The 80-20 Rule states:
For many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
In too many meetings, the rule clearly applies.
- 20% of meetings produce 80% of the benefits, or
- 20% of the time spent in a particular meeting creates 80% of that meeting’s results.
Flipped around, that means about 80% of meeting time is wasted. Yikes!
If you’ve never attempted to optimize your meetings, it’s time. There are three strategies you can pursue.
1. Hold fewer meetings
Your biggest opportunity to save time and money is to avoid meetings that should never have happened in the first place. Examine the meeting purpose to determine if it’s necessary.
If your meeting doesn’t have a clear purpose, you should not call it. If someone has invited you to a meeting that doesn’t have a clear purpose, you should not accept. Better yet, suggest to the person that he or she ought to clarify the purpose prior to convening the meeting.
You know those meetings to create buy-in to a decision that has already been made, those in which the person calling it wants you to believe you have a say in making the decision? Not only do these meetings waste time, they also create a lot of ill will. Don’t hold one of these. Ever.
The purpose may be clear, but it’s not important enough to justify the meeting expense. There are other ways to accomplish the same goal.
For example, instead of meeting to brainstorm names for a new product, ask people to submit their ideas electronically. Instead of meeting to do status updates, keep a master project list online and have folks update it themselves.
2. Hold shorter meetings
There are three things you can do that will help you get more done in less time.
Schedule less time
This one might seem obvious, but if you ask people how long their meetings typically last, they’ll tell you an hour. It’s the default answer.
Unfortunately meetings have a habit of filling the time you give them. Instead, figure out how long you think it should last, exactly, and schedule it for that amount of time. If you are not sure, go back to your plan and make sharper estimates. Have a plan and stick with it.
Set a time budget for each agenda item
In order to know how long your meeting will last, you need to add up the sum of the parts. I always identify what I’m going to do and how long each piece will take. Push yourself to create quicker options. Put those times on your agenda. Remind people at the start of each agenda item. Recruit someone to serve as time-keeper to help you stick to the budget.
Create pre-work and post-work
Your meeting may be critically important. There may be a series of things that have to be accomplished to reach your goal. That doesn’t mean they all have to happen in the meeting.
The other day I led a planning session. I wanted to do a SWOT Analysis; however, we didn’t have time to do it during the meeting. Instead, group members provided their SWOT opinions via email several weeks prior to the meeting, and we did a quick recap within the meeting.
3. Invite fewer people
The more the merrier might be good for a party. It’s a lousy principle to follow when deciding who to invite to your meeting. Here are three ways to shrink the list.
One person wears multiple hats
There should be a reason each person is invited. You are looking for people to fill skill, experience, knowledge, or authority needs. If you make your wish list first, without names, you can then go back and decide who can fill each need. The best invitees are those who fill more than one need.
Don’t invite in groups
If you catch yourself thinking I ought to meet with my team or that department, you will likely invite too many people to your meeting. While it may be true that you need most people from your group to solve the problem, do you really need them all? If not, don’t waste their time by asking them to come.
Leave off those who aren’t likely to contribute
Scratch from your list known troublemakers who aren’t necessary to achieving your goal. Also, anyone who rarely talks during meetings should be left off the list. If there’s someone who might contribute, but you aren’t sure, ask that person to make the decision for you.
Cut the waste
Moaning about meeting waste is a popular past-time. Unfortunately the complaints are likely true. Many meetings are a waste. Even those that are important have lots of waste in them. Your job is to eliminate it, leaving only what’s essential and important.