5 Ways to Make Work Meetings Less Insufferable and More Effective

Navigate your Outlook calendar (while keeping your sanity).

Hold on to your ergonomic office chair: The average employee spends the equivalent of two entire workdays—per week—sitting in meetings, according to a Forbes story by Ann Latham. What’s worse, roughly half of that time is spent in bad meetings that are a waste of time.

Latham says, and we agree, that it’s not that meetings themselves are inherently terrible. The problem is that so often they’re conducted poorly: between tricky personalities vying for the spotlight, getting sidetracked, and letting a meeting that should of taken 10 minutes spiral out of control (and end an hour later), meetings can be draining and frustrating.

To reduce the annoyance that sets in every time a meeting reminder pops up on your smartphone, here are some practical tips from the experts on how to navigate the biggest meeting obstacles, including managing certain personalities, keeping everyone on task, utilizing time efficiently, and making a meaningful contribution.

Ask Yourself: Is This Meeting Necessary?

Seems obvious, but how many meetings have you sat in thinking, “why are we even here?” If every person asked themselves this question before they created a new event on the calendar and booked a conference room, there’d be a whole lot fewer meetings crowding your schedule.

“A good question is, ‘What’s the goal of the meeting?’” said Maura Thomas, author of Personal Productivity Secrets. Before you set a meeting, you should be able to fill in the blank: “At the conclusion of the meeting, we will have accomplished [blank].”

In other words: know what the goal of the meeting is and figure out a plan of action to reach said goal. If you can’t do either, it’s time to put the meeting on hold until you can.

Get Everyone Else’s Input Before the Meeting

“Meetings can and should be stimulating and energizing—not draining and de-motivating,” said AmyK Hutchens in a recent podcast on The Art of Charm. “One of the most fundamental things you can do is trigger the brain with questions.”

She suggests that the host invites each participant to contribute to the meeting agenda before the meeting even takes place. In other words: the agenda is a group effort. When everyone feels like they have a stake in the meeting—and like their needs and wants matter—they feel more engaged and more ground is covered. This also gives everyone a reason to prepare for the meeting, which further heightens each individual’s personal stake.

Dealing with Tricky Personalities

The headstrong boss, the yeller and the micro-manager are all players in the workplace, and they come out in full force around a conference table. In the new book HeadTrash 2, authors Tish Squillaro and Tim Thomas guide you on how to better handle this workplace negativity by understanding others’ emotional baggage.

  • The Yeller: If someone is constantly screaming about everything, he or she might be suffering from persistent feelings of anger. The authors suggest that when discussing an issue with this type of co-worker, monitor the language used in conversation. Refrain from using accusatory phrases and instead, ask sincere questions that can lead to better communication and understanding. Sometimes that means asking something as simple as, “What do you need from me?” Again, sincerity is key.
  • The Micro-Manager: This type of person yearns for control and often falls prey to the idea that unless he or she completes a task, it won’t be completed well. The authors say you should encourage this personality type to delegate tasks, which emphasizes their leadership role in fostering valuable learning.
  • The Know-It-All: Arrogance is a foul beast, and those who suffer from it often can’t see when they’re wrong. When having a heated discussion with this person, call a timeout if it seems you’ve hit a rut. The authors suggest stepping away from the argument before things get out of hand, and to cool off before having a calm discussion later.

Ditch the Chairs

Was yesterday leg day? Sorry, you still need to stand during your next meeting—if you want to keep it short and sweet, that is. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, University of Missouri researchers found that meetings are 34 percent shorter when held standing up versus sitting down. When students were split into groups and asked to solve a problem, those in a room with no furniture (and who were instructed to stand) reached a conclusion faster than those with furniture who could sit down.

Be Diligent About Time Keeping

Meetings that stretch well past their allotted time are not ideal, and rarely more productive. To combat the dreaded never-ending meeting, set a designated amount of time and don’t go over it. It’s also smart to set time limits for each topic of discussion and make sure everyone is aware of them.

Leave with a Public Plan of Action

Thomas said that the effectiveness of any meeting relies on three questions you should be able to answer at it’s conclusion: What’s the next action? Who is responsible? When is the due date?

“Having these questions and answers recorded in the minutes creates accountability through publicity,” said Thomas. “It’s much easier to miss a deadline when no one knows you have it. When it’s a public deadline, people are much more likely to meet it.”