How to Make Meetings Suck Less

people in meeting

You knew it was coming. You heard your co-worker talking about it earlier. Then the invite finally hits your inbox.

“Invitation: Team Meeting @ Wed. 3:00pm – 4:00pm”

You sigh and roll your eyes. One hour! You were so hoping for thirty minutes. With no choice, you accept your fate and respond “yes.”

Most employees will attend an astonishing 62 meetings per month. Yet meetings are one of the most dreaded aspects of the workday. When the invitations arrive in inboxes, you almost can hear the collective eye rolls. Common complaints about meetings include:

  • Lack of structure
  • Pure boredom
  • Poor use of technology
  • People arriving late
  • One person controlling the floor
  • Taking too long

That meetings run too long may be last, but it certainly is not least. Meetings can become a huge time suck. We’ve all had the experience where a thirty minute meeting drags into one hour. Then another fifteen minutes. Then just a few more minutes . . .

The time spent in meetings might be fine if it was productive, but typically it is not. It’s estimated that employees spend 31 hours a month being unproductive in meetings. Employees consider half of time spent in meetings to be wasted.

teak desk with computer on it

A great deal of ink has been spilled about how to avoid this problem with inefficient meetings. Much of the advice, however, requires near personality changes by meeting participants. It also largely ignores a huge contributing factor to meetings running over time: they take place while everyone is sitting in chairs.

When you plop down in a cushy conference room chair, you probably feel pretty comfortable. Maybe you even think to yourself: If I have to suffer through this meeting, at least I can sit in this comfy chair. But that chair can be the enemy of efficiency.

Siting in a chair almost immediately lets your body start slowing down – not in a good way. Your blood starts slowing more sluggishly. Less oxygen flows through your brain. Your muscles are disengaged. Not surprisingly, you probably start to feel sleepy after even a few minutes in chair. Pretty soon you have almost no motivation to stand up – regardless of how bored you are.

If you aren’t feeling any motivation to move, the person who is droning on and on about the weekly numbers probably is not feeling any either. The combination of feeling comfortable and feeling tired while sitting in chairs can be a huge reason why meetings are inefficient. Even with the clearest agenda, an on-time start, and a good meeting manager, it’s hard to escape the lull of sitting in a nice chair.

So how can you have meetings without the sleepy-chair syndrome?

You could follow the fast food industry’s lead and fill your conference rooms with uncomfortable chairs that make people want to stand up faster. Assuming you don’t have a big furniture budget (or that you don’t want to be known as the person who brought in uncomfortable chairs), a better bet is to encourage your office to hold standing meetings. When appropriate, schedule a meeting so that everyone stands around a tall table or just stands in a circle or huddle. You will be amazed at how much faster the meeting wraps up.

One study found that sit-down meetings lasted an average of 34% longer than meetings where participants stood. Here are a few reasons why standing can help to make meetings shorter and more efficient:

  • There are fewer opportunities for distractions, such as looking at phones or computers.
  • Your body is more engaged, which helps your mind to be alert.
  • It’s easy to feel ready to move on to the next part of your day.
  • At some point everyone wants to shift to another position or task, which encourages even the most talkative person to wrap it up!

Standing meetings are best for those times when you have 15-30 minutes of information to discuss. This time block easily can be doubled when sitting down, but is just long enough to keep a standing meeting short. If your office has flexible workspace, consider meeting in an area where there are options both to sit and stand to let your team ease into the standing meeting idea.

Meetings are here to stay. But you can go a long way to make them shorter, more efficient, and less eye-roll inducing by holding them on your feet rather than in your seat.


* This article was originally written by Rebel Desk Founder, Kathleen Hale on LinkedIn. 

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