Meetings

Are 1-hour meetings always necessary?

When scheduling a meeting, most people spend very little time thinking about its length. Statistically, it looks like plenty of meetings are scheduled for 1 hour precisely. But why? Do we really always need 1 hour, not for instance 45 or 50 minutes? 

Probably not. I believe that the length of 1 hour or 30 minutes is preferable because these are the default values preset in Outlook used in most organizations. It’s just easy to stick to default and not give it much thought. But does it really make sense?

Longer doesn’t mean effective

Parkinson’s law says that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Imagine you want to organize a meeting. You feel like it’s going to take 45 minutes, but, just to be on the safe side, you add additional 15 minutes of buffer time. What will the result be? It’s quite probable that you will use up the whole hour for this meeting.

parkinsons law

By putting extra minutes each time you organize a meeting, you can easily fall into a trap. You’ll end up having too many long meetings during the day and your colleagues will start to treat them as evil and dreadful interruptions. 

Meetings impact routine

Meetings break up everyone’s routine into chunks preventing them from performing deep work. After a while, it can have a negative impact on team motivation and efficiency in meetings. How can you be satisfied with your work if you spend an entire day in long meetings? 

According to the MIT Sloan Management Review data [1], we hold and attend meetings quite a lot every day. An average employee spends around 6 hours per week in scheduled meetings. For senior managers that number is almost 4 times higher. They tend to spend nearly 23 hours in meetings each week. These numbers show how important it is to work on meeting efficiency.

A lower risk of losing focus

Shorter meetings have plenty of advantages. By abbreviating a meeting you lower the risk of losing focus. When you have more time than you actually need, it’s tempting to start irrelevant discussions which can actually be advantageous and harmful at the same time. 

On the one hand, it can improve relationships with other participants which, of course, is always meaningful. But on the other hand, it can negatively impact the goal of a meeting, and losing the goal is one of the biggest meeting problems. It’s the first step to kill productivity and creativity within a team.

Increased discipline

Have you ever wondered why the length of each TED talk is around 18 minutes? It’s because our attention span is between 10 and 18 minutes.

TED curator, Chris Anderson, suggests that it works perfectly not only for listeners but also for speakers. They need to think about each word they want to say. No matter if it’s Bill Gates, Tony Robbins or Bono. They all have similar time frame to use.

“The 18-minute length also works much like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say.”

If you know in advance that you’ll have less time for a meeting, you will become hyper-aware of how to use that time wisely. I’d venture to say that a similar rule could be applicable to work meetings. The shorter, the better. 

A lower risk of skipping a meeting

Moreover, people are less likely to skip meetings if those meetings are short (up to 30 minutes). And there has to be a clear agenda with a preset meeting objective. Otherwise, people will treat it as a boring activity, simply a waste of time, and they won’t show up.

That’s because there actually is a correlation between hours spent on meetings and job satisfaction. A study conducted by Professors Luong and Rogelberg [2] revealed that the more meetings people have to attend, the less satisfied they are. And even scheduled meetings can cause a downshift in productivity. 

I really like the infographic from SalesCrunch which depicts attention level during meetings. They also found out that after 30 minute engagement starts to drop off.

attention level at meetings
Source: SalesCrunch

Any disadvantages?

There are no disadvantages of cutting a meeting short. Oh, wait, actually there is one!

It takes a lot of energy to stay a 100 percent focused even for 30 minutes. It also requires a great deal of discipline from the host. You need to facilitate a meeting and stay focused on its objective the whole time. Less time means you also don’t have that much space for off-topics and irrelevant discussions. 

Short meetings are like sprints. If you want to produce great results (a meaningful outcome in a short period of time), you and other participants need to put a lot of effort into it. You need to sacrifice. But it’s always better to be fully involved in a meeting for a half an hour than to sit around for 2 hours thinking:

“What a boring meeting! I need to get out of here ASAP!”

Conclusion

Meetings are an important part of your job and according to the analysis [1] conducted by Steven G. Rogelberg, Cliff W. Scott and John Kello, the number of work meetings will be increasing in the future. That’s why I believe it’s crucial to use that time wisely and improve the way we host and participate in meetings.

When you set up a meeting next time, I encourage you to think it through and decide how much time you really need. I bet you don’t always have to schedule a meeting for 1 hour precisely.

Timing is just one of many attributes that are crucial to hosting a successful meeting. In my next article I’m going to give you a few more tips on how to conduct effective meetings.


References:

[1] Steven G. Rogelberg, Cliff W. Scott, John Kello. MIT Sloan Management Review 48(2). 2007. The Science and Fiction of Meetings.
[2] Alexandra Luong, Steven G. Rogelberg. Department of Organizational Science,University of North Carolina. 2005. Employees’ feelings about more meetings: An overt analysis and recommendations for improving meetings.