software like Outlook defaults to a 60-minute span, but even the prevalence of Microsoft Office in the working world doesn't explain the march of one-hour blocks on your calendar.

In my quest to improve the meetings I facilitate, I've discovered that 60 minutes is actually the most ineffective time span. In most cases, you don't need that much time (so activities expand to fill the hour). And in other situations--such as when intense concentration or problem solving is needed--an hour's not long enough.

That's why I recommend using the 10-30-50-90 rule for timing meetings:

  • 10 minutes is for check ins. These are hyper-focused conversations that usually start with a premise like this: "I need to ask you a question about this estimate" or "Can you give me your feedback on this approach?" or "I'd like to give you a heads up about this issue."
  • 30 minutes for status updates, one-on-one touch-base conversations or to discuss a single issue. I schedule almost every meeting for half an hour; the time frame works 60 to 70 percent of the time.
  • 50 minutes when there are several issues to discuss or if the topic is more complex. There are two advantages in scheduling a "short hour": Participants are more focused, and you get a few minutes to transition between meetings.
  • 90 minutes for brainstorming, strategy discussions and other problem-solving sessions. This span of time works well for diving deep into an issue, understanding what it means and developing solutions.

So for your next meeting, avoid the one-hour trap. Instead, schedule just the time you need to accomplish what you need to do.