10 Ways To Spot Inefficient Meetings (Before They Happen)

Instead of showing up for every meeting invitation we get, how about we try a new gimmick and decline some of the invitations? But how to choose which meeting to attend and which to avoid? I looked for the most obvious signs of an unproductive meeting and here’s what I found.

One Harvard Business Review report found that more than 65% of leadership team meetings are unproductive. The majority of the meetings are not even called for the purpose of making a decision, but rather for informing the attendees. If your schedule is fully booked for the current month, you probably agreed to attend at least a few of those inefficient, time-wasting “social gatherings.”

Take a look at the checklist below to easily spot if a meeting really requires your presence.

1. Set your priorities first. Before you start spring-cleaning your calendar, make sure you have a clear understanding of your own priorities. This way you’ll know how much time you can actually dedicate to meetings. Know what areas need your input or what individual projects you need a helping hand on, and select the meetings you’ll attend accordingly.

2. Make sure the meetings you attend have a clear purpose. You’re probably familiar with the phrase I survived another meeting that should have been an email. These are the meetings that aren’t held for a clear purpose, but rather for “information sharing,” “group input,” or “group discussion.” Instead of attending them, try asking for a brief summary of the information via chat or email.

3. If the meeting doesn’t have a clear agenda, don’t “attenda” 🙂 Without a written (and shared) agenda, there’s not much preventing the meeting from turning into a “social gathering.”

4. Ask for the agenda. If you don’t have enough time to prepare for a meeting, you’re better off skipping it. There is no point in getting the whole team in a room if no one had the time to put together a few coherent ideas.

5. Don’t leave a 30 minutes window between meetings. It takes the human brain an average of 25 minutes to return to the previous task after an interruption. Thus, it’s very unlikely to get anything done during a 30 minutes break between meetings. A good rule of thumb is to schedule back to back meetings with a 10 minutes break between them, or leave at least a one hour window between them.

6. Make sure there aren’t too many attendees on the list. You don’t need a scientific proof to agree to the fact that the more people you invite, the more productivity declines. If you have to solve a problem or make an important decision, you don’t need more than 8 people in the room.

7. Are the key decision-makers invited? Without the right people, any meeting is pointless. You need to make sure they are invited (and confirmed their attendance) to advance the projects.

8. How long does the meeting take? According to Parkinson ’s Law, the work expands to fill the time available for its completion. This concept is absolutely applicable to meetings. Team members take as long to conduct the meeting as was scheduled, whether or not that much time was actually required. So think again before you hit the “accept” button. It might be better to ask the organizer to rethink the agenda and maybe split the conversation in 2-3 meetings, with specific lists of attendees.

9. Is there a time limit? This is a rather rare situation, but there are times when the leadership team calls for an ad-hoc meeting. Avoid attending a 3-hours long “town hall meeting” by asking the organizer to provide an approximate end time.

10. All attendees must share their documentation prior to the meeting. Don’t waste your time with that, that’s not the purpose of a meeting. You are there to make an informed decision, so get all the information you need prior to that time. If you’re tired of long threads of emails and a full inbox, try using an chat app with your team. You’ll be able to communicate faster, share files and, most importantly, reduce the time spent in unproductive meetings.

By following these simple tips, you can easily spot unproductive meetings, clear your schedule, get more out the time spent in meetings and focus more on the work you love.

1 Comment


  • My rule is to accept invitations only to meetings where I am scheduled (or otherwise expected) to speak. I therefore always attend meetings that seat me at a conference-table but rarely those that require me to sit in the audience.

    Reply 3 years ago Nicholas Fitzraymond Parker


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