How to have super productive meetings in just 25 minutes

How to have super productive meetings in just 25 minutes

Spending all day in meetings?

BY Donna McGeorge, 7 min READ

Stop for a minute and look at your calendar. How many of your meetings are 60 minutes or more?

Too often I have heard business people say that they spend all day in meetings, so their evenings (when they should be with their families, friends or enjoying leisure time) are spent doing their actual work or catching up on emails they have missed.

We need meetings. We need them at work because when they work, they are valuable. Clear actions get set, decisions are made and the whole business moves forward. But what we don’t need is for meetings to waste our time, money and resources. What we need is a 25-minute meeting. A meeting that is short, sharp and productive. A meeting that gets the job done efficiently. A meeting that gets more value in way less time.

Here’s how to have a super productive meeting in just 25 minutes (yes, really).

The 25-minute fact

Parkinson’s Law explains that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’. Hence, when you give people time to get stuff done, they will use whatever time you allow them.

That is what happens when we default to 60-minute meetings, where in fact, we could get the same amount of work done in half that time.

As far back as 1911, Frederick Taylor Winslow, one of the very first management consultants, made the connection between productivity, effort, and rest or breaks. He found that people who gave a focused amount of effort for 25 minutes, and then spent the next 35 minutes resting, increased productivity by 600 per cent.

Francesco Cirillo’s book The Pomodoro Technique centres around short bursts of work for 25 minutes at a time, followed by a short 5-minute break. This choice of 25 minutes was not arbitrary and was based on several different trials, experiments and iterations.

It’s a fact: when we concentrate our efforts in shorter, controlled periods of time, then we achieve more.

Trim the fat

Let’s look at a typical meeting scenario. You may show up on time, while others may not. Maybe they (or even you) rock up 10 to 15 minutes late with a few excuses about why others are not coming.

Then the meeting starts with questions about the agenda that no-one has seen and/or some are disputing. You finally get started on the first item and there is some active discussion that chews up 15 minutes, and you still have a further three items to get through.

So, the remaining agenda items are rushed through before two people stand up and say they need to leave to get to their next meeting, which they are already late for.

That’s 25 minutes of productive meeting at best.

So you are already having 25-minute meetings, but right now, you’re cushioning them with extra fat — that is, a whole bunch of unnecessary time that is pushing them out to 60 minutes.

Our bad meeting habits are costing us:

  • » waiting for latecomers: (at least) 5 minutes
  • » wondering about the agenda: 5 minutes
  • » waffling and going off track: 5 minutes
  • » watching mobile phones or PCs: 5 minutes
  • » wasting time on fixing tech: 5 minutes.

There’s 25 minutes RIGHT THERE that you could recover if you got rid of bad meeting habits, and I think I’ve been generous with time. We frequently spend more than 5 minutes on some of these things.

Decide to switch

Renowned sculptor Michelangelo is reputed to have said that the statue of David was already in the block of marble, so all he had to do was take away the parts that weren’t David: ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free’.

As you’ve just seen, useful and purposeful meetings are already there in the form of 25 minutes. You just need to chisel away the bits that ‘aren’t David’.

Making the decision to do 25-minute meetings is at the heart of your success with this.

Once you decide to make the switch, you must:

1. Set yourself and others up for success.

Be clear about why you are there, who you need and how we will conduct the meeting.

2. Show up to the meeting, ready to cooperate.  

Ensure everyone has done the pre-work and be ready for the discussion. Start and end the meeting on time. There is no repetition or make-up for latecomers. No laptops or phones in the meeting; it’s 25 minutes of focused discussion.

3. Step up in the meeting to communicate and contribute.

People need to feel comfortable quickly, to bring their genius to the table, share their insights, ask quality questions and engage in the meeting. Use the meeting to enhance the work, not prevent anyone from doing ‘real work’.

Follow through on your commitments and actions before, during and after the meeting to hold your new strategy and everyone involved to account. I promise once you do this, you will become a 25-minute meeting action hero in no time.  

Donna McGeorge is a speaker, author and mentor who helps people make their work work. She’s the author of The 25-Minute Meeting: Half the Time, Double the Impact,’ published by Wiley.

Read next: ‘Ten-minute meetings have completely transformed my business’


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