How to cut 45 minutes of BS from your meetings


I still remember my first work meeting. I was fifteen years old, had a summer job at an airport, and was told one Thursday before heading home that I would need to attend a meeting the following morning. It was pretty exciting, I’d never been in a meeting before, it all felt so grown up and adult. Cut to 8:30 am the next day and I’m asleep in my chair. The ‘meeting’ had begun fifteen minutes earlier, but my manager couldn’t get the right slideshow to come up on PowerPoint, then the projector didn’t work, and it wasn’t until forty-five minutes later that I returned to my desk, terminally bored, and curious as to what on Earth I was supposed to have gotten out of the meeting. That kind of experience, sadly, is something many will relate with, and all to often our work meetings seem to be drains on our productivity rather than catalysts for new ideas and progress.

An old adage tells us that work will expand to the time given it, and many of our most visionary businesses and leaders are taking that truth to heart when scheduling their meetings. The idea of a 15 minute meeting is becoming more and more popular, and the efficiency of a short meeting comes not only from time saved by participants that can be used on other projects, but studies also show that 15 minutes also leaves workers better informed and motivated than a 60 minute seminar. This is why everyone that gives a TED talk is limited to 18 minutes. Dr. Paul King at Texas Christian University refers to the phenomena as ‘cognitive backlog’ – it’s akin to giving a friend things to carry. There is a sweet spot, a certain weight your friend can carry efficiently, but if things keep piling on – your friend will eventually drop it all, and is left carrying nothing. Our brains work the same way with information retention, there is a certain amount we can take on effectively, but if it becomes to great, we will forget it all and walk away from a meeting no better than when we entered. So borrow from some greats like Apple, Google, and TED talks, trim out the BS from your next meeting, and grease the wheels of productivity. Here are 5 tips to help you get started on adopting a “15-minute meeting” work culture.



1) 15 minutes = Default Meeting Length  Sometimes you may need a few minutes extra, and other times you will wrap things up in well under 15 minutes, but the quarter-hour should be the default setting. You can accomplish this by making sure that the only people attending the meeting absolutely need to be there, by having a clear set of objectives in mind before hand, and by setting a timer (yes, an actual timer). Google projects a huge digital timer on the wall during its meetings to make sure things get done on time, you should follow suit as best you can.


Old School

2) Keep it Old School No laptops at all, and have participants check their phones into a box at the door. Basically treat your meeting space like it’s 1982, and have people taking notes, but make sure they’re doing it with ink and paper (here’s why).


Stand and Deliver

3) Stand and Deliver  One way to accomplish a short and productive meeting is to have everyone involved standing throughout the talk. Standing will keep people alert and attentive, but it also encourages an efficient use of time because the longer people need to stand, the more uncomfortable they’ll become.


Assign Responsibility

4) Assign Responsibility  When a new idea or exciting proposal is brought up, immediately assign someone to be the point man. This will make it easier to have short meetings in the future because you will know exactly who to ask about what topic, and it will also make deciding who needs to be at the meeting and who can continue working at their desk all the easier. Steve Jobs liked to use the term ‘DRI‘ or, Directly Responsible Individual.



5) Respect Silence  It seems that too often people use meetings as a way to hear themselves talk, and though it may seem logical at first, the idea that silence in a meeting may waste precious time (we’ve only got 15 minutes, after all), it isn’t necessarily sound. Encourage everyone to participate in a minute or two of silence at some point in the meeting to allow people to gather their thoughts and think through some of the issues being discussed. You’re sure to hear a more productive and thoughtful dialogue once you open the floor back up.


Further Reading:

1) 9 Science Backed Methods for More Productive Meetings – Fastcompany

2)15 Minute Meetings – LessDoing

3) Apple Employees Tell the Secrets Behind Steve Jobs’ ‘Magic’ – Wired

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