How To Make Meetings Suck Less [+ Agenda Template Download]

We’ve all been there: sitting through a meeting that started 10 minutes late, has no clear agenda, and way too many attendees. People throw out ideas, others shoot them down. After tolerating an arduous hour of disinformation, we stumble back to our desks frustrated and behind on the workday. That’s probably why business titans like Mark Cuban say “never take a meeting unless someone is writing you a check.”

With the average American professional attending more than 3 meetings every day, how can we stay productive with so many disruptions? There must be a better way.

At ThreeSixtyEight, we have the unique opportunity to work with leading executives on presentations and brand strategy. Over the years, we’ve used trial and error (plus a few borrowed techniques) to develop a methodology for running clean and productive meetings. Read on to see how we do it.

Set and Follow a Written Agenda

The meeting leader must fill out a meeting agenda template and send it out at least one hour prior to any meeting. At our agency we provide every team member with an agenda template so that every meeting has clear objectives, conversation leaders, and time constraints. The key here is to stick to the agenda and honor those time constraints.

If the meeting has no agenda, you’ll end up discussing Seinfeld reruns instead of tackling the problem at hand. A clear written agenda is the first step in running great meetings.

Pro tip:
Use the Parking Lot technique to manage items that can be discussed on the side, or in a later meeting.

Download ThreeSixtyEight's Free Meeting Agenda Template

Kill the One-Hour Meeting

Thinking of the workday as a series of one-hour blocks is a common productivity misstep. Scheduling a meeting from 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM leaves no room for setting up the meeting space, wrapping up a conference call, or simply walking across the office. If you set a meeting for one full hour, people will indubitably fill that hour, whether or not that time is really necessary. Nothing kills the energy like a late meeting full of stressed out, frustrated attendees.  

Try scheduling your long meetings for 45 minutes and your short meetings for 15 minutes. This allows for the inevitable inefficiencies that happen in real life. This will also shift how your team thinks about time during the workday. Instead of having only 8-hours in the workday, you suddenly have 32 15-minute blocks of time that you can stack and build for greater productivity.

Pro tip: Consistently start and end your meetings on time or early to successfully impact your meeting culture. If you don’t adhere to your own rules, no one else will.

Ban Computers & Devices

Open devices will distract even the most seasoned multi-taskers. Modern professionals are programmed to lock into the glow of their phones and computers, and despite popular belief, the human mind can only manage one task at a time. Finishing that email or checking a Slack message is kryptonite for a successful, focused meeting.

At our agency, we utilize one device for screencasting (managed by the meeting leader) and one device for note taking (managed by the designated note taker).  If any other devices are open, the meeting will not begin. Setting this standard takes work, but it is absolutely essential to productive organizations.

Pro tip: To ban devices without being a jerk, place a phone bucket near the door where attendees can store their phones during the meeting.

Use the “Two Pizza” Rule

Avoid the temptation to include too many participants in your meeting. It’s easy to invite the entire project team – after all, you won’t miss any good ideas, you won’t ruffle any feathers, and you won’t have to catch anyone up. The reality is that having too many people in a meeting can pollute the conversation and drain the room of energy.

We utilize the “Two Pizza” rule, pioneered by Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos. The concept is simple: Bezos will not attend a meeting if two pizzas couldn’t feed the entire group. As a principle, this mindset forces meeting planners to be more discerning with their attendees, freeing up time for non-essential people and increasing the efficiency of the discussion.

Pro tip: For large organizations, consider using the 8-18-1800 rule

Follow Up with Action Items

Attending a perfect meeting can be electrifying. The ideas are flowing, the energy is palpable – you walk away ready to crush it.  But so often it ends there. Without a strong follow-through, meeting momentum will fizzle into lost hours that we can never get back.

At the end of every meeting, take a few minutes to align on next steps, designate responsible individuals, and assign clear deadlines. Send out a follow-up email that clearly outlines what you all agree on. Make sure to assign one person to check in on the designated tasks and make adjustments when necessary.

Pro tip: Utilize a template for meeting follow-ups to ensure that everyone follows this standard.

Implement "No Meetings Wednesday"

Even the best-run meetings will take a toll on productivity.  There’s no way around it. Breaking the coveted “work zone” and pulling people away from their actual work sucks. Meetings come at a cost.

At ThreeSixtyEight, we implemented a No Meeting Wednesday policy. Every Wednesday, our team gets to put their heads down and get focused. Some people work from home or coffee shops, others come into the office (where it’s uncharacteristically quiet).

Here are a few of our No Meeting Wednesday tips, taken from our company wiki:

  • Go in with a plan. Set a personal calendar task at the end of the day on Tuesday to plan your day on Wednesday.  Use your calendar to schedule your Wednesday in specific actionable tasks.
  • Honor the commitment. Be intentional about this time every week. Make it a proactive day by committing the time wisely.
  • Ignore routine tasks. If possible, try muting your emails and texts for a few hours to avoid distraction (use your judgment here).
  • Retrain your co-workers.  For this to work, we must keep one another in check, honoring this time as sacred.  Don’t have unnecessary conversations and distract others.
  • Block your calendar. Create a personal recurring time block on Wednesdays from 9 AM – 5:30 PM so that you remember not to schedule any meetings over your deep internal work.

Pro tip: Clients will occasionally step on this sacred time. Staying flexible is key to making this work over the long-run.

Work gets crazy, we get it. Remember to consistently utilize these techniques for making the most of your meetings every day. And don’t forget to time block your own workday in 15-minute increments. Building your daily schedule is the prerequisite for designing and leading world-class meetings.

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