Taking the 30 Minutes Challenge: How to Cut Meeting Times

As a rule, CEOs spend about two-thirds of their time in meetings that last more than an hour.

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According to Harvard research, time is the most valuable resource for CEOs, yet they (or you) are in meetings for 72 percent of the total time available on a typical day.

How can you cut meeting times down — a lot?

A Harvard study found that, before COVID, a company’s vice president would spend 44 hours a week going to meetings. COVID changed that fact by a long way — and the reasons are not exactly. In the Harvard study, the IT manager spent 35 hours with the CEO and sent emails to 85 percent of the company. Most leaders in the study had the same problem. In other words, how can you bring joy to your scheduled meetings?

People in C-suite are in meetings even more often in the new normal to keep the human connection alive. Most employees don’t like how much time they have to account for before, during, and after the meeting.

The “switching time” is the amount of time it takes to get back to focused work after taking a break. For example, it takes at least 15 minutes after a break to get back to work. It takes at least 30 minutes to focus on a single issue to get moving or make a decision, which is called “time fragmentation.”

If you think about meeting distractions, answering the phone, or reading an email — there are a lot of distractions in a day’s work. If employees spend their time switching between tasks, it’s possible they only do one hour of work every two hours.

How a leader spends their time shows how they lead, prioritize, and communicate. Assessing the quality of meetings, deciding who should go, and ensuring everyone is focused on the task at hand leads to success.

Improving the productivity of the meeting

Manufacturers often have a short daily meetings of no more than 15 minutes at the same time each day — so employees don’t have to move into a separate room for these meetings. They are first thing in the morning when they arrive. They talk about what happened yesterday, the problems, and what will happen today.

Short but brief meetings help keep the focus on necessary tasks, which helps keep things moving forward. If there are problems, talk about them in a separate meeting only with the involved people — and most offices have found the benefit of using intraoffice communications like Slack or Outlook.

Prepare the meeting schedule ahead of time. If it’s a regular meeting, always follow the same order of business. How is the project going? Is there a problem, and do I need help? Everyone should prepare for it. But snap through these issues quickly from an agenda and don’t deviate.

Rank who should go to the meeting first

An HBR study found that the more time people spend in extensive group settings, the less likely they will be engaged. If people can spend less time in meetings and more time preparing for them — they will be more productive and excited about what they are going to do with the information.

Keep the number of people down. Remove everything else and follow the 2-pizza rule set by Jeff Bezos. Six to eight people is the correct size for a meeting. The more people there are in a meeting, the less productive it is.

A meeting with fewer people doesn’t waste the employees’ time who shouldn’t be there. Only invite people who can help with the project being discussed — and each of these should be encouraged to give honest feedback.

A quick meeting and honest feedback is the secret of Pixar’s Brain Trust meetings. These meetings keep the company focused on the work at hand and help the company be better and more innovative.

A French company with 500 employees called FAVI makes its meetings public. Anyone who needs to see them can do so. You can replace it with a video-on-demand or an online tool like Kahoo if you want to try this process. Leaders can use their public meetings, and anyone in the company can watch the meeting vids and collect data or ask questions.

You should boost employee confidence, self-discipline, and psychological safety. Make it easier for employees to choose which meeting to attend and how to be active when they decide to be part of a class.

Have your employees ask themselves the same questions you should ask yourself. How did I do this week? Is this mind meld necessary? What is the goal? Is this your job? Attend the meeting, or can you look at the minutes and see if you can join in? If you work from home, you may want to spend more time having one-on-one meetings than attending the big ones. These meetings are more important because they help employees feel like they belong and connect.

Improve your focus

People tend to go offline in essential or long meetings and focus on emails or messages instead of being present in the meeting. That’s the worst way to waste time. You can’t pay attention to emails or meetings all the time. In these situations, employees suddenly “come to” and want someone to repeat what they just said because they were dinking around doing something else. This phenomenon works much like the drunk or texting driver.

Concentrate on keeping your meeting short and sweet so that you may devote your time and energy to what matters, and hurry and get back to your work. Consider using web-based solutions such as ASANA or Mural.co to make the meeting more engaging, disseminate the outcomes, solicit comments, or assign obligations after the scheduled time. Set up a set time of day for meetings, and schedule them all simultaneously to ensure that you don’t waste any time.

It’s a 30-minute challenge.

Agendas and minutes are essential. However, today people don’t use them much. Remember the last boring meeting you went to? You may have noticed that leaders didn’t have an agenda or added some topics to the agenda last minute.

There are signs that a meeting was practically worthless — and definitely boring. Everyone spoke too much, and some people could not even talk. If a challenging topic took longer than expected, it is most likely because the speakers were not ready or prepared and the essential information they needed was not close at hand.

Again — the truth is that meetings shouldn’t take more than 30-minutes. Start prepping your company and employees now to make the 30-minute mandatory by 2023 in your company.

Why are 1-hour meetings the norm? Because Zoom meetings are free for up to 40 minutes, it makes sense that they are. Push your team to do better and come up with all new ideas in less time and watch your productivity skyrocket.

The same goals should exist within your C-suite — make it a goal to set a new standard for a conference: 30 minutes at the most. This will help your teams choose topics more carefully, pick attendees more carefully, and prepare better for the next meeting. You will be able to get back at least half of your time.

Keep in mind that your most important asset is time, and determine that in 2023 — you will stop giving it away to nonsense.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Christina Morillo; Pexels; Thank you!

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