Do you find yourself finishing tasks just minutes before they are due? If you’re like most professionals, delivering projects ahead of schedule is a rare occurrence. Most project managers sweat every last detail, down to the minute and thank their lucky stars when it comes together just in time. Sound familiar?
During a recent commute, I listened to And So We Meet, Again: Why The Workday Is So Filled With Meetings, a story on NPR’s Morning Edition. The story referenced Parkinson’s Law which states that “tasks take as much time as the time allotted,” meaning a 30-minute task could take you as long as a week, if given a week to complete it. This principal begs the question: how long should a task such as a meeting actually take?
While most meetings are booked in 30 minute slots (thanks, Outlook default), meeting masters point to 15 minutes as the ideal meeting duration. According to Fast Company’s Kevan Lee, the science behind the 15-minute rule can be found in the 18-minute-or-less TED talks.
“Each TED talk is kept to 18 minutes or shorter, the same time as a coffee break and a helpful constraint for presenters to organize their thoughts. Scientifically, 18 minutes fits right in with the research on attention spans: 10 to 18 minutes is how long most people can pay attention before checking out.”
Now that we know the science behind the 15-minute meetings sweet spot, here are 4 ways to go from 30 (or even 60) minutes down to 15:
Rethink the Purpose of the Meeting
Not everyone problem-solves best in a meeting setting. My best ideas come to me when I’m driving or working alone at my desk. Make meetings a time to update your participants and issue next steps as opposed to asking questions. As the meeting host, you are responsible for more than just the meeting invite and conference room. When you invite a guest to a meeting you’re asking them to trust you with their time.
Put on Your “Project Manager” Hat
Before the call, let each attendee know what you expect from them during the meeting. This helps your participants know how to prepare and weeds out “lurkers.” Most often, you’ll get the answers you were looking for prior to the meeting making their attendance no longer necessary.
Keep the Meeting Moving
Help your attendees come to conclusions more quickly by making observations that are geared toward progress. For example, your attendees may be inclined to spend half the meeting discussing the details of a technical issue. While the presence of an issue is important to the entire group, the details may not be. Help keep things moving by saying, “It sounds like this issue will affect our deadline.” Or “I think you’re saying that IT needs to review our requirements.” From there, you can flag it for follow-up and keep the meeting moving forward.
Don’t Fear Finishing Early
I’ve been on calls where the meeting host realizes the meeting is over and participants can leave early. The bewildered tone in their voice leads me to believe that they feel something had to go wrong for them to finish early. For many organizations, the only thing more sinister than going over your allotted time is staying under it. Don’t forget that meetings are organic events, a means to an end, and once that end is met you owe it to your participants to let them leave.
For more meeting tips, read 5 Reasons Your Meetings are Bad (and How to Fix Them).