The killers of your productivity at work – meaningless meetings

In today organizations people often struggle with productivity.  According to an HBR research, 72% of people attending meetings during the work days have some issues with productivity, stay long hours at work,  to finish their work, or re-schedule more than 18% of their planned work for next day, week, etc.

At feedback sessions, according to a German commercial camera, more than 35% of people receive constructive or negative feedback about their productivity at work. And still, after these numbers, we continue to be unproductive in our work.

I have had this problem for years.  Let me share with you the story that opened my eyes about productivity at meetings and I have dealt with the improvement process.

I have worked several years for a large, well-known company where we had at least 2 large meetings a day and several shorter than 30  minutes. I was there responsible for serving a large part of the business of the company which made me feel overwhelmed with work and struggling to finish it at a time every week.  I stayed long hours at the office, worked during the weekends and holidays and took my laptop everywhere with me. I was 24/7 on the phone, talking to different people from the complex company business units. One day I just crashed down and was unable to do my work.  Of course in a fast-paced business, this meant that I  have started receiving negative feedback from my colleagues and my boss.  When I asked my manager for help, the answer was, this is our model at the moment and there is no way to change it. I was beaten down and ready to quit.  I talked to a friend and mentor in my life, asking him to help me find an excuse to quit my job. Instead of doing that he did open my eyes. First, that person asked me how am I planning my work,  then we analyzed my daily schedule and found that I’m loosing too much time in meetings that don’t bring any value to my work and daily productivity.  His advice then was to look at someone who is leaving the office on time and ask for his approach to work.

When I returned at work next week I have started analyzing people at meetings I’ve had to attend and found that in 4 meetings there was one manager that always came prepared, on time and with enough information to boost decisions for a short time. This person was always on time,  always ready to share valuable information, always ready on time with his work, always leaving the office at the end of the day on time, don’t work or sending e-mails during weekends or late night.

At the end of the 4th long meeting for the week  I asked him to book a meeting to discuss how is he enabling such great productivity in a work environment like ours. He agreed but said that he has two conditions for the meeting, to do it standing and on the parking area next to his car. It looked strange then to me, but I agreed.

We met exactly how he insisted and at the end of our meeting, this guy made me stand like hit by thunder.  We have invested not more than 15 minutes from the planned 60 minutes from me and had come to an agreement and plan that changed the way  I am meeting until today. We met 3 more times having 5 to 10 minutes short tweak conversations to help me structure my approach to meetings and planning my agenda for the work time.    

What  I learned from our meetings is still serving me today and makes me feel like I have had a meaningful meeting every time I organize or attend one.

I shared them here to help  you  structure a meaningful meeting:


Ask  before accepting

We often accept meetings as they appear in our calendar app.  Before doing that ask the organizer of the meeting what is this meeting for, what is expected from you and how your contribution to the meeting will help improve a process or a situation at work. If you don’t see any meaningful purpose for your participation decline the meeting by explaining why are you doing this to the organizer.

Plan your participation

Prepare for the meeting with all the necessary information.  Not having the information that others need to take a decision makes the meeting just a waste of time. It is up  to  you  to ensure that what depends on you will be done to  ensure a shorter and more productive meeting

Set limits for you  and the other people meeting

At the beginning of the meeting share with the others that you have booked only the time that was proposed for the meeting and when it finishes you will leave the meeting because other things on your agenda need your attention too. That will stress others the first time, but in short time you will see improvement in their meeting ethics and respect to the time investment.

Stop  the meeting if you  see that people are only  attending it

There is nothing wrong in proposing to stop the meeting when you see that others came unprepared and that causes slowdowns in the meeting agenda and leads to no decision.


The hard thing for you will come if you are the organizer of the meeting. Sometimes you can realize that there is no point in asking people to meet because of several factors. If you  have to  discuss something and want to  keep  it on a scheduled meeting, when organizing one think of several  details:

Do you need the meeting?

Is there really a need to meet with others or something that you want to put on the table can be handled in a different way.  If you don’t find strong evidence that the meeting is needed then better don’t organize it.

Who do you really need to participate in the meeting?

Here is where you must analyze for yourself do you need all the people you want to invite or maybe with only part of them you will get to the needed decision faster. That is the most obvious mistake most of the meeting organizers make. 

Remember:  As larger a group for a meeting is as hard it is to make a decision.

What will be the agenda?

People often come to meetings unprepared because they don’t know the exact points that are going to be discussed.  Plan detailed agenda by minutes and send it to the participants with their roles in each point of the agenda. This saves you much time from trying to motivate some of the participants to participate actively. Having it written helps you and them to save some time on reminding that you need their point at a particular moment too. And don’t forget to include the final result you are seeking from the meeting.

Who will be the timekeeper?

I know it is an annoying role but someone has to do it. If you don’t feel like you can do it,  delegate to someone who is good at it.  People, attending meetings need to have the information on how much time they have invested in a particular theme and how much time they have to finish it and move to the next one on the agenda.  If you leave them blind for the time it is likely that you will lose the opportunity to go out from the meeting with a meaningful result and you will have to schedule another meeting to “finish the agenda”.

 What are the conditions that can break the meeting?

You did everything and still, people are late for the meeting and come unprepared.  Don’t take it personally.  You can’t change people from one meeting.  What you can do is to share when you share the agenda also what are the crucial requirements for the meeting to be successful and that if a crucial requirement is not fulfilled the meeting will be rescheduled.  In written form, sent before the meeting guaranties more involvement in the meeting and more productive work finished.

Also, you will have the opportunity to point to departments representatives who stop decisions and explain what else will be delayed because of the no-decision reaching during this particular meeting.

There is no stronger motivator for the people in the corporate environment, and not only, then the feeling of shame and embarrassment. Use it in a constructive way to boost the results from your meetings.


In today word meetings are a demand of the environment.  We can’t run away from them as the results we have to achieve in our work are always part of a collaboration with other colleagues. But to take the most of a meeting and use it a positive boosting results way you will need to prepare not only you but also others attending for it.  Have the right people on the meeting, prepared and understanding the value of the time they are investing in this meeting can boost results not only from the meeting but from work as a whole in your company.

Are you ready to organize your next meaningful meeting?

If YES –  GO,  if not sure- go again through the advice,  if NO  – better try a different approach and consider the meeting will be just a waste of time.


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