Does your calendar resemble a Tetris board? Do you spend more time in meetings talking about what you are going to do than the time that you spend actually doing it? You’re not alone.

There are some simple ways to reduce the time you spend in meetings and make them more productive. I’ve changed the way I look at meetings it has really helped relieve my time so I can spend more time getting things done.

So what destroys meeting time? Here are a few common issues that need to be squashed:

  • The Comfy Pillow
  • The 5 Year Old Soccer Game
  • The Derailer
  • The Mind-Eraser

The Comfy Pillow

When teams get overly comfortable, the meetings can go on and on to the point where the purpose gradually deviates so far from where you started that nobody knows why you are meeting anymore. Often these meetings run over the time limit too. Why does this happen? This is due to the comfy pillow effect, which happens when everyone gets so comfortable in their chairs they can just sit back and pontificate. The solution: remove the comfy pillow.

dsc_0031-560Stand-ups are a simple way to be more productive. The idea is simple: short meetings with no chairs. Each person reviews their status and any blocking issues. I find these are most often useful when they are done in an uncomfortable area. A conference room built for this is ideal, where you have whiteboards at most … no chairs at all. Tables are optional, but I prefer none. I find that teams do well with this once they get the idea that it has to stay on point and everyone gets their say.

The Derailer

You can’t have a person derailing the entire meeting. Well, you can … but I really prefer not to.

You can do everything right. Stay on point, have a purpose, be clear about what the result of the meeting should be … but then the Derailer steps in. All good intentions can go astray when the Derailer makes his/her presence known. The Derailer has good intentions too and often sways people in the meeting to follow their tangent because it sounds important and compelling. In fact the Derailer may have a compelling point. But by deviating from the purpose and raising an entirely new path to follow, what often happens is neither the original purpose of the meeting nor the new topic from the Derailer are resolved.

Your time is precious and it becomes too difficult to solve many problems at once. Kindly remind the Derailer that while this is a great point for discussion that we will schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss it and take action. Today’s topic is to discuss and solve your current issue. Be kind. Be respectful. But act immediately and decisively.

The 5 Year Old Soccer Game

When I coached my daughters’ 5 year old soccer games I sat in awe at how every kid on the field swarmed to the ball. It was so cute! They all wanted their time with the ball and left their positions to be around it. Even the goal-tenders abandoned the goals. it certainly isn’t very effective, but the kids do love being close to each other and the ball. It’s fun!

Soccer-10People arrive at a meeting with an idea of what they want to get out of it. This is their position. When a tangent idea in a meeting is tossed up, it can produce other random off-shoots. Others in the meeting continue to take it off course until eventually it gets so far from the point that everyone leaves their positions to swarm the ball. So how do you prevent or stop this?

Have a clearly laid out focus for the meeting. Write in on a board in the room. Say it. Multiple times. Make it sink in. When things go off course, circle back to it and remind folks to get back to their positions before someone scores on the open goal.

The Mind Eraser

Ever walk out of a meeting and wonder what just happened? I have. An hour goes by and everyone walks out not knowing what action items they should work on, not knowing who is doing what, and wondering what happened to their day. It’s a deflating feeling to lose an hour of your life and not knowing what happened. It’s like having that hour simply erased.


You can avoid the Mind-Eraser meeting pretty simply by having an agenda. No, not just an agenda, but a clear-cut, simple, and well communicated agenda. Include in the meeting invite the agenda, whatever preparations are required, and what the result of them meeting will be.

The purpose of this meeting is to determine if we want orange or purple databases. Please come prepared to present your case with pros and cons and your recommended course of action. We will leave with a decision and clear action items assigned to those who will be tasked to paint the database purple or orange.

If you do this, everyone is on the same page and the Mind-Eraser meetings won’t occur.

What's the Point?

So what do I do? When I receive a meeting invite, I check the agenda and look for “The Point”. If its clear, I go. If it’s not, I ask what the agenda is. What is it that we are resolving at this meeting? What do you expect to get out of it? Are the right people invited? What do I need to prepare for before going to this meeting? If the meeting agenda is blank and the subject line “Meeting”, I ask those questions. if I don’t get answers, I decline the meeting.

Is that bold? Yeah, I guess so. But I’ve never been told “because” or “just be there”. Not once. Why? I think people respect the inquiry as a sign that you want to help them and to do that you need some simple information. This must be done in a respectful and timely manner, and when done well, it has amazing results. Some meetings are canceled. Some are resolved in a simple 2 sentence email. And some meetings are clarified.

This has been the single most effective way I’ve been able to reduce, shorten, and clarify my meeting times. It’s amazing how quickly people hitch a ride on this train. Everyone wants to stay productive and if they call a meeting, they want you to come prepared.