The shorter days that accompany the end of Daylight Savings Time serve to remind business owners of the value of time. Many organizations focus more on managing their expenses or their staff than they do on managing time. As a result, countless hours are wasted on everything from long email chains to unproductive meetings and conference calls – and, as the saying goes, time is money.

In an era where businesses large and small have a wealth of time-tracking and time-management tools at their disposal, studies have shown that unnecessary or mismanaged meetings continue to rank as one of the biggest time-wasters. According to the Harvard Business Review, 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings – a percentage that has increased every year since 2008. Research has also shown that unproductive meetings cost U.S. businesses $37 billion a year.

From one-on-one discussions to companywide gatherings, training yourself and your team to treat meetings as time- and money-intensive endeavors will result in better outcomes for your business. Here are a few ways to make your meetings “smarter” so you can better manage your employees’ time, increase productivity, and save money.

Determine if the meeting is necessary.

Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself if it’s necessary. Business meetings should have an objective, such as sharing information or solving a problem. Once you have the objective, you need to determine whether it warrants a meeting. There may be less time-intensive options for accomplishing the work and/or discussions, such as an email or text.

If you decide that a meeting is the most effective option, it is important to think about which employees are required to attend and whether or not some attendees are optional. Consider including staff who may not be directly involved but would gain value from the discussion. There may also be instances where an employee who is directly tied to the subject or project does not need to be there. It might be more productive to meet with the managers and not the assistants, or just a few people instead of the whole team.

Plan ahead.

Every meeting is initiated by someone. When conducting a “smart” meeting, this is the person who will be responsible for making sure it is both efficient and effective. In addition to facilitating the meeting, they should handle the advance planning, explain the purpose and format of the meeting before it starts, and oversee any follow-up.

Setting an agenda is essential to keeping meetings focused and fully interactive. However, 63% of business meetings happen without a pre-planned agenda. Consider implementing a formal process that allows meeting leaders to capture the details of a planned gathering in a designated template that can be shared with attendees. Include the time, location, subject, agenda, and expected outcomes of the meeting, as well any resources attendees need to bring. Make it easy for employees to access, print, or pull up on their computers during the meeting.

Meeting leaders also need to provide all relevant materials ahead of time. Handouts, presentations, and spreadsheets should be shared early so attendees have time to prepare. This can be done via email or by using cloud-based collaboration platforms like Slack and Asana that make it simple for employees to manage projects and connect in real time. This is especially important if team members work non-traditional hours or are located in different time zones.

Start every meeting on time.

Meeting leaders should set the tone by arriving early or on time and being fully prepared. Waiting for meeting latecomers wastes valuable time, and staff who walk in after a meeting has started are often a distraction. Tolerating tardiness sets a precedent and sends a message to those who arrive on schedule that their time isn’t valuable.

Starting meetings on time lets prompt employees know you appreciate their effort and signals to latecomers that their behavior is unacceptable. Sometimes being late is unavoidable, depending on the circumstances. However, it’s important to address situations where employees are chronically late to meetings.

Develop a company policy that addresses lateness. Do not stop meetings to update the person unless it’s absolutely necessary. Consider having latecomers put money in a jar and use the funds for beverages or snacks at future meetings. Be sure to express your disappointment with the employee in private and remind him or her that their behavior affects others as well.

Set a time limit and stick to it.

When meetings run well past their set ending time, it wastes people’s time, prevents work from being completed, and ultimately impacts a company’s bottom line. Effective meeting management means setting a time limit and sticking to it.

Meeting leaders should consider setting a timer or designating a timekeeper, and discourage side conversations or off-topic asides that can hijack the agenda. To avoid running over time, set aside the last five minutes of the meeting for questions or final comments. Giving people permission leave if the meeting fails to end on time will go a long way towards holding meeting leaders accountable for keeping things on track.

End with clear outcomes.

Every meeting should end with clear outcomes that attendees can reference. Task someone with taking easy-to-understand, to-the-point minutes. Include action items, deadlines, and who is responsible for completing the tasks, and confirm next steps. Meaningful meetings are essential to the success of any thriving business, and following these steps can help you make the most of them – and maximize the value of your team’s time.

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