The Art of the 30-Minute Meeting

I thought we all agreed that most of the meetings we attend are a waste of time. We discussed it in the halls, we sent IMs and emails to each other, and we snickered while the boss rambled on for 20 minutes about how hard he'd been working on that critical, can’t fail, top-priority, all-hands-on-deck, it-is-what-it-is, drop-everything-else-you're-doing-to-help-him-impress-the-VP project that no one seems to understand.

The Art of the 30-Minute MeetingI thought for sure we'd all agreed. But yet we keep doing it: scheduling one-hour meetings that could easily be completed in 20 minutes or less.

You know, all the boss really had to say when it was his turn was, “We're right on track this week.”

How many times have you attended an overlong company meeting? If you're like me, too many times to count. How many times have you scheduled a one-hour meeting when it could have been done in 20? Yes, I'm guilty too.

A few years ago, like a bolt of lightening, it hit me. And, as the organizer, I said at the start of a status-update meeting, “Just because we have one hour scheduled doesn’t mean we have to use it all. Let’s get started.” Alas, we still used the entire hour. I fell back into the old routine. Ugh! I almost had it.

So why do we do it? Why do we have the urge to fill all the time allotted? Do our long updates help make our tasks sound more important and more involved than they really are? Do we think that if we finish early, we might not be working hard enough?

I suppose to some extent, the answer is yes.

But after much thought and trial-and-error, I have a solution: Start scheduling meetings for 30 minutes and try to finish them in 20 or 25. Make this your creed.

I know it sounds crazy, but it’s time to impose a little discipline here. People are extremely busy. We are expected to do more with less, and yet we insist on spending our days rushing from one long meeting to the next.

Have respect for people’s time. Schedule 30-minute meetings. People will thank you for it! And trust me when I say the best way to ensure high-level executives attend your meetings is to schedule them in 30-minute increments. Don’t you want those critical stakeholders to attend your meetings? Those whose buy-in you require? Those executives who never seem the have the time to attend? They will if they know your meetings are brief, to-the-point, and informative.

If your meetings are scheduled for 30 minutes, people will be more direct and concise because they know 30 minutes is not very much time. Try it when you schedule your next meeting.

And for Pete’s sake, don’t ask — and especially don't ask your boss — if you can schedule the shorter meetings. Just do it. Be a leader. Don’t ask, just do.

Image used under Creative Commons by Flick user markhillary.

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