How to stop wasting 600 hours a year

2012

Have you got 600 hours a year to waste? Yeah, me neither. Yet numbers show that's how much time is wasted in bad meetings, both face to face and virtual. It doesn't have to be this way, it just usually is.

The numbers come from a number of studies, the most credible of which comes from MicroSoft (and as the purveyors of PowerPoint, let's assume they're the experts on wasted time and energy). Their numbers are fairly conservative, but easy to do the math on:

  • The average manager spends half of their life in meetings of one kind or another
  • Assuming an eight-hour day (HA! But let's keep it simple) 50 weeks a year, that's about 2,000 hours a year. Half of that means that about 1,000 hours a year are spent in meetings
  • Participants and meeting leaders agree that 60% of time spent in meetings is wasted
  • That is about 600 hours a year. Multiplied by the pittance we make tells you how much money is associated with that waste, never mind frustration and needless slaughtered brain cells

So what can we do to stop wasting all that time? Well, we could quit meeting. I'm partly serious here. Stop it. Holding meetings because they are scheduled, and not because you have anything important to accomplish is a huge problem. Feel free to cancel meetings and release people to get work accomplished. Tell them I said so, if it helps.

Assuming you do have to meet, there are a couple of things that will help:

  • Have a meeting about your meetings. This isn't a joke. Many teams function on a set of assumptions and habits and never explicitly address how their meetings ought to run. As a team, you should set norms, expectations and accountability. Get everyone to buy in to things like punctuality, response time and focus.
  • Start every meeting with an explicit objective statement. What is this meeting going to accomplish and in how much time? By stating it out loud and getting agreement, you have permission to table items that aren't on the agenda and hold each other accountable for staying on point.
  • Empower everyone to monitor and nag (I mean gently remind) the meeting leader when things are going off the rails.
  • Agenda, agenda, agenda. And a good agenda does not arrive five minutes before the meeting starts. Just saying.

The truth is that many of us know what works and what doesn't, but we don't always take the time to do them. Those 600 hours or so are not completely in our control, but a heck of a lot of them are.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. His books include Meet Like You Mean It - a Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.