'A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.’
You’ve just been called into a meeting at work. Do you a) jump for joy as it is bound to be a productive and effective use of time – or b) groan inwardly as you realise it will be another hour that you’ll never get back?
Chances are it is more likely to be the latter, quite possibly with a collective sigh from all involved….
What is it about meetings? After all, this is an opportunity to connect with your team – to make sure you’re all on the same page, ask for support if you need it, celebrate success and share advice and insight for tricky problems, with the final outcome being absolute clarity, resolved issues, task ownership and clear next steps. Isn’t it??
Too often, the only take-out from a meeting is ‘how can I reclaim that lost time and where can I get a coffee to wake-up?’
Let’s divert for a moment. Many of you may have a garage, or at the very least, a designated area in your home to store ‘stuff’. It’s universally accepted that the bigger the space, the bigger the amount of ‘stuff’ you store. Every now and then, you throw your hands in the air and decide to have a massive clean out – only to find yourself back in the same place with an equivalent amount of ‘stuff’ down the track. The trick is to limit the space for ‘stuff’. The same rule applies in the workplace.
In 1958, UK political analyst and historian, Cyril Northcote Parkinson became famous for what is now known as Parkinson’s Law – which states that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’. In simple terms – the amount of time that we have to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task.
How many meetings do you go to that are scheduled for one hour? You’ll find they last exactly that one hour. How long does it take to cover the agenda of a three-hour Board meeting? You guessed it – three hours! If a meeting is scheduled for a set period of time, we typically fill that period of time.
So, are we really that clever? Our work calendars are filled with meetings. It only takes one mouse-click to accept a meeting – bang! – there goes an hour. If we know that realistically we can only concentrate for 20 minutes, why not aim to make all meetings around this time?
‘If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions’, said Albert Einstein
Be clever with your time. Here are a few pain relievers to start you off:
- Be specific. About everything – from who is invited, why they need to be there, what they need to prepare in advance, what will be discussed, what you want to achieve and how long it will take. Which leads us to…
- Set a time limit. The more time you allow, the more time you’ll spend. Only host meetings that are scheduled for 25-30 minutes.
- Set an agenda. Keep the discussion tight and on track – only host or attend meetings with a specific agenda.
- Timely exit. Whether you’re the host or the invitee your time is important. If the allocated time is up and the agenda is complete, stand up and exit stage right.
Now… what will you do with your extra time?