Monday, August 17, 2015

How Long Are Your Meetings?

Happy Monday! If you haven't yet filled out my quick three minute survey from Friday, click here and go do that. I really appreciate it and it helps me select topics for the blog and get feedback on how I'm doing and where to focus.

So, to the question of the day.

How long are your meetings? And how long should they be?

Everyone that ever talks about meetings agrees on one point: people hate them, yet they cannot escape them. Given our destiny seems to indicate that we will, for the foreseeable future, continue participating in and scheduling meetings, what's the best way for us to do that?

The Outlook Effect

I have a theory that Microsoft Outlook has contributed over the past several years to meeting times. The calendar app defaults to thirty minute increments, and requires editing start and end times separately to hit any duration outside of that. Adding to that, meetings rarely end at exactly the scheduled end time. If the meeting ends early, then everyone gets a little bit of time back to go accomplish some work, but if it runs over, chances are someone is late to the next meeting on their packed calendar. If the calendar is full of half-hour meetings, that delay could cascade throughout most of their day as they show up late to meeting after meeting.

A Better Schedule

Lately, I (and others at the office) have been experimenting with meetings of non-standard lengths. I recommend you try a few and see what works for your team, but try to avoid the thirty and sixty minute marks. Here are a few times you could use that might work as a starting point.

  • The Quick Standup - A daily checkpoint or quick decision meeting should be handled in ten or fifteen minutes. As a bonus, schedule an off-hour start time, maybe at 9:50.
  • Status Meetings - These could be eliminated altogether, but if you are trying to communicate status out to the team, schedule five minutes for everyone that will be attending the meeting, but max out at forty-five minutes. I have read suggestions that people only focus in forty-five minute increments, so that might be the longest you would want any non-participatory meeting.
  • Working Meetings - Again the forty-five minute timeline might be the most you want to shoot for, unless you can work through all of the items quicker. Consider breaking up longer topics into multiple meetings over several days, or assigning topics out to others to have sidebar meetings without the larger group.
  • Workshops or Extended Sessions - Sometimes, people have to fly in to a location to work through a large or complex session going in depth. As such, all day sessions might be required. Still, breaking them up into discrete chunks with objectives and separated by timed brakes will boost your productivity in the working sessions. Keeping those chunks to forty-five to ninety minutes as a maximum will help your team maintain focus. Whatever you do, don't exceed two hours without a break.

Your Ideal Time

My ideal meeting runs about fifteen to twenty minutes, and starts five or ten minutes after the hour. You will have to play with your own times to come up with your ideal, but you might have an idea from the meetings you regularly attend now. How long do you think they should be? Leave me a comment or drop me an email and let me know.