Do your employees hate meetings? Of course they do. It's a rare person these days who thinks meetings are fun or that we should have more of them. But today's office professionals not only hate meetings--46 percent think at least some of the meetings they attend are a waste of time.

That's one of the dispiriting findings in a survey of more than 1,400 professionals by the online collaboration and project management company Wrike. When asked if they leave company meetings knowing what the next action item is, only 54 percent said yes. The rest answered "some of the time," "rarely," or "never."

And yet, these folks are attending lots of meetings. Half reported attending two to five meetings every week. Thirty-five percent said they must attend six meetings every week. It's worth noting the six-meetings-a-week respondents were also more likely to hate their jobs than those attending fewer meetings.

"When I hear people say that their volume of meetings is killing their productivity, I'm not surprised," says Wrike founder Andrew Filev. "When meetings are run well and have the right people in attendance, they can be essential to kicking off a new project or figuring out how to redirect an initiative that's gone off course. But we all fall victim to attending meetings that are a complete distraction from our workday."

It doesn't have to be this way, he says. You can solve the problem of unproductive meetings by eliminating unnecessary meetings and making the ones you do have run more efficiently.

Here's how:

1. Don't be bound by repeating calendar invites.

We all have a few of these, Filev notes, such as a "Wednesday Team Check-In" or "Friday Recap." "We're so used to attending these that we often forget to pause to evaluate their value," he says. "Do they still need to exist? And if so, do you still need to attend every one?"

2. Begin the meeting before it starts.

"Prepare people ahead of time so you are all on the same page when you enter the room," he advises. "Create notes and an agenda in advance and--here's the tricky part--actually review them before the meeting starts."

He also recommends putting key information someplace where participants can see it and discuss it in a running thread well before the actual meeting. "That way, the meeting is focused on solving problems and not just describing them," he says. "The first 10 minutes of your meeting shouldn't be a discussion of why you're meeting."

3. Avoid meeting in large groups whenever possible. 

The larger the group, the likelier a meeting is to be inefficient and unproductive. Not only that, Filev advises having one-to-one meetings if you can. "If you can reach a decision or get an update in that setting, do it," he says. "When people can talk with you directly, you sometimes get a different perspective than when they are updating you in a meeting with an audience."

4. Take participants' daily rhythms into account.

"If you know you're not a morning person, don't schedule meetings first thing in the day," Filev says. "If you know you don't perform best when you're hungry, don't schedule meetings right before lunch." And, he says, respect the biorhythms of others as well, especially if you want them to help you come up with creative ideas or solve difficult problems. "A meeting will ultimately have more impact if you're all performing well."

5. Eliminate distractions.

No one likes sitting in a meeting where participants are checking their smartphones, and yet it happens all the time. "The modern digital ecosystem is overloaded with notifications," Filev says. While these can be handy, especially if you're working on a tight deadline, they can also prevent you from fully participating in the meeting at hand. "I recommend silencing your phone during meetings," he says. "If you know you won't be able to ignore it, leave it behind. Presence is a big part of success, and focusing on the moment will help you understand information, ask better questions, and offer more meaningful contributions."

6. Don't tune out.

"Odds are, if you've been invited to a meeting, it's because you have skills or knowledge that can lend value," Filev says. If you go to a meeting with the attitude that you don't need to be there, you will probably contribute little--and your presence will indeed be unnecessary. On the other hand, if you take the time to review the advance materials and then engage in the meeting while it's happening, you can likely make meaningful contributions. "So pay attention, share your thoughts, and lend value," he says. "It doesn't have to be a waste of time for you or anyone else."

Published on: Jan 20, 2016
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