Lesson from a Sand Hourglass Timer

A one hour meeting should only last one hour

The Backstory

Just look at the photo above… there is only so much sand that can fit through the gap at any given moment… there is only so much time that can pass through the middle of the hourglass. So, why do we waste it?

That’s what got me thinking after another meeting at work ran over the scheduled time. I am fortunate to work in a place where meetings tend not to happen for meeting’s sake; however, not ending a meeting on-time just throws off my schedule. I know you this happens to you.

There are millions of articles related to the concept of “meeting overload,” but I don’t think anyone really reads them… let alone does anything about it.

Why not? As someone that schedules a lot meetings for projects and teams, the least I can do it is try to follow through with what I say I’m going to do…

My one-hour meeting is going to last ONLY one hour.

Novel concept? No, but it should be!

The Object

One hour. That’s all the sand we have.

I personally bought a one-hour, sand hourglass timer, because I needed a visual way to ensure my meetings end on-time, without having people “watch the clock.”

Yes, everyone can look at the big computer screen and see the clock… or the wall clock… or their phone… or their watch.

But, let me tell you, the hourglass is different. People don’t feel bad or try to hide looking at the time in a meeting.

Calling out the “elephant in the room”

When I presented the concept to my team in our planning meeting, they didn’t really think much of it other than, “here’s Shaun trying something new again.” But what I found interesting is the staff remained more focused. My non-verbal commitment to respect their time and for them to respect the efficiency of the agenda and conversation’s purpose was a win-win.

I non-verbally said, “There’s no reason to hide the time.” There’s no reason to sneak-a-peak at your watch. There’s no reason to feel tired of being in the meeting and wondering when it will end, because the time is out in the middle of the table for all to see.

When the sand completely runs through the hourglass, the meeting is over.

“Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” ~ Days of our Lives soap opera

The meeting is over.

Famous last words, I know. Watching sand fall through an hourglass is like watching a campfire flame burn, water flowing over rocks in a creek, or the stars in the night sky. There’s something captivating and extremely gratifying to see when the sand runs out… the anticipation… the last few grains of sand… wait for it… here it comes… and… meeting over!!!… a silent cheer (and maybe a sigh of relief) from everyone.

The bottom-line is… time must be respected. It’s our most important commodity. I find that people don’t mind being in productive, purpose-driven meetings where forward progress is being made, AND you care about their time.

The Lesson

It comes down to planning and not being afraid to state what most are thinking when in a meeting… “when will this be over, so I can get back to all the real work I have to do.”

I know I’ve thought it on countless occasions throughout my career… “who’s doing all the work I need to be doing, while I’m in this meeting.” No one.

The Take-aways

  • Meetings shouldn’t be had for meeting sake.
  • Respecting someone’s time will result in great ROI.
  • Follow through with what you say you are going to do.
  • We all only have so much time.

So, the next time you find yourself calling a meeting of the minds… only bring enough sand for the time you need to meet.

BONUS: I bought my hourglass on Amazon.com: 
I got two of them… a traditional one and a contemporary one.

Written by Shaun Holloway.