5 Ways to Stop Wasting Time in Meetings

3 minute read

If you ask our veteran leaders what it takes to succeed – at Red Ventures and beyond – they’ll tell you it’s crucial to have a significant and positive impact on both your team and the company. In other words, it’s all about getting sh*t done. 

And while meetings do play an important role in establishing priorities, kicking off new projects, and getting those creative juices flowing – they have the dangerous potential to undermine your progress.

Sarah Soule, President of our Entertainment Team, says it best:

“It’s easy to be busy here and get caught up in meetings, emails, and reporting. If you’re not intentional, you can be very busy and have little or no impact.”

It’s no secret that meetings are the #1 time-waster at the office (up from #3 in 2008). In fact, the average office employee spends more than five hours each week sitting in meetings and more than four hours preparing for them. That’s equivalent of more than TEN FULL DAYS A YEAR in meetings. Let that sink in. 

Luckily, there are lots of popular meeting-optimizing tactics available via books, podcasts, and the Internet. Have you heard of “The Magic of 30- Minute Meetings”? What about “The 50-Minute Meeting”? Or even the scientific fun-fact that the best time to have a meeting is at 2:30 on a Tuesday? (It’s true!)

With so many methods to choose from, how can you possibly know where to start? Don’t panic – we’re giving you five simple ways to have better meetings. And with better meetings, you’ll likely find that you need less of them.

1. Meet with purpose

Take a good, honest look at your calendar. Are there meetings you or your team could do without? Could the same outcome be achieved via email or Slack?

If your meeting doesn’t have a concrete purpose, don’t have a meeting. 

Having trouble deciding what’s relevant and what’s not? This handy decision tree is here to help:

Adapted from HBR.ORG

If you do need to organize a meeting, start by stating its purpose on an agenda and send it ahead of time. Not convinced you need an agenda? Read on.   

2. Be inclusive and selective

An inclusive culture starts with inclusive meetings. 

Be intentional about your guest list by including those who can bring diverse perspectives and knowledge. For example, invite a senior leader who can bring historical context, or a new hire for his/her fresh set of eyes. 

While inclusivity can help you create an insightful, well-rounded group, it can also create a crowd. Don’t be afraid to be selective with your invites. Just as the meeting should serve a purpose, every attendee should serve one, too. There are no spectators – only participants! If someone doesn’t have a reason to be there, give them their time back. 

Now that you’ve got the right people in the room, make sure they’re heard. Some voices tend to speak up more than others, which can lead to one-sided discussions.

Encourage active, verbal participation from everyone in the room – after all, each person was invited with purpose!

Tell the attendees why you’ve gathered them and give a heads-up on when you expect to hear their thoughts. (This is another great note to include on that agenda.) In addition, don’t forget to remind participants that they’re allowed to disagree, question, and offer new or different ideas. 

3. Ensure engagement

Want to set some ground rules for your meeting but don’t want to make it awkward? 

Use your agenda to set early expectations. For instance: Laptops won’t be needed, but your full participation will be! (They don’t have to be that corny, but you get the idea.) 

Tell the group that if anyone needs to multi-task, it’s ok to step out or decline the meeting and that you will catch them up later. Eventually, people will come to expect this from your meetings and you’ll get maximum participation. Make sure to return the favor when you’re in others’ meetings.

4. Get results

Stay on track with your objective for the meeting and share it upfront (even on the agenda) so everyone is on the same page. Whatever the desired outcome is, make sure you stay on track to get it. 

  • Do you want a decision? Push for it. 
  • Do you want a discussion? Ask more questions.
  • Do you want an action plan? Ask who will own and when we start.

Whatever the desired result is, get after it! And when you do, make sure the group knows it. That way, everyone leaves the meeting with a feeling of accomplishment. 

5. Ask for feedback

Everyone’s favorite “F” word has a place here as well. 

If you’re not getting your desired results, find out why. Ask your group what was helpful or unhelpful. Ask attendees if they felt like they could contribute or why they didn’t. How could you improve the overall process? Even a quick thumbs up or down in Slack would give you some insight. You don’t have to do a retrospective on every meeting, but getting feedback can be extremely beneficial when you didn’t get the results you were seeking. You have the power to make your meetings better. 

… And one more thing to pull this all together

If you’re not sure how to craft an agenda, here is a link to some templates. You could also try this simple trick: 

State the purpose of the meeting, and instead of listing out topics, pose the questions you want answered. This will ensure interaction, which is why you called the meeting in the first place. If you don’t have any questions to ask, then you may not need a meeting. Back to the decision tree! 


Need a New Year’s resolution? Print out this ALL-INCLUSIVE checklist for effective meetings, commit every line to memory – and give your Outlook calendar a meeting makeover.

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About the Author:

Kelly Shockley

Kelly is a partner on our Learning & Development team.

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