5 Reasons Why Meetings Are Killing Your Productivity and 5 Actionable Tips to Prevent It
Elon Musk, Mark Cuban, and Jeff Bezos know it: Meetings are a waste of time and kill productivity.
In my ten years of professional career, most meetings felt like a frustrating waste of valuable time. Maybe 6 out of 10 sessions. Maybe even more.
You should reduce meetings to the absolute minimum. They are the last resort, not the first option.
Here is why Musk, Cuban, and Bezos are right.
It all starts with a poor invitation.
Most invitations are useless and don’t provide you with any helpful information. They lack an informative headline, and you don’t get a real idea of what the meeting is about. Most senders neither communicate a clear goal nor the critical questions that will be discussed. That leaves you blank. You can’t prepare properly.
Actionable tip: If you can’t avoid setting a meeting, clearly state in the headline what the topic is. State the goal and the questions you want to discuss so that people can prepare.
Or try “The Jeff Bezos”: Hand out a detailed summary of the topic upfront so everyone is on the same page when the meeting starts, and you can dive right into a purposeful conversation.
Immediate responses increase the odds of poor decision making.
Many meetings are decision-orientated. It’s an ongoing back and forth; different viewpoints are communicated and evaluated.
Your colleagues expect you to give immediate responses based on the information you just heard, and you had no time to think it through properly. That, in turn, leads to rushed judgment and, therefore, poor decision making. Rushing makes conversations always worse.
Besides, not all people that are valuable for a decision can make it to an appointment. It increases the odds of a poor decision because necessary expertise or input might be missing.
Actionable tip: Instead of setting a meeting, make all key players write down their opinion and share them with everyone. That allows people to soak in new information and think it through before responding. You can filter your thoughts. Often, what’s left afterward is worth saying it.
Also, speaking helps everyone in the room. But writing helps everyone.
Meetings interrupt flow states and kill productivity.
Meetings in a company are like taking leave: there is never really a good time for it. And an essential ingredient for good communication is saying the right things at the right time in the right way with the fewest side effects.
But mostly, you can’t say the right things at the right time in the right way when you have to do it in a meeting that doesn’t fit into your schedule.
You have to delay tasks to participate. You are interrupted from flow states where your productivity peaks. Most employees’ schedules read like Swiss cheese: there are meetings everywhere with only some holes in it, where you have to squeeze in tasks hastily that actually need your undivided attention for hours.
Taking 3 or 4 hours to dig into a task and get into a flow state to get something done? Your schedule won’t allow it.
Actionable tip: Do not set or participate in a meeting if you can write down what you have to say. Writing is independent of schedule. You can do it when you have the time for it without being pulled away from your current task.
Chat dissolves quickly and leaves room for misinterpretation compared to the written word.
A chat with colleagues dissolves quickly into thin air and can’t reflect all relevant information. The right communication in the wrong place or way might as well not exist at all.
Once Chinese whispers about what you said or didn’t say start, it’s hard to stop false information. Poor verbal communication creates more work because you need to invest time in cleaning the mess up, get facts right, or debrief people about what was discussed.
If your words can be perceived in different ways, rest assured, they will be. And often, it happens in the way which does the most harm.
The written word is more precise, more thoughtful, and leaves less room for interpretation.
Actionable tip: If it’s important, write it down.
Meetings demotivate employees.
Did you ever sit in a meeting, fighting to keep your eyes open, frustration growing because it feels like a complete waste of time? I did. More often than not, to be honest.
Meetings are rarely productive, but instead, they keep you from getting stuff done. You tend to stick around, even if you don’t have to say anything at all or already made your points. It leads to even more frustration. You feel it’s rude to leave.
Let’s see what Elon Musk told his Tesla employees about it:
“Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave; it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”
Actionable tip: Leave the meeting the moment you can’t add any more value, and it can’t provide you with any.
Too many meetings pave the way for poor decision making through rash judgment. They kill productivity, frustrate employees, keep everyone from getting things done, and foster miscommunication.
Almost anything is better written down and handed to all relevant players than sitting in a room full of unprepared people. Especially important information and decisions need time to be processed. This process can’t happen in a meeting where people expect an immediate response.
Does that mean there shouldn’t be meetings at all?
No. Sometimes it is inevitable to get the right people into a room together. But use meetings rarely, and if you do, make sure they are efficient.
Most of the time, a well thought through e-mail can accomplish things that all the meetings in the world couldn’t.