(This article was written by Luciana Paulise and appeared on forbes.com.)
The CFO’s most precious resource is time, and yet a typical day is occupied 72% by meetings according to a Harvard study. How can you reduce it drastically?
A Harvard research revealed that, during pre-COVID times, a company’s vice president would spend 44 hours a week going to meetings. His IT manager, 35 hours, of which he sent emails during 85% of those meetings. Most of the leaders surveyed had the same problem. CEO’s typically spent around 72% of the time in meetings, most of them last an hour or more.
In the new normal, the C-suite is holding even more meetings to keep the human connection.
The worst part is that, on top of the actual meeting time, you need to account for the pre-meeting activities, the post-meeting to-do’s, and the “switching time.”
The “switching time” is the time required to concentrate on a task after an interruption. It takes at least 15 minutes to become productive again after a break, and it takes at least 30 minutes to focus on a particular issue to move forward or make a decision, due to what is called “time fragmentation.” Going to a meeting, answering the phone, or an email are all distractions. For every 2 hours, only one hour is real work.
How a leader manages time demonstrates his leadership style, what he prioritizes and how he communicates. Assessing the quality of meetings, prioritizing who should attend and ensuring attendees’ full focus drives success.
Improving meeting productivity
In manufacturing, it is common to have short daily meetings of no more than 15 minutes, always at the same time. They are stand-up meetings, so no need to move to a room. They discuss three topics: what happened yesterday, problems and what will happen today. Short but concise meetings help to keep the focus on what needs to be done. If issues arise, deal with them in a separate meeting only with the personnel directly involved.
Prepare the meeting schedule in advance. If it is a periodic meeting, always follow the same agenda order. For example, project status, obstacles, do I need help? Everyone should get ready for it.
Prioritize who should attend
An HBR research shows that engagement typically decreases the more time people spend in very large group settings. People would be more productive and engaged if they could spend less time in meetings and more time preparing for them.
Minimize the number of people. Reduce it to the Jeff Bezos 2-pizza rule. No more than 6 to 8 people. The more people, the more unproductive the meeting becomes. It also avoids wasting the time of those who shouldn’t be there. Only people who can contribute should be invited, and they should be prompted to provide candid feedback. That’s the secret of Pixar’s Brain Trust meetings to foster quality and innovation. Some self-organizing companies such as FAVI (a French company with 500 employees) make the meetings public. They can be attended by whoever is deemed necessary. If the session is informative, it can be replaced by a video-on-demand or an online tool can be used to collect data or questions such as Kahoo.it
Encourage employee confidence, self-discipline and psychological safety. Give them more opportunities to choose which meeting to attend and how to participate actively when they decide to be part of a session.
Review this week’s meetings and ask yourself: Is this meeting necessary? What is the objective? What is your role? Do you need to attend, or can you review the minutes? Especially working remotely, you may want to dedicate more time to one-on-one meetings than large ones. They are more meaningful as they increase employee engagement, sense of belonging and human connection.
When meetings are too large or too long, and agendas are not concise, attendees tend to switch to offline mode and turn the focus to emails or messages. That’s the worst kind of wasted time. You are not able to focus entirely on emails or the meeting. And the other invitees don’t get your input.
Make it short and sweet, to keep the focus on the issues at hand. Take advantage of online tools like Mural.co or ASANA to increase engagement during, or to communicate results, request feedback or assign responsibilities after the meeting.
Dedicate a specific time of day to having meetings, and have them all in a row, to reduce time fragmentation.
The 30 minutes challenge
Agendas and minutes are essential, but they are not effectively implemented nowadays. If you think about the last boring meeting you had, you probably realize topics were added at the last minute to the agenda. Some members spoke too much, while others were not even able to talk. It is most likely that a difficult topic took longer than expected because speakers were unprepared, or information was not handy. That meeting could have been held in 30 minutes top.
Why are 1-hr meetings a standard? No wonder why Zoom meetings are free under 40 minutes. Push your team to do better and bring more innovation to the table.
As part of the C-suite, make it a company priority to set a new meeting standard of 30 minutes top, that will help your teams prioritize topics, select attendees more carefully and get better prepared for the next meeting. You will be getting back at least 50% of your precious time. Enjoy it!