take efficient meetings

Time is money, wrote Benjamin Franklin back in 1748, as he was passing along advice to a younger and inexperienced business man. How to spend your resources (time, money, labour etc) is vital when trying to be as efficient as possible – we all know that.

Fundamental economic theory states that most resources are limited. For some resources you can increase the amount by growing your business, making more money, hiring more people etc. However, time as a recourse on your personal level is fixed, and you therefore have to carefully assess how you spend this resource.

And as leisure is considered a luxury good, one might consider why inefficiency at work should eat away free luxury.

Meetings take up a lot of time on an overall company level. If managers were held accountable for this time consumption in the same way as revenues and expenditures they would most likely become pay more attention to it.

Let’s dig into some suggestions on how to make your meetings effective:

1. Make sure everybody is relevant

Steve Jobs was famous for being a ruthless leader, even in the context of meetings. If spotting someone at his meetings who he didn’t think was needed he’d send them out immediately. Point being that it would not be optimal allocation of their time, while not adding anything to the meeting.

2. Make sure everybody is prepared

Starting a meeting from a blank slate is very unproductive. Making informed decisions usually requires more information than what will be presented at the specific meeting, so you want to brush up your knowledge on that respective topic as part of your essential preparation.

In order to avoid unprepared attendees make sure that you have informed everybody about the agenda, and added whatever material that is necessary. You should be able to add all this information electronically in the event itself.

Amazon has found an alternative means to avoid that anybody steps unprepared into a meeting. The first 30 minutes start in silence where attendees consume a written memo putting everyone up to speed. Then the meeting starts.

3. Make sure the meeting starts on time

When you’re on time for a meeting, but have to wait for one or more attendees you are seriously wasting your time. Make sure that everybody’s there on time, and in necessary, set up a penalty scheme in order for people to remember. This 5 minutes that every meeting can start delayed should be multiplied by the number of people waiting.

Both partners and associates at the Venture Capital firm Andreessen Horowitz operate after a $10 pr minute rule, meaning that it’ll cost $100 to be 10 minutes late. Then you really have to prioritise those things that will keep you lingering before a scheduled appointment.

You can of course start the meeting even though you are missing someone, which will make it uncomfortable for him to show up late and joining an already ongoing meeting, and eventually it will become company culture to be there on time.

Downside to this strategy is that you will have one person who missed the first part of the meeting, and since you have incorporated advice number 1, this person was relevant. Suddenly he will be handicapped, and will not add as much value to the meeting as he normally would.

4. Have a goal with the meeting

Make sure everybody knows why you have called the meeting, and round your meeting off with your conclusions – hopefully they match with what you intended to obtain. Make sure action steps are delegated if action is needed so everybody knows who does what for when you follow up on the meeting. Otherwise you’ll have a hard time getting from pre-meeting to post-meeting with much other than 3 cups of coffee and 2 hours that you’ll never get back.

5. Don’t let conventional time slots define the length of your meeting

A standard calendar invite in both Outlook and Google Calendar is one hour. Often this is more than enough, and you’ll be able to get what you need out a meeting in much less, either 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or 45 minutes. Either schedule shorter meetings, or don’t be shy to round a meeting off if you are done with time to spare.

Alternatively place your meetings over lunch to save time. Will work fine with smaller internal meetings at the office, or as lunch meetings with business connections at a nearby place. Though a business lunch may take longer than a conventional meeting you are saving those 30 minutes that you would spend on lunch anyways.