A photo of a meeting taking place in a board room from through seven floor-to-ceiling windows. Twelve people are seated around a long table and one person on the left presents, using a flip chart.

How to turn meeting woes into productivity wins

Do meetings make you a bit grouchy these days? Perhaps you are suffering from meeting fatigue. It’s ok, you’re not alone and completely understandable. After all, these days most of us are just clicking from one meeting the next without actually ever moving anywhere. Whether you were used to little journeys between different meeting rooms or long-haul business trips, video calls just aren’t the same. And if you are able to be in a building together, endless meetings can still be a drag – especially if you feel like little is being achieved. Perhaps now is as good a time as any to take a look at some common meeting gripes and how we can all help to make them a little less annoying for everyone.
“What even was the point of that?”
Often, meetings are put in the diary almost as placeholders, just in case they’re required. But if you join one and then come away from a meeting having reached no decisions, gained no sense of direction or have no actions, then it probably wasn’t worth having. Don’t be afraid to be the one to ask in advance if the time is still required – especially if no agenda has been circulated. You could be the capeless hero that everyone has been waiting for.
“Argh, I’m just not ready for this.”
There’s no nice way to say it: just don’t be that person. We all have times when things simply fail to pan out as we’d like, but it’s just better to be upfront about it. If you join a meeting that relies on your specific input, but you’re unprepared and don’t have the information required, then don’t be afraid to ask for a reschedule. That way you’re giving everyone back some valuable time – including yourself.

A grey-haired woman in tortoiseshell glasses, seated on a couch, leans forward with her chin resting on her hand to look at her laptop. She has a pink cup and saucer next to her and is wearing a blue shirt.
Wherever you find yourself working from, it’s important to give yourself time and space between meetings.

“We overran, again
Meetings overrun sometimes and that’s ok. But if all meetings gallop over their designated time, then it’s a problem for everyone. If it’s because there’s so much more to be achieved than the time will allow, then make the meeting a little longer. But if it’s because people are always late because their previous meeting has gone over its allocated time, then it’s necessary to be firm. Set ‘hard’ starts/finishes and make it clear that there will be no catch-up for latecomers. If everyone on a call is happy to be recorded, that can help people get up to speed too.
“I lost count of how many people were on that call.”
Ever been on a call that feels less like a meeting and more like a Black Friday sale? Introductions that take half the allotted time, everyone clamouring to have their say, or the chatbox filling with asides, hellos and goodbyes? It feelswasteful because it is wasteful. But how many people is the right amount? Well, Jeff Bezos famously applies the ‘two pizza rule’ to his meetings – if you can’t feed everyone in attendance with two pizzas, then there are too many people. A pizza-free alternative is to implement a ‘one person per team’ policy to bring numbers down, allowing a single representative to report actions back to their colleagues and share any decks, notes or recordings.
“I wanted to say… but I didn’t get the chance.”
Even when the number of people in a meeting is workable, you can have an imbalance of personalities – and that’s brilliant because difference always brings excellent and diverse skills and viewpoints to the table. However, it’s also important that everyone has an opportunity to contribute, share ideas and offer their opinions. While having a ‘chair’ might seem a bit formal for many meetings, it’s actually essential to designate one person to oversee proceedings, stepping in to keep everyone on topic and bring balance. For example, a great chairperson will identify who isn’t having their say and guide them into the conversation.

Stretch your legs, go to the bathroom or take a few minutes away from the screen and grab a cup of coffee

“Well, that was fun. But what happens now?”
Meetings can be really enjoyable, but what if you reach the end of a great meeting, full of genuinely awesome people, but don’t really know what to do next? At a guess, there was either a lack of agenda or no-one was paying much attention to it. Again, an agenda can feel a little stuffy, but you can play around with new ideas that kind of achieve the same thing. For example, if someone is presenting a topic for discussion, perhaps something like ‘PechaKucha’ can help. The word means ‘chitchat’ in Japanese and it’s a format where a person can show 20 slides, which sounds like a lot… except they are only allowed to speak for 20 seconds per slide. A limit like this can bring focus and creativity to a meeting, while keeping it on course.
Two final golden rules
For the meeting: Never finish without a wrap up. Give over a minute or two at the conclusion of every meeting to what’s been achieved, who is doing what and an approximate idea of when to have another discussion. And, of course, it’s often helpful for the ‘chairperson’ to send a quick email around summarising these points when booking the follow-up meeting.
For you: Create space between meetings, especially if you’re having them all via video call. Schedule decent gaps in between so you can do what you’d do in the office – stretch your legs, go to the bathroom or take a few minutes away from the screen and grab a cup of coffee. Be ruthless and turn down meetings you know won’t achieve much. And maybe… a radical idea… try and have a day without meetings, so you can give your full attention to your to-do list without interruption.

Written by Anna Shaw

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