The average non-manager attends eight meetings per week, according to Steven G. Rogelberg, a professor at the University of North Carolina. Meanwhile, executives find themselves sitting around a conference table even more frequently: CEOs spend 60 percent of their time in meetings, while managers attend 12 each week.

Despite the best of intentions, not all attendees find meetings to be productive or believe they result in the collaboration necessary to move projects forward. That’s because employees often have meetings on their calendar that are no longer relevant to them, resulting in “meeting bloat.”

For those looking to simplify their new year, start by eliminating this bloat from your calendar. Cutting back on unnecessary meetings will help you improve productivity and find more efficient ways to collaborate.

How to reduce meeting bloat and improve collaboration

The first step to reducing the number of unnecessary meetings is to take a hard look at the basics. Ask yourself these questions, and don’t be surprised if a bunch of meetings don’t immediately disappear from your calendar.

Who truly needs to be in the meeting? Whether you’re calling the meeting or deciding if you need to attend, answer these questions: Who has the necessary expertise and information? Who needs to be in the loop? Who needs to actually be present versus reachable if needed? If you don’t fit into at least one of the categories, you may not need to head for the conference room. Politely decline the invitation, but offer a reasonable explanation and an alternate way for those concerned to involve you, like offering to be available via SMS if questions arise.

How important and timely is the meeting? Many meetings are focused on routine updates. They’re important, but perhaps all parties don’t need to present at the same time, every single time. If that’s the case, use a virtual space where participants can share information and updates.

Where, when and how does the meeting take place? Is it in person or via audio or video? Could an in-person meeting be turned into a virtual one? Collaboration tools in the cloud increasingly allow meeting participants to check in via desktop or mobile, a flexible and time-saving solution.

Why are we meeting? This may seem like an obvious question, but many regular meetings have been going on for so long, no one wants to challenge their necessity. A good test of a meeting’s effectiveness is to ask what would happen if the meeting wasn’t held? The answer can help you re-evaluate the meeting’s purpose.

How to control meeting “creep”

Just as projects experience scope creep, meetings can quietly expand to take away precious time and productivity. Here are some tips from companies trying to create a sane work environment, while maintaining high levels of teamwork.

Reset your calendar settings. For instance, in Google the default for any appointment is one hour. You can change that to any number you want. Who said every meeting has to be an hour long?

Establish “no meeting” times in your calendar. Maybe your most productive time is in the morning, or you must leave by 6 p.m. each day to meet other commitments. Block out time on your calendar and, if necessary, explain to colleagues why you’ve done so. If your involvement is essential, the leader will work to fit you in. If it’s not, you’ve just jettisoned yet another unnecessary meeting.

Establish company-wide “no meeting” days. Many companies have instituted specific days of the week that are off limits for meetings. At the job and career website The Muse, no meetings are scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays. Other companies – like Asana, Aria Healthcare and Moveline – have done the same. Polar, a content marketing firm, decided Tuesdays and Thursdays are meetingless days. Interestingly, while meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays dropped 55 percent, the number of meetings on other days didn’t increase. It seems some of those meetings weren’t all that important.

Conduct a meeting purge. Healthify wipes all meetings off the calendar every six to nine months. “For non-recurring and client-facing meetings, you can keep or delete the meeting at your discretion,” COO Alex Villa explained in a FastCompany post. “The deleted meetings can’t be added back for at least two weeks. After those two weeks, you can only add the meeting back if a majority of attendees proactively ask for it to be brought back.”

At Greenhouse Software, employees evaluate their calendars quarterly. Part of their decision-making process is whether these discussions can be moved to other channels such as like email, video conferencing or virtual platforms.

Does it enhance collaboration?

Ultimately, any meeting should enhance collaboration and advance the goals of the company. Apply a critical eye to the meetings on your calendar. Do they support your productivity?

Assess your weekly meetings in the context of your goals. “Spend time on Monday mapping out what you want to accomplish this week,” advises Dinah Alobeid, director of communications at Greenhouse. “Which meetings need to happen to get the work done and move certain projects forward?” Consider removing any that don’t contribute.

Rate the effectiveness of each meeting. At the end of the week, look back and rate the meetings you attended: Which supported your goals or those of the organization? Which enhanced collaboration? Did any feel like a waste of time? Analyze why.

Make 2019 the year you improve collaboration and productivity by taking a hard look at the meetings on your calendar.

Looking to improve productivity and reduce wasted time? Read our 2018 Workplace Productivity and Communications Technology Report to learn how. >

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