Why Meetings Take So Long and How To Fix It?

We’ve all been in meetings that were run poorly, included the wrong people, and didn’t lead to any concrete outcomes. We all keep wondering – why are meetings so exhausting? And why do they take so long?

By improving how meetings are run, companies can improve how team members collaborate more efficiently and effectively.

3 kinds of meetings

Before we consider how to prepare for a meeting and plan to run it efficiently, it is necessary to identify the typical types of meetings.

These are the most common types of meetings you would experience in the business environment:

1. Information Sharing

In these meetings, typically a leader or owners of initiatives share information with participants.

Almost every company is familiar with meetings intended to share updates on individual activities, the latest status of a project, etc. These meetings’ goal is to make sure everyone on the team is on the same page and knows what everyone else is doing.

The typical examples are All Hands, Weekly Team, Daily Standup, Project Status Update, Deal Review, or Customer Health Review meetings.

2. Problem Solving

These meetings are scheduled to discuss a problem or a situation at hand, give input or direction, receive feedback, and brainstorm solution ideas.

Typically, they happen due to some emergency issue and need to be resolved quickly without having a lot of clarity or fighting between several conflicting priorities.

Since these issues vary depending on your team and your organization’s circumstances, each meeting is unique, and there is no standard pattern. 

3. Approval Seeking

In these meetings, for some proposal at hand, either an individual or a group of individuals take certain decisions or approve or reject certain decisions.

You may make smaller decisions in various kinds of day to day meetings like status updates, brainstorming, etc.

But for important decisions, where stakes are higher, they typically require their own dedicated session or a series of sessions.

3 tips for making your meetings shorter

One of the things that often make meetings frustrating is the fact that different people think it’s a different kind of meeting. 

So while it might be obvious, defining the type of meeting you are having might help you and meeting participants to prepare for the meeting, establish a clear agenda, set right expectations, and achieve the desired outcome without wasting a lot of time. 

Here are some tips on how to run meetings smoothly and turn it into positive time investment:

1. Schedule 25-minute long meetings

As per Parkinson’s law:

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

If you schedule a meeting for 60 minutes, people will meet for 60 minutes. People deviate from the original topics of interests and there is no urgency to conclude the meeting sooner.

Research by Dianne Dukette and David Cornish also shows that you only have eight seconds to get the someone’s attention, and if the information that you’re presenting or discussing takes more than 20 minutes, you’ve lost them.

For this reason, you should keep most of your meetings as short as possible. 

My recommendation is – schedule for 25 minutes. So you also get a 5-minute break if you’re going to be in back-to-back meetings.

Google Calendar has a setting to enable “Speedy Meetings”, that will override the default 30 minutes invite into 25 minutes invite. 

And right there, you just saved 16% of your meeting time.

2. Do standing meetings

You probably already know “stand-up” meetings for Agile software development where developers and product owners get together everyday to discuss what they worked on, what they will work on in the coming days, and blockers to their progress. 

The idea is to make these meetings quick and efficient by standing up, to have them last no longer than 15 minutes.

Why limit standing meetings to Agile development only?

If you schedule 25 minutes meetings, then why not make those meetings as standing as well.

In fact, Melissa Dahl wrote that standing meetings reduce meeting time by 34%.

And more importantly, standing meetings lead to faster decision making.

There are many reasons why standing meetings work:

  1. When standing, you mostly want to sit down, so you want to be as efficient as possible
  2. When you speak during a standing meeting, you’re more commanding and expressive
  3. Studies showed that people react more readily with enthusiasm when they are standing, whereas when they are sitting, they tend towards skepticism
  4. Standing eliminates many distractions
  5. It makes it much harder to fall asleep during a standing meeting
3. Define Purpose for meetings

Every meeting has a purpose for which you decide to meet. Once you know what type of meeting you’re going to attend, you can define what’s the purpose of that meeting – even if it’s simple keyword like – Demo, Interview, Brainstorming, Negotiation, 1:1, Standup, Weekly Updates, Reference Call, etc.

For each purpose of the meeting, you can define pre-defined Agenda templates. E.g. You might have standard set of questions you ask during “Discovery” meeting. 

Based on the purpose of the meeting, and pre-defined Agenda templages, you are instantly prepared for the meeting, and don’t have to think before every meeting how to prepare agenda for that meeting.

Also, for most of the meetings, you desire to achieve certain outcome. 

Based on the purpose of a meeting, you can define what are the possible and expected outcome for that meeting. 

Knowing what’s the desired outcome, you’re prepared and focused to make sure you try to achieve that outcome before the meeting ends. This ensures that you make your meetings actionable. E.g. if the purpose of the meeting is “Negotiaion”, then you know before the end of the meeting, you need to get the outcome of “Purchase Decision Made”.

As soon as the meeting is over, if you write down the desired outcome vs achieved outcome, it is instantly clear to you if that meeting was a success or not. If you achieved the desired outcome, then that’s great. But if you didn’t, then you can review later what you could have done differently.

Make the most of your meetings 

It’s clear that meetings are here to stay. Just by defining what type of meeting you’d like to have and implementing these tips, you can make them more efficient and effective.