Time Management: Improving The Meetings You Attend

by Ben Richardson
7th August 2020    
Photo Of People In A Meeting

Anyone who works for an organisation will know that meetings consume an inordinate amount of time.

If you are working on making sure that you are using your time effectively you will need to figure out how you manage meetings at some point.

Learning to manage your time when attending meetings can give you a big boost so in this post we’re going to look at ways that you can deal with them.

Do You Need To Attend?

Many people will view an invite as a request that they attend a meeting.

When you are invited to meeting, before you reply, stop and think about whether you actually need to attend.

Will you learn something important or contribute something important? If not then obviously say no if you can.

If the meeting is a few weeks in the future then the temptation is to just say ‘Yes’. Saying ‘Yes’ now has no cost in the present (the time it will consume is in the future) and makes life easier immediately as the invite is then cleared from your inbox.

The issue is then that in a couple of weeks time the meeting comes up and you realise that it’s not going to be a good use of your time.

However, by now cancelling would look rude and so you feel obliged to attend, despite knowing it won’t be a good use of your time.

This issue is called hyperbolic discounting. If you’d like the detail then do follow this link to a great resource. In essence, hyperbolic discounting means that you value your future time far less highly than your current time despite an hour tomorrow being just a valuable as an hour in two weeks time.

The trick to this being that when someone invites you to meeting ask yourself if you would attend if the meeting was tomorrow. If you would go ahead and say ‘Yes’, but if not then don’t agree to attend the meeting in a couple of weeks time. This post has some nice advice on politely declining meetings.

What If You Need To Attend The Meeting?

If you really need to attend a meeting then, as far as you can, push people to run it efficiently and effectively to maximise your output from the meeting. Even if they don’t say don’t doubt that other attendees will be thanking you.

The tips below won’t work in all situations but don’t feel that you are powerless. If you are attending a meeting don’t miss the opportunity that you have to shape it and drive it forward.

  • Purpose / Agenda

A meeting without an agenda or clearly stated purpose is a sure-fire receipe for wasted time. Its the equivalent of not planning your day.

If you don’t know what you’re aiming for then you’ll have no idea when you get there. Meetings without agendas tend to meander to a close as people aren’t sure if everything has been completed.

Meetings with agendas tend to end crisply as it is clear to everyone that the meeting is finished as the business to be addressed has been concluded.

If you don’t have an agenda for a meeting you are supposed to be attending, if at all possible, you should email the organiser a day or two before the meeting asking them if there is an agenda to help clarify it’s purpose.

  • Set An End Time For Your Attendance If The Meeting Organiser Doesn’t

If people don’t have a clear deadline to hit they tend to wander and waste time.

If the person organising a meeting doesn’t set an end time then an effective tactic can be to let them know that you have to leave at a certain time.

This will usually have the effect of driving the meeting to your timetable if you alert the meeting organiser at the start of the meeting.

Sometimes it won’t but by setting a time that you will be leaving no-one will think you rude if you leave before the meeting is finished.

If you find that meetings are routinely overrunning their allocated time when auditing where you time goes then this can be an especially useful thing to start doing.

  • Reducing Small Talk & Signalling Readiness

Small talk is an important part of group activities but can be excessive.

Again as a meeting participant, you can help to manage down the amount of small talk.

If the start of a meeting is dragging because of small talk there is nothing to stop you turning to the meeting chair and saying something like – “Do you think we should be getting started?”.

This is a polite way of signaling that you’d like to get started.

Similarly, you will find that others will often follow your lead with other things. If you arrive 5 minutes early take your seat and are clearly ready and expecting to start shortly you will probably find that they will naturally follow your lead when they arrive. You are helping to establish a ‘group norm’ that people arrive on time and get down to business promptly.


Meetings are a part of corporate life. As you develop your time mangement skills, learning how to deal with the meetings that you have to attend is vital. Try out the tips above. They won’t all work for you but some will and they should save you a lot of time.