Don't you just love workdays fills with meetings? Yeah ... me neither. At our company, Masthead Media, we rarely schedule them unless they're absolutely necessary.

You've most likely attended one--if not innumerable!--seemingly pointless meeting. You may have even led one before. You definitely know you're in one when your mind wanders to the zillion things you could be accomplishing instead.

Though most meetings are scheduled with the best of intentions (we'll be more productive if we're sitting face-to-face!), factors such as side conversations, wild conversational tangents, and lack of prep can derail any chance of driving toward your goals. In fact, most meetings are booked without any thought to goals at all.

Time is your most precious resource, and you can't afford to waste it on an aimless chat. Whether you're attending or running a meeting, don't go without these four elements in place.

1. An objective

What's the most important thing you expect to accomplish by having this meeting? If you're having a hard time answering this, you aren't going to optimize your time--or anybody else's. If you're the one sending the invite, include a "Meeting Objective" section in the notes. This goal will help focus the conversation and give you something to return to should the conversation devolve.

2. A meeting agenda

If the meeting starts with "Where should we begin?" you've got a problem. Another way keep your meeting on track: Make all attendees submit items for a meeting agenda, and send it far enough in advance that everyone can review it.

Not only does a meeting agenda keep your discussion organized, but it also sets parameters for topics that will be covered. If you're concerned about accomplishing everything with limited time, take the extra step of assigning time blocks to every agenda item.

Not in charge of the meeting? You are well within your rights to request an agenda in advance. If you want to gently nudge the meeting leader in the right direction, email him or her with topics you want to add to the agenda--hint taken.

3. A leader

A meeting agenda is an important start, but a bulleted list won't necessarily prevent tangents and side conversations. Enter the meeting leader, who essentially acts as a cross between a master of ceremonies and an enforcer. Tap this person ahead of the meeting, and decide if the meeting leader will hand over specific agenda points to different team members.

While the person who organized the meeting should typically step into the leadership role, there are occasions where you may want to delegate this task. For example, if you are afraid your leadership position may intimidate junior staff from participating in a brainstorm, tap an assistant to keep everyone on track.

4. A call to action

With an agenda to organize your meeting and a leader to keep it moving, odds are you'll breeze through your discussion topics efficiently. Talk is cheap, though, so your meeting isn't truly productive without actions and results.

Set aside some time at the end of the meeting to recap key takeaway points, and to assign next steps and deadlines. This will also give team members who may be quieter in meetings the opportunity to follow up with ideas.