With limited time and resources, excessive meetings put an unnecessary strain on our teams. In my corporate America days, I’d have to strategically figure out when I’d squeeze in a bio break and lunch because of back to back meetings. I was exhausted, stressed, overwhelmed, and most of the time; I’d be sitting in a meeting wondering why the heck I was there.

I’m a process person, I see a problem, and my mind automatically shifts to how could we do this better? We’ve all experienced ‘death by meeting,’ and as a leader, it’s one thing for me to have to endure; it’s another to subject my team to the torture. As a decision-maker and leader, you have a responsibility to improve the environment to set the standard for a new routine and, most importantly, create a culture that promotes well-being. Sitting through a pointless meeting increases stress, anxiety and leads to a level of frustration that can interfere with overall performance.

These five steps helped me to minimize the number of meetings, free up time, and minimize stress.

No Agenda, No Meeting

If you don’t have discussion points, then how the heck are you going to lead a meeting successfully. What is the problem you are trying to solve? Is this the initial phase of identifying that an issue exists and your collecting additional data, or do you need a decision? Get clear on the intention of the meeting and structure the session to lead to the desired result.

Will an Email Suffice

Depending on the goal to be accomplished, if a remedy can come via a group email vs. a meeting, then, by all means, send the email but be very specific with your email. Utilize the subject line for the desired action, for example: “feedback needed,” or “decision requested.” The subject line is powerful, and when used correctly, can lead to faster results. In the body of the email clearly state the intention, timeline, pertinent details to elicit the outcome.

Only Invite Who Is Needed

Be respectful. Inviting multiple people from the same team or individuals because you don’t want to exclude anyone is a colossal waste of resources. If you are uncertain, a quick email can bring clarity and ensure you have the right participants. For example, “Hi Sally, I’m putting together a 30-minute meeting to solve for X. Who is the correct participant from your team?” If Sally thinks it’s appropriate to send someone, she will provide a name; if not, she will push back. The bottom line, be respectful of other people’s time. 

Set Time Limits

Some of the most productive meetings are the shortest. Be creative with your meeting times; just because the calendar has 30 and 60-minute increments doesn’t mean you need to be a slave to those settings. To master your schedule and your meetings, choose the minimum amount of time required for maximum results. If it’s a quick decision or announcement, maybe 5 or 10 minutes is sufficient. If you need to do some brainstorming, then schedule 30. One of the most practical examples is a daily stand up in the agile world. 

Teams gather at a set time, review the daily tasks, identify challenges, and quickly collaborate on how to achieve the milestones for the day. These meetings are predictable, informative, and keep everyone focused. Another quick tip: schedule meetings to start 5 min after the hour and end 5 minutes before. This buffer of time allows for transition and a much-needed bio break. 

Time Block and Schedule No Meeting Days

One of the most significant stressors is having a meeting every hour or half-hour. The constant transition does not allow for productive work, leaving you and your team stressed out at the end of the day and working late or taking work home. The goal is to give teammates as much opportunity to get into a flow state to optimize performance, which means fewer interruptions. Choose specific days/times for meetings. For instance, Monday and Wednesday meetings 9-1, Tuesday and Thursday 1-4 and Friday no meetings. This schedule allows for predictability so individuals can schedule their “work time” for maximum productivity.

Utilizing these strategies will yield a more effective use of time, minimize meeting overwhelm, and lead to a cadence and rhythm of the organization’s communications. To be effective, lead by example with the well-being of teammates and overall culture, we want to create at the forefront of our actions.