“You know, I have to say that you run really terrific meetings.  You always have a clear agenda, move through topics quickly and end our meetings on time,” a faculty member said to me recently.

While I appreciate the kind sentiment, was it really a compliment?  Is it extraordinary that someone would have an agenda, allocate a certain amount of time for each topic and adjourn the meeting at the expected time?

Maybe so…

In a recent  TED Talk David Grady and Jason Fried spoke about “How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings.” 

They listed some sobering statistics:

*Most employees attend an average of 62 meetings per month.

*Executives spend 40%-50% of their working hours in meetings.

And perhaps most startling…

*Executive average 23 hours per week in meetings where 7.8 of those hours are unnecessary and poorly run which is equal to over 2 months per year wasted.

I believe that in higher education we often use meetings as a crutch for actually doing the work.  The most important part is not the meeting.  It is the work you put into a particular project outside of the meeting.  If you are booked solid in meetings from 9:00-5:00 when is the actual work getting done?  After the kids go to bed?  Early Saturday morning? Over your lunch break?  All of the above?

We need to re-think how and why we have meetings and to structure our time differently.  While I am by nomeans an expert I have employed five key strategies that have helped me to be more efficient with my time and allow me to continually add more to my plate (as we are often asked to do in higher education).

1) Create more 15, 30 and 45 minute meetings and limiting the number of meetings that go beyond an hour:  Why is the 60-minute meeting the standard?  It doesn’t allow travel time to get to the next meeting if you are scheduled back-to-back and most meetings can be significantly shortened.  Some of my 15 minute meetings are the most productive!  

2) Have 1-1 meetings with direct reports in an as-needed basis: Unless you supervise students (undergrad and/or grad) or entry-level professionals, weekly and perhaps even bi-monthly 1-1’s are not needed.  My staff is always popping in my office throughout the week. That way we are getting the work done in real time without having to wait for the official 1-1 to sign-off on projects and get feedback from me.  I make sure that I meet formally with each person on my team 4 times per year but other than that it is up to them (or me) to decide when we need to have an official meeting.  It frees up their time, my time and allows us to work more fluidly.  

3) Spend the first day of the month blocking out times for the next month as “no meetings” on your calendar: I do this most days at 4:00 p.m., noon as well as blocking out hours to work on long-term projects.  I can always lift those holds as necessary whether to meet with students, parents, schedule lunchtime meetings, etc. but it invaluable time that is saved in order to make adjustments in my schedule and catch up on projects.  That way I am never saying I ”don’t have time” for something.  I always do.  Because I blocked off time proactively for these very kinds of reasons.       

4) Say “No Thank You” to 25% of the meetings you are invited to: Whenever I am asked to attend a meeting I ask myself 3 questions. 1-Does this meeting directly impact student success?  2-Does this meeting support the work of my supervisor and our divisional goals?  3-Is this a good use of my time?  If I say yes to any of the above then I’m in.  If not I will either see if I can send someone else or (more likely) decline and say that I am happy to help with this project/initiative in the future but for right now I am at maximum capacity and will not be able to attend. 

I recognize that this is a positional privilege and that many/most entry level people will not be able to do this however I encourage us all to think about how and why we are saying yes to meetings that do not advance our causes or are good uses of our time.

5) Attend part (but not all) of long meetings: I am known to attend one hour of a three hour meeting.  Just because you are invited to a multi-hour meeting doesn’t mean it’s the best use of your time.  Consider if you and a colleague can divide up the meeting in order to have a representative there at all times AND to ensure that you are getting some administrative time in the office each day.  


Final Thought

Higher education is continually asked to prove how we are contributing to student success.  To me, that means we need to focus on outcomes and ensure that each day we can tangibly demonstrate how we added value to our organizations.  A meeting-heavy culture can stifle creativity, progress and can contribute to slowing down the process of providing new resources and moving our students toward graduation. 

Let’s talk more about this…but I’m not having a meeting about it.

AuthorAnn Marie