5 Simple Tricks We Use to Make Meetings Suck Less

Top view of two people meeting with coffee

Runaway meetings are huge day killers. The worst of them end up morphing into these weird social gatherings in an awkward work-obligation kind of way. Yuck.

But meet we must.

At Toggl Track, we’re split up into different teams, with each team operating with quite a bit of independence for most of the time. Each team usually has one weekly internal status check meeting, and once a month we try to bring the leadership up to speed with the team plans. There are also the bigger three-month strategy meetings where we lay out the plan for the longer periods.

With a growing userbase, it’s critical that we get meetings done with as quickly as possible. Because making meetings is not our job, and making apps is.

Here’s a few lessons we’ve learned over time.

1. Share the agenda in advance

Our three month strategy meetings are akin to epic war campaigns. Teams come up with their plans and these plans then get fought out in the conference room. Casualties are inevitable.

Last time around, however, we put together a thorough plan with specific targets ahead of the meet and shared it with all participants. The result? The meeting was done in 38 minutes.

We’ve always shared an agenda of some sort in advance, but the more concise your agenda, the more time you’ll save. Drop anything that’s redundant and make sure your goals are clearly defined.

Another thing – tackle the key issues before the meeting. We use Slack a lot for communicating within and between our teams. It’s a great platform for keeping everybody informed as to your intentions and plans, removing the element of surprise from the conference room. And remember – while the element of surprise is great in combat, in meetings it’s a dangerous time killer.

2. Set a strict time limit

To be honest, we haven’t had to enforce time limits yet. This is because a lot of time can be saved using the agenda trick above.

But if you still find yourself in an entrenched battle of poorly organised thoughts, you need to put your foot down. Setting a strict time limit (no matter what) is a great way of forcing people to adjust their presentations and behaviour.

“Work fills whatever time there is available for its completion.”

Why is that? As Parkinson’s Law dictates, work fills whatever time there is available for its completion. If you give a task 30 minutes, it’ll take 30 minutes. If you give it till whenever you’ll be screwed.

Pro-tip: Google Calendar has a “speedy meetings” setting, which automatically restricts your meetings to 30 minutes.

3. Schedule meetings strategically

Poor planning doesn’t just kill a meeting – it can also kill the rest of your day. The key is to not just plan out your meeting – but to plan out the day around the meeting.

I try to avoid a situation where I start working on something challenging an hour ahead of the meeting. A quick glance at my recently Toggled time entries tells me that I can keep my focus on a single task for up to 1.5 hours straight. During this time, I want nothing to interrupt my flow.

I keep this in mind on meeting days and avoid situations where I might slip into focused work before the meeting. Instead, I schedule that time for low-cognitive tasks like dealing with e-mails, reading casual articles and crossing off the smaller to-do items.

Likewise, it might be a good idea to write down some of the key points from the meeting so you don’t forget them. That motivational high you get from a successful meeting will decay (but notes won’t).

4. No gatecrashers

Steve Jobs was very specific with his meeting guestlists – if you weren’t on it, you were out.

If you’re having a brainstorming session, random people can be great catalysts for fresh ideas. But in any other meeting, the more people you have around the table, the higher the chance of drawing the meet out. But it’s not just about wasting the meeting – by inviting unneeded staff, you’re also wasting their valuable time.

The key question to ask here is “Does this person need to be here in order to do their job efficiently?”

5. Don’t meet at all

Never meet just because you feel like you should. We technically have scheduled weekly team meetings, but we have no reservations about letting them go when there’s nothing important to discuss.

Two weeks ago, Annika walked up to my table and asked “do we have anything to discuss?” I said “Nope.” 

Boom – meeting over. 7 seconds. World record.

If you can’t put together an agenda of things that you absolutely cannot solve or discuss via other channels, don’t meet. Unless you’re a professional meet-er (and chances are you’re not), you probably have better things to do with your time.

You know, like actual work that you’ve planned in all those meetings.

If you have any tips on how to keep meetings under control, we’d love to hear you in the comments below!

Or you can use those new flashy floating share buttons (<–) and help others see the light!

June 25, 2015