What would you do with an hour back each day? What about 30 minutes? Would you take the opportunity to work on that planning initiative that's been sitting in your inbox for more than a month, spend a little time planning for next quarter, or maybe even leave the office and get home in time to read the kids a book before bedtime?
Executives face formidable constraints when it comes to time, budget, and the resources allocated to the business. The average executive spends over 174 calendar-hours in meetings of varying lengths each month. Those calendar hours only track the time spent in the meeting, not the pre- and post-meeting preparation, reporting on the discussion to others, and assignments based on the in-meeting discussions. That 30-minute meeting can easily have 15-20 minutes of ancillary activities.
Possibly even more impactful than the hours spent in meetings is that 60 hours of meetings every month are considered unproductive. When the average executive is spending the equivalent of one work-week a month in unproductive meetings, it is time to assess the meetings with a critical eye towards which ones are producing results, versus taking time without adding value.
Open up your calendar (physical, digital, hybrid, it doesn't matter) and ask yourself these questions about each meeting:
Why was this scheduled?
Meetings are scheduled to share information, create a catalyst for decision-making, and to allow for feedback and discussion. The meeting becomes a problem when there is no information to impart, decision to make, or feedback to give, but the meeting still occurs.
The root reason for a meeting to occur is usually a valid one, and it's up to you to figure out what it was. By the way, "we've always had this meeting" is not the reason for a meeting to occur.
What am I contributing?
Are you responsible for presenting to the rest of the group? Do you supply feedback to others during the meeting? Do you report back to the rest of your team about what was discussed?
If you can't come up with anything that you're contributing to a meeting other than your presence, that may be a sign that it's time to reassess whether this is a productive meeting, or not. Maybe you don't need to be at that meeting.
What are other attendees contributing?Review each meeting attendee (digital calendars such as Google® Calendar or Microsoft® Outlook make this easy to do) and identify their function in the meeting. There should be a concrete reason for each of the attendees to attend that meeting. If you can't determine a reason for someone to be there, that's another sign to reassess the meeting's productivity. Maybe the meeting is productive, just not for that attendee? On the other hand, if you're unable to identify the purpose for most of the group, this may be a meeting to discontinue.
Are there other ways to accomplish the goal?
Maybe the meeting doesn't need to be 60 minutes; it could be 30 minutes or a semi-regular meeting (occurring once or twice a month). Was the purpose of this meeting to share KPIs, but now that you have a new dashboard in your workflow solution, the manual review doesn't need to happen every week (note: if you’re looking for something that can replace meetings with a real-time view across projects, there’s a workflow solution for that)?
Maybe it made sense for your entire team to attend this meeting a year or two ago, but now the team has grown and there's no reason to have everyone there. If this is the case, you could easily designate someone to be the team representative, with responsibilities including attending the meeting, taking notes, and reporting back to the rest of the team.
What isn't getting accomplished because I am attending this meeting?
What is the actual opportunity cost of this meeting? Remember to consider not just the time you spend in the meeting, but also the prep time. What was your gut response to the opening question of this blog post: what would you do with an extra hour every day?
Before putting the kibosh on a meeting, run through each of these questions. When you're unsure of an answer, ask your team. Often they see things from a different perspective, and what may seem to be an unproductive meeting to you may be very useful to them. Don't settle for the first answer to your question, especially if it's "that's the way that we've always done it." Hearing that may mean that this meeting can be reworked, replaced, or just removed from the schedule.
This reduction in the number of meetings on your calendar and the increased capacity to address your more strategic functions (or get home in time to enjoy dinner with your family) does not have to be short-lived. Continue to ask these questions, not just about existing meetings, but whenever a new meeting is proposed. Over time your team will not only start to think about the answers before sending you a new meeting request, but they will also begin to look at their own calendars with that same critical eye. What started as you trying to gain back time in your day, and create additional capacity in your life, could change the company culture. Just by asking five little questions!