Career Talk

/ 3 years ago /

 Article by Brenda Wong

Three tricks that will banish unproductive meetings from your life, forever

Meetings, eh. You can’t live with ’em, but if you’ve got a group project at university or at work, you literally can’t live without ’em. I’ve been through pointless meetings. Meetings so long your butt hurts from sitting in the same spot. Meetings so intense you could cut the pressure in half with a butter knife – those are the worst. I’m not sure what it is about work meetings that bring out the worst in people. So, in order to stop the scourge of unproductive meetings, I’ve put together some meeting tips that have actually worked for me. Godspeed, comrades.

1. Set an agenda before the meeting

Unproductive Meetings - Set an Agenda

You may have heard about our employer events here at Debut HQ. What you may not know is that each event brings with it three or four logistics meetings which usually involve the participation of at least ten people from three different departments. If that sounds like a doozy, you’ve got the right vibe – without some serious planning, these meetings could end in disaster.

However, our meetings run smoothly, with a clear purpose, and usually wraps up in less than 30 minutes. Why? We do our homework before we arrive.

Action: The meeting’s leader should send an email/Slack/Facebook message with a bullet-point list of talking points, questions to be resolved and actions before the meeting takes place. This way, you can start the meeting with certainty, and tick off the talking points as it goes along. We know this seems like extra work, but we guarantee that the pay-off in the meeting will be worth it.

Our favourite tools for agendas and task-setting are: Trello, Basecamp and Asana. They’re all free with paid premium features, but this way you get to keep track of all of the action points on your meeting agenda.

2. Keep it short – like, 10-15 minutes short

Unproductive Meetings - Keep it Short

One thing I’ve noticed about meetings: the longer they are, the less productive they will be. My hypothesis is this: if you’ve got an hour or two hours scheduled in the calendar, the time will lull meeting participants in a false sense of time, leading to rambling, tangential conversation, or worse, unnecessary meeting banter.

Once, an ex-colleague of mine got so frustrated he brought in an old-school timer clock into one of our departmental catch-up meetings. He told us to sum up our introductory updates in one minute – and we weren’t allowed any extra time after! It cut the meeting time down to around fifteen minutes. It was amazing.

Action: You don’t need the nuclear option of the timer clock to keep meetings short and sweet. Just the psychological trick of penciling meetings for ten-fifteen minutes should force meeting participants to keep things short and snappy. This, coupled with the agenda tip earlier, should save you ridiculous amounts of time.

Worst case scenario, use the ‘Timer’ function on your smartphone to add a timed element to your meetings. It may feel silly at first, but once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll notice a positive shift in efficiency.

3. Run a meeting standing up or walking

Unproductive Meetings - Stand up

Got a one-on-one meeting with a colleague or a project partner? It can be really tempting to sit and chat with a colleague when it’s just the two of you. However, if it’s just a short meeting to align action points and get updates on certain projects, it could be more productive to just have a short ‘scrum’ meeting.

A ‘scrum’ meeting comes from the school of ‘agile’ business – in which processes are made as efficient as possible using timed methods with a strict structure. My experience of scrum meetings is that we come prepared with the answer to these three questions:

  1. What was your progress since the last scrum?
  2. What are your plans for after the scrum?
  3. Have you encountered any problems you need to address?

Action: If you’ve got catch-up meetings in your diary, send round an email proposing the new ‘scrum’ method and take a walk together. Your new meeting will have structure, and you’ll feel energised from the walking. Score.

What are your top hacks for having a productive meeting? Tweet us @DebutCareers – we’ll retweet our favourite ones.

Download the Debut app and get Talent-Spotted by amazing graduate employers!

Connect with Debut on Facebook and Twitter

More from this category


Career Talk

/3 years ago

If you hate your job, a pay rise isn’t going to make it any better

If you hate your job, no amount of money in the world is going to make you work harder, or hate it any less. Let science explain this strange phenomenon.

Read more


Career Talk

/1 year ago

How to decide what industry to work in

Making a decision about your chosen career industry is tricky; there's a lot to take into consideration. Fortunately, we're here to help...

Read more

For the full Insight section, Download Debut today

Debut is available to download in the iOS App Store & Google Play Store