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Team Productivity

5 Easy Ways to Save 15% of Your Time at Team Meetings

Daniel Threlfall
January 2, 2017
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We waste a lot of time in meetings.

I say “we,” but maybe you’re different. Maybe you have this meeting thing down to a science. Perhaps your meetings never fritter a single nanosecond on useless frivolity. Perhaps you manage a team that possesses remarkable efficiency and constant focus.

But the statistics belie such a phantom. According to Atlassian, employees spend an average of 31 hours in unproductive meetings each month. There’s a price tag attached to that wasted time: $37 billion.

That’s the annual “salary cost of unnecessary meetings for U.S. businesses.”

An estimated 15% of a business’s time are spent in meetings. For managers, it’s even worse! Middle managers spend more than a third of their time in meetings, while upper level management spends a whopping 50% of their time in meetings. (Data from a Fuze infographic)

Keep in mind that people don’t only waste time in the meeting itself. They waste time before the meeting by having additional meetings, preparing for the meeting, or commuting to the meeting. Harvard Business Review analyzed the ripple effect of a single weekly meeting at one corporation. The analysis determined that the meeting destroyed 300,000 person hours each year.



Let’s assume each team member was paid an average of $25/hr, which is very modest, considering that it was a meeting of senior-level executives. This amounts to an expenditure of $7,500,000 for a single weekly meeting.

If I saw a $7.5 million line item in the budget for “meeting” I would cancel that meeting as fast as I could get my hands on my Google calendar.

The fundamental problem with time-wasting meetings is this: humans.

Is the wasted time good, or is it bad? I would argue that in some cases, “wasting time” isn’t actually such a bad thing. But when it comes to meetings, we may need some guardrails to prevent us from completely squandering valuable hours, annoying efficient people, and, worse, frustrating clients and customers.

What we need is a set of tactics that will keep us from wasting time in meetings. So, without further ado, here are those tactics.

1. Don’t have the meeting to begin with.

Before you schedule your meeting, ask a simple question: Do we need this meeting? “We’ve always had it before,” does not necessitate a need. If that question doesn’t eliminate the meeting right off the bat, then ask yourself a few more diagnostic questions.

  • Will it help all the participants if we hold this meeting?
  • Will it help our clients if we hold this meeting?
  • Does this meeting serve the ultimate purpose of our business or organization?
  • Will this meeting help the business to make or save more money?

If possible, eliminate the meeting. Nobody’s going to waste time during that meeting, because there is no meeting! Remember, there are alternatives to meetings. There’s the phone. There’s text. There’s email. You may have discussion features in your project management software interface that can function in place of a meeting. As a user of TeamGantt’s product, I’ve used the discussion feature to avoid meetings, like this:

Sample discussion on a project in TeamGantt. Content blurred to protect our top-secret projects.

2. Only invite the people that need to be there.

If your meeting passes the first test, then it’s time to subject it to another test. Before you send out meeting invites, ask, “Does each participant need to be there?” If you’re just starting out with this exercise, I recommend going through each name on the list to understand whether or not that person needs to attend. To make it even more specific, you can ask these questions:

  • What will this person add to the discussion that we wouldn’t have if he weren’t there?
  • What will this person learn or hear that she needs to hear in order to do her job more effectively.

If you’re ruthless with this technique, you may be surprised to find out how many people don’t actually need to attend. As a side benefit, these people may be overjoyed.

3. Create an explicit agenda.

At the very basic level, every agenda should have two things

  1. Purpose: Why are we having this meeting?
  2. Outcome: What will we accomplish in this meeting?

I recommend preparing a detailed agenda. Doing so keeps the meeting participants from wasting their collective time, because you’ve spent focused time deciding what needs to be accomplished. Here are several things to consider as you create a meeting agenda.

  • Decide on a meeting leader.
  • Decide who is talking when. It is a waste of time when you invite participants, “let’s all talk about,” or “we’ll go around the table.” Obviously, you want to be open to dialogue, but you should have a single person in mind for each agenda item.
  • Avoid discussing or brainstorming. Instead, decide.
  • How long will it be? Limit the meeting to 15 minutes. As John Mariotti wrote, “In a 15-minute meeting, there is no time for pontification, filibusters or storytelling.”
  • Write down action items during the meeting.
  • Assign each action at the conclusion of the meeting.
  • Avoid scheduling follow-up meetings.

During meetings, you might have to put on your strict manager hat. If the discussion is devolving into a waste of time, a simple comment like, “Let’s try to stick to the agenda we’ve prepared,” can help the meeting get back on track. (See point #5 for more on this technique.)

Watch the video below to see how one project manager uses TeamGantt to create meeting agendas and keep track of action items so her team can stay on top of product launches.

4. Meet in-person or on a video call.

According to research from Fuze, people are less likely to multitask while on a video call, as opposed to the infamous conference call.

Infographic source

If you have the option (hint: Skype) then hold your meetings as a video call. Obviously, if you have a physical office and all the meeting participants are available, then an in-person meeting works just as well.

5. Be clear.

We often waste time in meetings because of simple communication breakdown.

The good news about communication challenges is that you, as the moderator, can help to overcome them. This process begins with the meeting agenda, and it’s aided by your input along the way.

