Meetings are a great way to discuss projects with colleagues, but oftentimes, they can clog up your entire day and make completing your work a challenge. Knowing which meetings to attend, as well as how to free up your schedule, is key to your success.
“You want to manage your time so you can accomplish your work, do it well, show your employer that you’re a great employee and get out of work at a decent time so you can have a work-life balance,” says Scott Dobroski, community expert at Glassdoor.
The number of meeting invites you receive likely depends on your industry and level. Even so, most people have trouble saying “No”. You can tactfully decline these invites though, as well as suggest ways to your manager to make meetings run smoother and take less time. “It’s more about how you approach the suggestion and that you have a good intent about everyone’s time,” says Paul Wolfe, senior vice president of Human Resources at career website Indeed.com. The right way to approach this is with a goal of making meetings more efficient and effective.
Whether you’re deciding to accept a meeting request or scheduling your own meeting, experts provide tips to help you best use your time.
Slice the Meeting Time
“If you’re going to meet in person, determine how much time you need and then challenge yourself to slice it by 50%,” says Dobroski. “Every time you think you need 60 minutes, put 30 minutes on the calendar because people’s time is important— it’s money.”
Start and end the meeting on time, too. “If everyone isn’t in the room when you’re supposed to begin, start the meeting anyways,” he adds.
Be Selective with Invites
Depending on your role and the project to be discussed, determine whether your attendance at that meeting is necessary. Some people tend to send blanket invites even though everyone doesn’t need to attend, say Mike Erwin, senior career advisor for CareerBuilder, and the person holding the meeting is surprised when the room is full.
“If there’s an email request for a meeting with a lot of people, like more than 10, and it’s not an informational meeting, that’s a red flag,” says Wolfe. “Some companies have quarterly all company meetings that you should attend if you can and if you can’t, ask for a quick update from a coworker or watch the video at a later time if it’s recorded.”
If you’re holding the meeting, only invite interested stakeholders. “You can always put a disclaimer about what you’re going to talk about in the meeting and mention that if they feel they don’t have to attend, they don’t have to,” says Erwin. “People will respect you more.”
When you receive meeting invites, figure out if you need to be there. “If so, accept it and if not, reject it,” says Dobroski. “When you reject a meetings, if it’s one your boss invited you to, write a response to explain that you’re not working on that project and inquire if you need to be there.”
Agendas help you guide the meeting through a set timeframe and set expectations for the meeting. “An agenda makes everyone come to the meeting warmed up and ready to talk,” says Dobroski. These should be distributed at least 24 hours prior to the meeting.
When invited to a meeting with a non-descript title and no notes, experts recommend asking for an agenda. “It’s a way to determine whether you need to prepare anything or if you really need a meeting,” says Wolfe. “This pushes the other person to put some thought into the meeting.”
Assign Roles in the Meeting
“It’s important to keep the meeting on track and not go off on tangents,” says Wolfe. “You want to make sure you use your time wisely and keep the meeting on track.”
Assigning roles to meeting participants is a great way to keep the meeting on schedule and make sure key points are discussed. A timekeeper limits the time spent on each topic, while a gatekeeper keeps people focused on the agenda. “For regular staff meetings, you can rotate roles so that people are always kept on track,” says Wolfe.
Hold Standing Meetings
To keep meetings short, don’t let anyone sit in a chair. “If you’re having status update meetings, make it a standing meeting and no one is allowed to touch a wall,” says Erwin. “That meeting will be finished in half the time because people do not want to stand without leaning on something. They won’t ramble, and everyone will want to finish.”
Send Brief Updates and Schedule Any Follow Up
Update people who didn’t attend, but keep it short, suggests Erwin. “Make sure you’re hitting the points, but you do not need to send an update, word for word, of the entire meeting.” Ask for a brief summary of the discussion if you weren’t able to attend.
The meeting may not have met its objectives too. “We’ve all been in these meetings and sometimes there’s follow up work to do, but as the meeting organizer, it’s your responsibility to put some timelines and parameters around those,” says Wolfe. “Sometimes you may need to reconvene to talk about follow up.”
Talk to Your Manager
“If you’re going to many meetings, you need to talk to a supervisor to say that your productivity is taking a hit and to prioritize what meetings you should go to,” says Erwin.
Count the hours you’re in meetings and figuring out the percentage of time that you attend meetings while at work. “If it’s a percentage you’re not comfortable with, talk to your supervisor,” Dobroski suggests. Remember though that it’s natural for senior employees to spend more time in meetings than junior employees.
Focus on Your Work Balance
“We put so much emphasis on work life balance and having their own time, people need to focus on their work balance too,” says Erwin. Consider putting a two-hour block in your day so you have time to catch up on projects, do work and organize yourself.