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How to Make Meetings More Productive

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If you are one of the millions of employees who spend an average of 21 percent of their time in meetings, you know they are time-consuming and often derail your daily to-do list. You might not be able to cancel all of them (though some companies aim for meeting-free days), but you can make them more productive. Here's how to lead a meeting that won't put your co-workers to sleep or waste anyone's time.

Set an Agenda

Sounds easy, right? But if you don't have an agenda listing specific items, there's a good chance the meeting will veer off topic and conversations will pivot to anything from game scores to petty complaints. Take control by sending the agenda to participants ahead of time. Ask everyone to come prepared to address the included items, and also offer the chance for attendees to add a last-minute agenda item if they feel it's absolutely crucial to the discussion.

Ask Everyone to Contribute

In addition to setting an agenda and asking for everyone to be prepared, take an extra step and actually assign everyone meeting-specific duties. That might be as simple as having everyone spend one minute at the start presenting key highlights of their work/team for the last week or month. For meetings that address ongoing projects, everyone might need to come ready to discuss findings or offer fixes. For example, I once worked for a company where employees made a mess of the kitchen and no amount of reminders from HR solved the problem. The management team called a meeting to discuss solutions. We were all told to come with at least two ideas. That way we were able to talk through concrete ideas and chose to pursue the top two. As an added bonus we accomplished the task in 45 minutes instead of the full-hour that was allotted.

Leave the Laptops at Your Desk

Unless you are running the meeting and are giving awesome presentation (not another PowerPoint, please), ditch the laptop. Experts detail how staring at our screens hamper interaction and empathy making it harder to come to a consensus. In addition, distractions waste time and make those meetings drag on longer than needed. If you want to take notes, use pen and paper, studies have found people who write things down the old fashioned way actually retain more information, anyway.

Keep the Participant List Short

You don't need the entire team's input in the early stages of planning. While you don't want to leave out people who are critical to the process, you don't need 50 people, either. Decide on critical stakeholders for each meeting. If it's a long-term project, those stakeholders will shift with the project, but ask yourself the following questions before sending an invite: Is the person a subject matter expert, do they make budget or financial decisions, and are they needed in this phase of the process? Remember, just because someone is not part of the meeting does not mean they shouldn't be kept updated. Assign specific people to share information outside of the core group to ensure that teams don't feel like they are being left in the dark.