May 16, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

The average office worker in the UK spends a staggering two years of their lives -- or 25 percent of their work week -- preparing for and attending meetings, according to research from eShare. But meetings aren’t just a time suck; they’re also largely pointless: In fact, 40 percent of all meetings are unnecessary, according to eShare data. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Read on for a roundup of five ways to maximize your meetings and add productivity to your life.


1. Ask yourself, “Do we really need this meeting?”

This nothing worse than calling a meeting for the sake of calling a meeting. Not only does this waste your own time, it also wastes the time of your colleagues -- an offense they’re unlikely to look forgivingly upon. Rather than earning a reputation as “that guy,” commit to judiciously calling meetings.

The reality is that some meetings can and do add value. After all, Warren Buffett once said, “You will never see eye-to-eye if you never meet face-to-face.” Which begs the question: How do you know if a meeting is necessary? Before pulling the trigger, ask yourself if you’ve thoroughly thought through the issue; whether outside input is necessary to make progress; and is a real-time, in-person conversation a requirement? Only if the answer to all of these questions is “yes” should you move forward with scheduling a meeting.


2. Prepare an agenda.

Says Alistair Esam, eShare CEO, “Meetings are an integral part of business life, but many are inefficient, with incorrect agendas and attendees unable to locate the required background information when they need it.”  Conversely, a well-done agenda serves as something like a GPS system complete with step-by-step directions. Not only does it cover where you’re going, but also how long it will take to get there. And, of course, starting on time and arriving on time make for a much smoother ride.

You also need a mechanism in place to manage “detours” which arise along the way. Experts suggest having a “parking lot,” such as an open document or flip chart, to store unrelated topics for a later time.

Another agenda-related problem?  Meetings which still used printed agendas and supporting materials.  Continues Esam, “Anyone attending a meeting must have the relevant emails, documents and agenda available on their device, and be able to annotate and share those with ease.”


3. Be thoughtful when selecting attendees.

Meetings aren’t town hall forums (unless they are town hall forums, that is), and treating them as such can be an impediment to productivity and engagement.

Suggests Forbes, “When you’re calling a meeting, take time to think about who really needs to be there. If you’re announcing a change, invite the people who are affected by the announcement. If you’re trying to solve a problem, invite the people who will be good sources of information for a solution.”


4. Define your meeting.

Having an agenda is one thing, but good meetings also have something more: purpose. Harvard Business Review suggests that meetings can perform four specific functions: informative-digestive; constructive-originative; executive responsibilities; and legislative framework. Knowing which you’re trying to achieve can help you stick to your agenda and ultimately execute a more effective meeting.

Suggests HBR, “it may be a useful exercise for the chairman to go through the agenda, writing beside each item which function it is intended to fulfill. This exercise helps clarify what is expected from the discussion and helps focus on which people to bring in and what questions to ask them.”


5. End with next steps.

What’s the only thing worse than a bad meeting? A subsequent worse meeting spent rehashing the previous one.

Shellye Archambeau, chief executive of compliance standards expert MetricStream, used a sports analogy when detailing the value of action items to the New York Times, “When you’re in sports, and the ball is thrown to you, then you’ve got the ball, and you’re now in control of what happens next. You own it. It becomes a very visible concept for making sure that there’s actually ownership to make sure things get done.”

Establishing who is doing what by when ensures that everyone remains accountable, plays their positions, and no balls get dropped.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and columnist Dave Barry once said, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be 'meetings.”  As with much of the best humor, the reason this statement is so funny is because it’s so true. Luckily, by following these five tips you can plan meetings that don’t hinder, but help your organization achieve its full potential.


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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