Have you ever been to a meeting that ended on time? I haven’t (not including meetings that I run). I should note that if you ever have the privilege of being in a meeting that I am holding, you will be kicked out when the meeting is scheduled to end, if not earlier, because being forced to stay in a meeting that is going longer than expected is the most annoying thing in the world.
It wouldn’t be so bad if you weren’t already overworked, but when you are already going to have to stay late, you don’t need to waste another hour listening to people pretend to be engaged in a two-hour meeting that was only supposed to last 15 minutes in the first place!
The reasons meetings run late are almost always the same:
First, no one can stay on topic. Say your meeting was scheduled in order to discuss streamlined, mission-critical releveraging protocol designed to drive quality-assured excellence. As soon as someone makes reference to something, anything else, the meeting will derail into a 30 minute discussion between two people that will invariably end with one of the parties saying “oh, well let’s discuss this offline.”
Second, if you’re unlucky enough to have any corporate cheerleaders in your meeting, you will have to listen to them argue back and forth about which one of them loves the company more. Each one will continually try to one-up the other by trying to get the last question in. Remember that in the corporate world, you show interest and loyalty to your company by asking questions in meetings. Corporate cheerleaders love their company so much that they can’t stop asking questions during meetings. It doesn’t matter to them if the meeting was scheduled to be over at 3pm, and now it’s 4:45pm; they will keep asking questions.
Finally, most people don’t seem to care. They don’t mind staying an extra hour past the (unpaid) overtime they were already planning on putting in that day because a meeting went long. You can easily identify these people during the meeting because they are the ones that don’t look more and more pissed off with every tick of the second hand on the clock past the meeting’s scheduled end time. They are the ones who smile when someone asks a question when the meeting was supposed to be over 30 minutes ago. They are the ones who enjoy staying late, and therefore don’t care if meetings last forever.
Here is my list of guidelines for making sure your meetings do not take longer than they are supposed to:
– If the meeting covers more than 2 subjects, print out outlines for everyone. You can use these outlines to keep people on subject.
– Immediately shut down any side discussions that are unrelated to your meeting topic. Do not wait 30 minutes for one of the people involved to say “let’s take this offline.” Instead, after 10 seconds of listening to their banter, say “I think you two need to take this discussion offline” and immediately go onto the next point in your outline.
– Immediately shut down unrelated questions. They’re not related, and therefore have no purpose being discussed in your meeting. As soon as the corporate cheerleader asks, before another one can reply, you must reply with “you know, that’s a good question, but it’s outside the context of this meeting. So as I was saying…” and then continue. It might be a little rude, but which is more important: being polite, or leaving work on time?
– When the time is 1 minute before your scheduled end time, say “alright, it looks like we’re out of time…”. At this point, you have 3 options. 1) If the meeting is over, then you’re done. 2) if for whatever reason you didn’t get through everything on your agenda, then continue with “…I will send you another invite so we can continue this later” and then end the meeting. 3) if the meeting absolutely must keep going, then continue with “…anyone who has to leave can leave, because I don’t want to keep you from getting your work done while you stay here in this annoying meeting contemplating boredom-induced suicide.”
Again, which is more important: being polite, or leaving work on time?
I rest my case.