How to Avoid Meetings & Maximize Those You Can’t

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Meetings are one of the greatest barriers to productivity in the modern workplace. They are designed to be set periods of communication, collective brainstorming and decision making; however, they frequently end up just being a giant waste of time. This is especially problematic in the charity world where staff capacity is already typically stretched quite thin.

Thankfully, there are several strategies that you can embrace in order to make meetings more effective for both you and your organization. Each of these strategies seeks to deal with meetings by either avoiding them or maximizing them.

Avoiding Meetings

Avoiding meetings sounds great in theory, but not everyone is able to do it. This strategy is typically easier for executive directors and development department heads to adopt but even they have trouble avoiding meetings all together. The big key here is simply to make sure that the meeting is truly necessary.

Ask yourself, “Could this meeting be avoided by sending an email or having a ten minute phone conversation with someone?”

Also, meetings should never be scheduled simply for purpose of relaying information. Meetings aren’t for reports — they are for discussion and decision making. If you aren’t looking for feedback, ideas or a decision, then you don’t need to schedule a meeting.

One last way to avoid meetings is to block one full day on your schedule each week as “meeting free.” This will ensure that you have a least one day a week where you can tackle major projects and not spend your day bouncing from meeting to meeting. If you can’t do a full day, try a half day. You will begin to covet that time and will become extremely efficient in using it.

Maximizing Meetings

If you can’t avoid attending a meeting (e.g. your boss called it) or you truly need to hold one, there are a few strategies that you can use to make sure that it is effective as possible.

First, you need to make sure the right people are in the room. Meetings should be as lean as possible. This means that only decision makers should be in the room — no observers. More people means the meeting will take longer and if a person has no real say, or nothing to add to the discussion, then they will be more productive at their desk.  A great rule of thumb here is the “2 Pizza Rule” – it should be possible to feed all of the attendees of any meeting with two pizzas.  So, the average pizza has 8 slices and the average person eats two slices … you do the math (hint: it’s 8, try to keep meeting attendees to 8 or less).

Next, make the default length for any meeting 45 minutes (instead of 60). If you schedule a meeting for 60 minutes, it will take 60 minutes. If you schedule it for 45, it will take 45. This change tends to cut down on the 5 to 10 minutes of small talk at the beginning of most meetings and gets attendees down to business sooner. Most calendars have a default setting that can be changed to make this happen automatically. If you have a meeting that truly requires it they can go longer (e.g. strategic planning retreats), but no routine meeting should go longer than 90 minutes as most people cannot focus any longer than that. If you need more time split it into two meetings.

Finally, if you have to attend a meeting or you call a meeting that is truly necessary, make sure something comes out of it. The easiest way to do this is to be the action points guy or girl. To do this you simply say “So who is going to do what, by when, to make this happen?” as you see the meeting winding down. This ensures that someone takes accountability for making sure the attendees didn’t all just waste 45 minutes of their day.

Putting these hacks into action should get you out of meeting room sooner (or avoid it all together) and back to cultivating prospects and moving your organization’s mission forward.

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