300,000 hours in one year. Reporters examined one large company's weekly executive committee meeting and found employees there spent that much time supporting it. Note that I said "supporting."

That is more than 34 years' worth of labor -- frittered away in one year. I am sure leadership felt they needed those check-ins to share and gather information. But there is a better way to go about it.

People are drowning in meetings. Respondents to one survey said that too many meetings is the number-one time waster at work. It is not just the time spent in the meeting itself, but all the effort that goes into preparing for and supporting the meeting.

These unnecessary gatherings add up. And they come at a price. In the U.S. alone, about a third of the approximately 11 million meetings that take place every day are unproductive -- costing businesses an estimated $37 billion annually.

Meetings are not inherently a waste. As the co-founder and CEO of Aha!, I fully believe in frequent communication. And sometimes you need to meet live on a web meeting. We are one of the fastest-growing software companies in the U.S. and we are doing it all with an entirely remote team. No stuffy conference rooms here. But I still found my calendar filling up.

So I took steps to fix the problem. My approach can help you combat the drain on your attention and resources as well. The benefit to you and the company is more time spent on getting actual work done.

Here are five ways I combat meeting overload -- and you can, too:

Book "work appointments"

I block off my entire Wednesday to minimize distractions. You might not be able to do the same, but you should be able to set aside multiple "appointments" with and for yourself so you can focus on getting your work done. You do not need to take yourself totally off the grid, but giving yourself some set chunks of work time can do wonders for your to-do list.

Think twice about invites

Are you quick to hit "accept" when you get a meeting invite? By doing so, you become part of the problem. You just set the expectation that there is no such thing as too many meetings. Instead, I take a moment to make sure I can actually contribute or gain critical new information by attending. If the answer is no, I let the organizer know why when I politely decline.

Assess the prep time

Not all of the time wasting happens during the meeting itself. At some point, you have probably prepared something to present -- only to find there was no time or need to go over it. When I ask our team at Aha! to prep something before a meeting, I double check that the effort is worth the benefit. You can reduce your own load in supporting meetings by doing the same before you start working on that new report.

Stick to schedules

Ask for an agenda beforehand, show up on time, and stay focused on the main points. If important new topics come up, I usually move those into action items rather than extending past the agreed time limit. Whether you are the meeting organizer or attendee, you can play the same role -- giving gentle reminders and steering the conversation back to the agreed-upon agenda.

Uninvite yourself

Many recurring meetings start out as essential... then become less so over time. If my presence is no longer needed, I do not hesitate to remove myself from the invite list. If the meeting itself has become less useful, suggest ways to make it effective again. And if the project itself has changed to the point that the meeting is no longer needed, speak up about that as well.

Fixing your company's over-reliance on meetings is not your sole responsibility. But there are many ways you can help.

Examine every meeting and invite and ask yourself, "Is this needed?" "Am I needed there?" Maybe you could be the one to save your organization 300,000 hours this year.

How many meetings do you attend that could be skipped?

 

Published on: Mar 28, 2018