You know the feeling. Everyone is sitting around the table, discussing, debating, and coming up with ideas. One hour later, we’re all happy and motivated to go back to work. No one wants fewer meetings, because they’re useful and always end up with a clear action plan. Okay, I admit, this never happens.
I guess if you’re here, you’re also tired of wasting your life away in meetings trying to solve business problems. So am I. Meetings take up so much time every day. I try to be as effective as possible with my time at work. When I schedule meetings, I keep them short, so I am for no longer than 30 minutes.
There’s nothing wrong with meetings, since they start with a good intention: solving problems. But we’ve all been in meetings that never seem to end. No one cuts to the chase. Not everyone is required in the room. There’s no space for the quiet types. Meetings waste a lot of time and rarely conclude with follow-through on tasks.
If someone needs my input for something, they can just pop by my desk and we can have a chat. No need to lock ourselves in a room. The best way to avoid people putting stuff in your calendar is to set expectations. Always ask your colleagues to answer four questions and share the answers with everyone before scheduling a meeting:
- What is the problem we’re going to discuss? People waste time in meetings discussing issues they don’t understand. If they can’t explain the issue to others, they don’t understand it well enough. Before a meeting starts, everyone needs to be on the same page.
- What is the cause of the problem? Meetings where people don’t agree on what the root of the problem is give me gray hair. If they don’t know, they need to find out. It will speed things up.
- What are possible solutions? Most of the wasted time in meetings is spent arguing over which solution is the best one. Often meetings end up by scheduling another meeting. We need follow-up conversation, because we didn’t make enough progress. They need to find out the feasible solutions and write them down.
- What solution do you suggest? After naming all the possible solutions, they have to name the best one in their opinion. Voila, they spared hours of everyone else’s time. A meeting to discuss potential solutions is not necessary anymore. With all the possible solutions laid on the table, it’s going to be much quicker to choose the winner.
Leon Shimkin came with this idea in the 1940s. He was general manager and later owner of Simon & Schuster. Once everyone starts doing this, fewer meetings will fill your calendar. Most problems can be solved by answering these four questions; no need to meet with anyone on the team.
This is a great way of spending less time in meetings, which for me have often been an annoying waste of time. It’s been working wonders for companies that implemented it, so it’s time-tested. Give it a try yourself!