One of the best time-saving and perhaps even life-saving things I did was implement 50-minute and 20-minute meetings. The emphasis was on 20-minute meetings as the rule and 50-minute meetings as an exception.


The old saying "the fish grows to the size of the fishbowl" applies to meetings. Most people schedule 60-minute meetings. Why? It's the default setting in most scheduling apps. What happens? Meetings extend to the length of time that the meeting is scheduled! Funny how that is, eh?

The obvious benefit of 50/20-minute meetings is more effective meetings and staying on topic. However, the real reward is that you get 10 minutes between each meeting for, well, whatever you need. That may be a coffee, a washroom break, checking and responding to emails, making quick calls or conversations, or preparing for your next meeting.

Try it! It's simple but GREAT!


Addendum:  April 2024


Having shared the idea of 50/20-minute meetings with leaders, I coach or clients that I work with, several have adopted this idea. The feedback has been great! The good news is that most have been able to sustain this practice. Why? Because they felt the difference!  


Looking into this further, I found a small study that Microsoft conducted that indicates that our brains need breaks.  Their research showed three main takeaways.


1.  Time between meetings prevents stress from building up.

2.  Back-to-back meetings decrease focus and engagement.

3.  Stress levels tend to spike between meetings without a break.


These findings apparently led to the user option of settings for changing the default start times of meetings in Microsoft Outlook, allowing for breaks between meetings.


Setting an agenda that includes expected outcomes, who needs to attend, and what role they play sets a meeting up for success.  Each agenda item should have a designated time frame allotted for discussion.  Stick to it.  Don't let the meeting go sideways by straying from the agenda or taking too long on any one item.  There's a great acronym to help organize a meeting called PACER.  PACER stands for:


   P:  Purpose

   A:  Agenda

   C:  Code of conduct for the meeting

   E:  Expectations or outcome of the meeting

   R:  Roles and responsibilities


Common roles and responsibilities typically include a timekeeper, note taker, and process monitor. The process monitor speaks up when discussions start to drift off the agenda, get sidetracked, or fall down the proverbial rabbit hole.  They may also need to speak up if attendees are getting frustrated, not being heard or given a chance to engage, or the meeting code of conduct is not being followed.  


Stand-up meetings also help keep meetings short! It's not comfortable standing for long periods, so people tend to get more to the point and are less willing to have tangential discussions.


Somewhat related, I often get asked what to do about people showing up late for meetings.  This can be very frustrating as it can create delays in starting the meeting, causing the meeting to run late, repeating or reviewing discussions that already took place, and, frankly, it is disrespectful to everyone in attendance.  


I found that the most effective, relatively non-intrusive method for dealing with this is to write a simple question on the whiteboard (physical or virtual) for all to see.  That question is "What time does the 9:00 AM meeting start?" where 9:00 AM can be changed to align with the start time of the meeting.  You don't have to stop the meeting to say anything to anyone arriving late.  You don't call anyone out or embarrass them by saying anything or stopping the discussion.  They will see this on the board, realize they are late, and realize that everyone in attendance knows they are late.  Over time, you should see people's behaviour change and arrive on time for meetings.  


I have used this technique frequently throughout my career and have had great success. It doesn't address everyone, but it has a very positive impact without making a scene or needing to set expectations repeatedly. Sometimes, things are beyond someone's ability to control, causing them to be late.  Heck, we're all late sometime.  However, this method can help improve those who are chronically late due to poor time management and self-management.

Leave a comment with your best time-saving or personal planning tip.

Check out High Performance Leaders Inc. time management and personal planning workshop TIME Shifting:  Making time for the things that really matter!

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Glenn Sommerville
June 6, 2024
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