Time Management: How to Make Your Meetings More Productive

In most organizations, meetings are often the biggest time-wasters. With a bit of planning, it's possible to both shorten the time spent in meetings and to make that time more productive. Here's how.

* Let all participants know why you're holding the meeting, what's to be accomplished and what each participant is being called upon to contribute. This should be communicated well before the meeting.

* If any of the participants need to do preparatory work before the meeting, mention that fact. Don't take it for granted that such preparation will be taken care of automatically.

* If the meeting is a follow-up to an earlier meeting, circulate a copy of the minutes of the latter, even if it has been done before. This is especially true if there's been a significant time gap between the first meeting and the follow-up.

* Try to see that everyone arrives in time and is already seated when the meeting is due to begin. Someone walking in midway through a meeting can be a great distraction.

* Serving refreshments while a meeting is in progress is also a distraction. Set out refreshments before the meeting starts. Schedule breaks for refreshments if the meeting is to go on for several hours or a day.

* Make copies of all necessary papers. Passing around a single set of documents for everyone to read is highly unproductive. Yet, it's surprising how often something as simple as this is not taken care of.

* Stick to the point. Whoever is presiding over the meeting should be ready to intervene if someone is digressing from the topic. Beating around the bush is a huge time-waster.

* Minimize interruptions from other participants when someone is speaking. Others can respond when the person has finished speaking.

* All cell phones must be switched off. Calls on land lines should be deferred as far as possible.

* The meeting should end with a summary of the main points covered and the conclusions reached. You should also spell out who is responsible for each specific action to be taken, along with a timeframe. Later, a written communication covering all these points should go out to all participants.

Making meetings more useful is all about using a commonsense approach. Stick to the above guidelines and watch your meetings become far more productive.

Burt Carlson is a top corporate executive whose passion is helping people get more out of life by managing their time better. He has written on developing time management skills, organizing your workday, eliminating procrastination plus many other topics.

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