This is what I mean by “be clear": You, as the leader, need to be clear with participants about how to improve their communication within the meeting.

Here are some situations and phrases that can help:

  • When someone keeps on talking: “Thanks for making the point. Was there something else that is necessary to add?”
  • When someone is being vague: “I’m sorry, but I don’t think we’re understanding your point. Can you boil it down to a single sentence?”
  • When someone goes off topic: “We need to stick to the agenda.”
  • When someone interrupts or speaks out of turn: “Thanks, but right now, we need to give Andrew the floor.”
  • When preliminary small talk needs to stop: “Okay, we only have 15 minutes, so let’s start.”
  • When people are dozing off or clearly playing Candy Crush Saga on their phones under the table: “This is a short meeting. We have some important things to talk about right now, so please try to focus.”

Phrases like this can seem tension-inducing or even borderline rude. As long as you have a culture of expectation that meetings are for focused productivity, then team members will understand why you’re insisting on their cooperation. Jessica Pryce-Jones, an expert on productive meetings, told Business Insider: "You've got to have a little bit of tension [in meetings], because that's where the real value is added.”

It's time to save that precious 15%.

Efficient meetings are a remarkable thing. Generally, people come away from such meetings feeling determined, capable, and driven to do the next great thing. The net impact of efficient meetings can be hundreds of thousands of dollars in saved money, happy employees, and higher quality of work. If you can work to develop more efficient meetings, the entire business wins.

Project management milestone examples

Milestones make it easier to keep projects on track by calling out major events, dates, decisions, and deliverables. Here are a few examples of project milestones you might include in your plan:

  • Start and end dates for project phases
  • Key deliveries
  • Client and stakeholder approvals
  • Important meetings and presentations
  • Key dates or outages that may impact your timeline

Let’s dig a little deeper and explore 3 specific examples of how using project milestones can benefit your projects.

Monitor deadlines

No plan is ever complete without a list of deadlines! The best way to make them noticeable is to use the project management milestones and deliverables technique. What does this mean? Make the deliverables project milestones!

Why do this? Well, it’s no secret that not everyone wants to pore over your beautiful project plan to find key dates. Most people—your teammates included—want a top-level view of key dates and events. Milestones are great for this purpose because they’re called out in a special way—usually with a diamond—in project plans.

While you should list the tasks and effort leading up to a project milestone, be sure to present the milestone at the end of those tasks to signify a delivery, or even a presentation of, the deliverable.

Here's an example of how Washington Hyperloop uses milestones to track an important deadline in their project.

Spotlight important dates

Are there days from now until the end of your project that could impact your project in some way? Maybe your team will need to be out of the office for a mandatory training. Maybe there’s a board meeting you’re expected to attend.

It’s important to keep all of these important events in mind when you’re planning a project because they could possibly impact your project schedule. So why not include them as project milestones so you can track them all in one place?

In this example, the team’s off-site strat-op meeting has been added to the project plan as a milestone so work can be scheduled around it.

date milestone in gantt chart

Identify potential project bottlenecks

Many projects rely on the work produced by external teams or partners to make forward progress. If you’re not tracking those external factors somewhere, there’s a great chance you’ll forget to follow-up on it.

That’s why it’s important to list these deliverables as project milestones if you’re working on a project that depends on someone or something outside of your project. Here’s an example of what that might look like for a client approval.

deliverable milestone in gantt chart

Want to hit major milestones on time more often?

We’ve got a free class to help you get everyone on board with your plan! Register for Plan Up: How to Create and Sell a Winning Project Plan to see why planning sets the stage for project success, and get a free Guide to Project Planning when you sign up.

How to create a project milestone

Creating milestones for your project plan can be simple, especially with TeamGantt. Once you’ve mapped out your overall process and plan with your team, you can easily add tasks, identify gantt chart milestones, and determine task owners. Adding a milestone (or converting a task to a milestone) is very easy in TeamGantt.

Once you’ve signed up for a TeamGantt account, here’s a quick video on how to create milestones:

Project milestones are easy to create and even easier to track because you’ve called out the most important points in your project.

How to share project milestones with clients and stakeholders

Want to give clients and stakeholders a high-level view of the project? Simply follow these steps to share a PDF of key project milestones in your gantt chart.

1. Filter your project by milestones.

From your gantt chart view, click the All Dates menu at the top of your gantt chart, and select Only Milestones from the drop-down.

filter gantt chart by project milestones

2. Export your filtered project to a PDF file.

Navigate to your project's Menu, and select Print/Export PDF from the drop-down.

export gantt chart with project milestones to PDF

Customize your PDF settings, then click View PDF to complete the export. From there, you can download and/or print your PDF to share with clients and stakeholders.

share PDF of gantt chart filtered by project milestones

Who would have thought such a critical step could be so easy?

Hit every project milestone with ease

TeamGantt makes it easy to create, track, and collaborate on all your project milestones so nothing slips through the cracks.

You’ll have all the features you need to ensure projects finish on time and under budget—from drag and drop simplicity and team collaboration to customizable views and workload management.

Best of all, it’s all wrapped up in a simple and intuitive interface your whole team will love. 😍

Give TeamGantt a free try today!

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