How to Have Unproductive Meetings

Don’t feel like working today?

Why not have a meeting or two? You can bypass hours of work talking in circles and doodling on a notepad. Before you know it, you’ll be walking out of the office at 5:00 with the promise of returning to that Netflix show you’re currently binging.

But you have to make them last. Here are several tips to ensure every meeting is as unproductive and long as possible (each followed by practical advice to avoid these pitfalls):

1. Invite everyone—Harold from HR, his manager, and his manager’s sister, just to keep them “in the loop.”


More people = more talking. Harold’s manager’s sister has no business in the rollout meeting for the new sales tool. Neither, for that matter, does Harold. By keeping him in a meeting that does not pertain to him, you aren’t doing anyone any favors. If he’s chatty, you’re extending the meeting unnecessarily for everyone, and if he’s quiet, you’re just wasting his time.

2. Make every meeting in-person.


Sometimes it does make sense to meet in person, but other times, it will benefit everyone to use an alternative method. Okay, so we aren’t to holograms, yet, but never has there been more technology to make meetings convenient for everyone. When scheduling one, consider a conference call, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Skype, or FaceTime call, especially when attendees are in different locations. Being at your desk for a meeting saves you travel time and gives you access to all the resources of your computer—old emails about the topic being discussed, documents, the Internet, etc.

3. Assume everyone will be apparating or teleporting to the meeting.

If your meeting needs to be in-person, don’t schedule the start time at the exact moment that half of your attendees will be coming out of a different meeting. Give everyone time to travel, whether it’s by car or foot. Additionally, people need time to check their inboxes, use the facilities, get cereal from the breakroom, or (believe it or not) prepare for their next meeting. Take a lesson from universities, where students are given ten to fifteen minutes to get from one class to the next, since most people haven’t learned to apparate in the time since graduation.

4. Never question recurring meetings.


Just because a meeting is scheduled to take place weekly doesn’t mean you actually need to meet every time. Get in the habit of taking a brief moment at the end of every recurring meeting to consider whether it makes sense to reconvene at the next scheduled time. If the only reason you’re meeting is for accountability, then you aren’t doing it right. Try personal reminders or accountability partners to keep everyone on track without wasting time discussing it in a large-group format.

Also, avoid having regular meetings for no good reason other than “it’s Monday!” or “it’s morning—happy morning everybody!”

5. Have the meeting even if critical people are out.

May 7, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Fans watch a game between the Cleveland Indians and the Oakland Athletics at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

If a key person is sick and can’t make your meeting, reschedule it. It’s a waste of everyone’s time if you’re going to have to meet again anyway when the critical person is back.

6. Wait for late people.



Tardy Tim will stop being so late all the time if you get into the habit of starting your meetings without him. Waiting for people who are late punishes those who are on time by extending the whole meeting.

7. Wing it.


You may know what you want to discuss in your meeting, but that won’t keep others from getting off topic. Writing up a simple agenda can help focus the group and conserve time. It also gives you a handy tool to cut off the perennial windbag. When Talkative Tom starts going on about a separate project, you can kindly point to your agenda and tell him you really need to move to item three, but will write down his point to discuss later.

8. Kick back and get comfortable, because we’ll be here a while.


Many companies have found that standing or moving during a meeting tends to speed it up, since people are less comfortable and, by extension, less inclined to ramble. While it doesn’t have to be as expensive as purchasing a conference bike, consider ways to encourage brevity, rather than sitting down for the long haul.

9. Don’t bother stating your purpose.


Sure, everyone saw the invite, but you should always start meetings by telling everyone why you’re there. It refreshes everyone’s memories and directs the discussion.

10. Or concluding.


At the end of a meeting, it’s important to sum up what has been established and what tasks have been assigned. You should also decide when things are due or when you will meet again.