6 practical tips for scheduling meetings more efficiently

scheduling meetings

When the pandemic pushed many knowledge workers into working from home, a wash of meetings came with it. Only instead of carrying your notebook from meeting to meeting, you clicked in and out of Zoom links. Both experiences left many people spinning in their chairs wondering when they would get to do actual work to move their projects along – and in the WFH world, Zoom fatigue became a common phrase. 

It’s hard to believe there was ever a time or place for a constant barrage of meetings, but nowadays, there’s zero room for meetings that don’t serve a purpose – or the people in attendance. The Great Resignation, uncertainty around sustained employee engagement, and even changes in work styles like four-day work weeks put everyone’s calendar under a microscope. It’s not just engagement and work styles demanding more of meetings – varying figures for the amount lost on unproductive meetings reach into the billions.

In this post, we’ve built a process you can adapt to schedule meetings that have clear objectives, a target audience, and benefits for those in attendance. Whether you’re managing a team or taking point on scheduling a one-off meeting, following these steps can help you combat the triple threat of bad meetings pointed out by Harvard Business Review – those that are poorly timed, disorganized, and recurrent for no reason. Before diving into these steps, let’s start small – with your meeting equipment.

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How do you schedule a meeting?

Before you can get into building your process for scheduling meetings, you should first determine how to schedule them. This means tech tools like meeting scheduling apps. These apps help with the logistics of making sure the people who need to be present are present by helping you determine the best days and times to send a calendar invite for. Clockwise offers a meeting scheduling tool that does more than look at open blocks of time on your team’s calendar. The intelligent scheduler suggests the best time slots based on ten different factors. These include work hours, time zones, meeting preferences, and focus time.

Optimize your process for scheduling meetings 

Your process for scheduling meetings looks different based on a few factors, including whether you manage a team or an entire organization. Use the tips here to optimize your current process – adapt what works for you and leave the rest.

1. Determine the desired outcome 

Identifying the main goal or outcome of a meeting should be the first step in your process. Why? The answer to “What do we want to accomplish with this meeting?” will determine if you should hold one at all. Not every meeting should be an email, but not every email should be a meeting. If you’re trying to share weekly project updates, sitting around a table or on video conferencing may not be the best use of everyone’s time when those updates can be delivered through other means. Dedicated Slack or Microsoft Teams channels can serve as the catchall for status updates on a predetermined cadence – daily, weekly, monthly, etc. You can also make better use of project management apps to contain all the information anyone on the team needs – and refer them to it regularly to help encourage a routine of seeking information first and asking questions second.

2. Schedule with your natural workflow in mind

I mentioned in the intro that Harvard Business Review receives frequent feedback on how clients feel their meetings are often poorly timed. Anecdotally, I field similar complaints from friends. 

What makes a great meeting time? It’s one that fits into you and your team’s natural rhythm of the work day and the work week. For example, a meeting held on a Friday – in the afternoon – may be the most inopportune time to gather colleagues together. It’s the end of the work week, when most people are itching for a break from their projects. This time also doesn’t account for any follow-up actions attendees need to complete. Instead of working with meeting outcomes fresh in mind, it’s more likely the work sits until Monday – when the meeting is no longer fresh. This principle applies to holding meetings at the end of other workdays, too. You may not have as much enthusiastic engagement during a meeting held at 4:00 pm on a Wednesday – and follow-up actions will likely get pushed to the next day. 

With some of the worst times to hold a meeting in mind, consider times and days that can work based on the team’s work style. Meetings before mid-day – and the post-lunch slump that many people feel – can both reach attendees at good energy levels and with time in the day to take action on pertinent follow-up items. 

Whenever you choose to hold a meeting, build in “passing periods” to allow for those with multiple meetings in a row to regroup before jumping into their next meeting. Outlook offers a feature where you can schedule 30 and 60 minute meetings that leave 5 and 10 minutes, respectively, open at the end. This means a 30 minute meeting ends at 25 minutes and an hour meeting ends at 50 minutes. Google also has a similar feature that ends meetings a few minutes early to allow attendees to regroup.

3. Determine who should be there

You can determine necessary attendees with the simple question “Who will meaningfully contribute to this meeting by way of questions or knowledge that can impact the outcome?” This can be a range of people from top executives to associate team members. 

Once you have a clear picture of the attendees, consider whether you need to prioritize anyone’s time over everyone else when it comes to choosing a meeting time. If the contributions of an executive leader are absolutely necessary, you may find you need to adjust the meeting time to accommodate their schedule above everyone else. Yes, this may even require hosting a meeting at a less desirable time.

4. Set expectations

Most – if not all – meetings should have an agenda. This document lays out not only the goal of the meeting, but any questions or discussion topics that should be covered. It also acts as a tool to let attendees know what will be expected of them. Should they bring the obstacles they’re facing right now? Do they need to look over the events calendar to be able to offer feedback on the coming weeks’ workload? Whether through the description or direct messaging, every attendee should know why they are invited and what will be expected of them. This also means designating a lead who will keep the meeting moving.

5. Protect no-meetings days

Clockwise is built with no meeting days in mind, so we’re no stranger to this concept. It’s so important that it stands alone in this process building exercise. Instituting a no-meeting day helps fulfill the goal of transforming meetings from all-too-frequent to just-frequent-enough to make progress on projects. 

If this is a new policy for your company or team, start slowly. Gather feedback from team members on a no-meeting day. You may find that some teams really need meetings to move things forward and closing off an entire day to scheduling these collaborations would not be productive overall.

6. Cap virtual meetings 

It may not always be possible, but consider limiting the time spent on virtual meetings. This can be helpful whether you’re in a hybrid working environment or a completely virtual one. After determining whether or not a topic, discussion, or question should be a meeting, consider whether or not you could fit all you need into thirty minutes or less. You may need more time if there are many stakeholders on the call, but weigh each calendar invite with efficiency and time cap in mind. 

If you’re not sure if you can fit a meeting into a smaller timeslot, try adding another 10 or 15 minutes. This can look like scheduling what you hope will be a 30 minute meeting for 45 minutes. This leaves space for any natural discussion flows that go beyond your intended meeting length while ensuring your meeting doesn’t cut into the next meeting. If you find that even an extension isn’t enough, you may need to reassess how long you need for different types of meetings. 

Letting go of meetings

Did I really spend a whole post going over how to make a process for scheduling meetings just to tell you to forget about them? Not quite. The process you build for scheduling meetings is important, but it’s also important to let go of meetings that aren’t serving you or your team – even if they made sense at one point in time. The easiest way to do this is to audit the meetings and meeting types on your calendar. You can decide how often to perform this audit – monthly, quarterly, etc. – but doing so regularly can help you spot the meetings no longer serving the team. 

Meet happily

Whether you’re managing up by learning the ropes of meeting planning or settled in a leadership role, building a meeting scheduling process that anyone on the team can take part in will help improve everyone’s relationship with meetings. Meetings are a necessary part of any work environment, but they don’t have to be unproductive or constant subjects of social media memes. When approaching meetings and scheduling, remember the natural transition times in work, the people who should be there, the expectations for attendees, the time needed for focus work, and the weariness that comes with too many virtual meetings. Keep these steps in mind as you build your own process and turn a new leaf when it comes to the reputation of meetings at your company.

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Time Management