Here’s a fun little fact for you: According to the online meeting services provider Fuze, as much as $37 billion per year is wasted on unproductive meetings. That’s right, the GDP of Serbia is spent on glorified coffee breaks that hinder productivity at work for both management and staff alike. It’s something of a staggering number when one stops to think about it. And one is compelled to ask: How did it ever come to this?
No one is exactly sure how our current meeting culture evolved. We can make a pretty good guess, though, that at some point in the distant past meetings did actually serve a useful purpose. And for some high achievers in the business world, they still do. Only, they have evolved their strategy to make meetings work for them, instead of the other way around. So if you want to get some real productivity tips for work from the pros, look no further than the way they run (and don’t run) their meetings.
The Standing Meeting
Richard Branson isn’t someone who really thrives on spending his time in meetings. Yet somehow he has still managed to do okay in the business world in spite of that fact. In his usual fashion, he has accepted the necessity of meetings and understands the purpose they serve, but has also learned how to turn them to his advantage. His brilliant pro tip for how to increase productivity in your meetings: Have them standing up.
Not only is standing a substantially more healthy activity than sitting, it also provides several other benefits as well. Standing tends to get everyone focused on the matter at hand quickly, according to Branson. The next time you attend a meeting, watch. When people sit together there is almost a sense of social awkwardness if some polite chit chat isn’t involved first. This can go on … seemingly indefinitely. But have a standing meeting and notice the difference. People almost immediately start talking about something useful and on point. And if you really want to increase productivity at work, Branson suggests having a walking meeting. Walking is a superb way to get the creative juices flowing, as countless artists have attested for years. You’ll see yourself and your team working through difficult sticking points much more quickly as you walk and talk.
Why Are You Here?
In a Q&A for Inc.com, aerospace engineer Skyler Shuford once commented on his time working for SpaceX and its founder Elon Musk, who is notorious for his ruthless efficiency during meetings. On one such occasion, Shuford recounted, Musk turned to an attendee and observed, “You haven’t said anything. Why are you here?” … Which I’m sure wasn’t awkward at all for that lady or gentleman.
Awkward or not, Musk’s blunt question raises two extremely important, and related, points. The first is that, if you are a manager, it is your responsibility to keep meetings from being free-for-alls. Some staff members may show up because they are genuinely curious. However, no one is paid to be curious. And the other hangers-on are only there to look busy and crush K-cups. If they’re not contributing to the exact point of the meeting, more than likely they are contributing to the pointlessness of it.
On the other side of that coin, if you have no business being in a meeting, take it upon yourself not to go. I know it can be something of a blow to the ego when the conference room door closes and you’re on the outside. But it doesn’t mean that you’re not one of the Big Girls or Big Boys. It just means that you have better things to do!
Wait a minute … didn’t I just say not to do this? I did, but there’s a caveat here. Crash them the way that Silicon Valley billionaire Chris Sacca did. During his time at Google, Sacca attended meeting after meeting, as many as he possibly could. The difference, however, was that he did not violate Musk’s “You haven’t said anything” tenet. Instead, Sacca took the time to become informed about the purpose of the meeting. He studied. And when he attended, he did his best to provide something useful, or insightful—something that might actually be of benefit to the company and his co-workers.
It apparently paid off too. With the education he received from his continual meeting attendance, Sacca was able to identify early on the potential of such companies as Twitter, Instagram and Kickstarter. His investments in those companies allowing him to launch his own Lowercase Capital and so far he’s never looked back.
Don’t Schedule Meetings
If you really want to kill productivity at work and waste everyone’s time, have a regular Monday morning/Friday afternoon/Wednesday 10:30 or whatever time meeting. These are notoriously fruitless affairs. Personally, I’ve sat through them at every job I’ve ever held in the corporate world (there’s been a slew of them). I can count on my fingers the number of times they were actually productive.
Do meetings like this instead: When there is some problem, or some new project, or some ongoing concern that requires input from multiple people, then find a time when those particular people are available. Next, set up an agenda and a framework for what needs to be accomplished. Who needs to bring what materials? Who should be prepared with what data? Who needs to accomplish what tasks beforehand? Set up specific times for when the meeting will begin and when certain topics will be discussed. Then, everyone Stand Up! Stand in front of the projection screen or the dry erase board and go over what needs to be covered. At the end, there can be a time for less formal discussions and questions—and if someone needs to skip this portion, then go ahead and skip it!
So there you have it, excellent and actionable ways to increase productivity from some pros that have a pretty decent track record of getting things done. The strategies may seem unorthodox, or even a little awkward, but it is exactly this kind of thinking that allows all of us to push forward and achieve greater things.