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Updated Nov 01, 2023

Why Meetings Kill Productivity (and What to Do About It)

Meetings take up a lot of time and contribute to the expanding workday. Learn how to make them more productive.

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Skye Schooley, Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
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As a company grows, it’s common for the number of weekly meetings to increase. This may be done with the best of intentions — since there are more employees, company leaders want to ensure everyone is on the same page. 

There are team meetings so individual projects stay on track, and company-wide meetings to communicate the bigger picture for the business. But when an employee’s workday is constantly broken up by meetings, it’s hard to get much else accomplished. 

Constant meetings are a drain on company resources since they negatively impact workplace productivity. Fortunately, if you find yourself attending a lot of meetings, there are ways you can make the most of that time. 

How meetings affect productivity

graphic of people at a conference table

Most people agree that too many meetings are unproductive and inefficient, and research backs this sentiment. Roughly 68 percent of employees spend four to 10 hours a week in meetings, according to a Live Career survey. Seven out of 10 respondents confessed to doing other things during meetings, including texting, reading news and social media, and completing other work tasks.

Meetings interfere with productivity in a number of ways, but the biggest impact is on an employee’s work. Two-thirds of workers agree that meetings and calls prevent them from getting their work done, reported a survey from Korn Ferry. 

But that doesn’t stop employees from attending, as 35 percent prefer to sit through such sessions rather than declining — even though 64 percent of respondents said they found one-on-one conversations more impactful.

Did You Know?Did you know
About 55 million meetings occur in the U.S. every week, which is at least 11 million daily, according to Zippia.

Tips for more productive meetings

It’s probably unrealistic to scrap meetings altogether. However, significantly reducing both the frequency and amount of time spent in them could increase employee satisfaction and productivity. Here are 10 ways to facilitate more productive meetings:

1. Try a walking meeting.

Consider having walking meetings rather than sitting down for them, since walking is beneficial for your health. The average meeting lasts between 30 minutes and one hour. If you are walking at an average pace of 20 minutes per mile (about 2,000 steps per mile), that could result in an extra 3,000 to 6,000 steps per meeting.

Since most employees have meetings several times a week, this could result in some serious overall health benefits. Additionally, employees may save some personal time after work that they otherwise would have spent walking anyway, which improves their work-life balance.

2. Set strict time limits.

Your employees’ time is valuable, so limit the length of the meeting to one hour or less if you can. And end the meeting on time, even if the agenda topic is not completed. 

When you set strict time limits, employees can better plan their workday around the meeting with the expectation that they will be released on time. Additionally, this will force meeting planners to condense their agendas to only the topics that really matter.

3. Create and distribute a meeting agenda ahead of time.

Have a clear agenda distributed in advance that announces the goal of the meeting and anticipated outcomes. Ensure the agenda has a limited number of action and discussion items. This meeting agenda will help keep the meeting on track and can help you stick to your anticipated time limit.

TipBottom line
A designated meeting leader will ensure the meeting stays on track and doesn’t get hijacked by other agenda items.

4. Decide on clear, assigned action items for after the meeting.

graphic of colleagues working off a large to-do list

No one wants to attend a pointless meeting that accomplishes nothing, yet this happens all too often. Ensure there are specific and actionable follow-up tasks to decisions made at the meeting, including who is responsible and accountable for each item. 

This clarity will help bring purpose to your meeting and will put your organization in the best position to succeed. Creating after-meeting action items will also help prepare employees for the next meeting, since they will be able to report on their progress or findings. [Read related article: 10 Useful Technologies for Hosting Online Meetings]

5. Send follow-up information and details.

If several important details are discussed during the meeting, make it clear to employees that you will distribute that information after the meeting. This will free employees from taking detailed meeting notes and allow them to better engage in the discussion. After the meeting, don’t forget to actually send the follow-up information.

6. Don’t hold status update meetings.

A common phrase heard around the office is, “That meeting could have been an email.” Avoid unnecessary meetings by being strategic about the types of meetings you are hosting. Do not use meetings for updates or information dissemination that can be handled by other methods, such as email.

7. Start on time.

Always start the meeting on time and don’t allow late participants to take part after 15 minutes. Also, do not spend time updating late arrivals on what they missed. If you form a habit of starting meetings on time, employees will create a habit of joining meetings on time. This keeps the meeting on track and helps you stay within your designated time frame.

8. Cap the meeting size.

Smaller meetings encourage more employees to participate, so it is a good practice to limit the number of people involved. Between seven and nine participants may be ideal, but your meeting cap will ultimately depend on your team size. 

A good way to keep meetings small is to only invite the necessary parties to attend. Uninvited employees will appreciate fewer meetings, and those who do attend are likely to benefit from a more productive meeting.

9. Give people an out.

graphic of a meeting invite on a laptop

Allow employees the right to decline their attendance without penalty. If the meeting is critical and attendance is mandatory, emphasize its importance. However, if an employee has prior engagements that take precedent, work with them to find the best solution.

10. Keep the conversation moving.

If you are the meeting host, control the discussion by not letting individual participants dominate the conversation or repeat what has already been said. You can also examine other ways to share content in meetings, including alternatives to brainstorming, presentations, and the use of media and technology.

Jamie Johnson contributed to this article. 

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Skye Schooley, Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
Skye Schooley is a dedicated business professional who is especially passionate about human resources and digital marketing. For more than a decade, she has helped clients navigate the employee recruitment and customer acquisition processes, ensuring small business owners have the knowledge they need to succeed and grow their companies. In recent years, Schooley has enjoyed evaluating and comparing HR software and other human resources solutions to help businesses find the tools and services that best suit their needs. With a degree in business communications, she excels at simplifying complicated subjects and interviewing business vendors and entrepreneurs to gain new insights. Her guidance spans various formats, including newsletters, long-form videos and YouTube Shorts, reflecting her commitment to providing valuable expertise in accessible ways.
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