Time really is money, yet in offices all around the world millions of employees waste countless hours in meetings that don’t have an agenda, go off track, take longer than expected and often don’t result in an actionable outcome.
One sure fire way to cut down on this waste and ensure you and your colleagues get the most out of each day is to ensure that meetings start with an agenda. The simple act of reading out an agenda at the start of each meeting can easily save a significant portion of your workday being tied up in meetings that wonder without any direction or goal.
Not only that but setting an agenda doesn’t have to be a complicated process. A simple list or series of bullet points is all it takes to set an agenda for a meeting and help keep things on track. For something that can take mere minutes to write, but save countless hours over the course of the year, starting a meeting with an agenda is an often overlooked productivity hack you can start today.
So to help get you started here are four reasons why every meeting should start with an agenda.
It Provides Structure To The Meeting
As meetings extend beyond two or three people the chances that everyone is entering that meeting with the same thought process and agenda decreases significantly.
Without an agenda to frame the topic of the meeting and key discussion points you can often find one or two voices in the room who wish to discuss another aspect of the business.
Not only can this consume valuable time, but if it is not related to the core topic of the meeting it can lead to action items that don’t align with the desired outcome of the meeting in the first place.
This, in turn, can result in attendees walking out of the meeting with even more questions in their head than they started with. This leads to a lack of action, delays in the business process and the need for even more meetings in the future.
Reading the agenda at the start of a meeting reminds everyone why they are there in the first place and what needs to be discussed. If any off-topic items arise then the facilitator or organizer of the meeting can politely point to the agenda and ask that they are discussed separately.
It Helps Keep The Meeting On Time
Time is the one resource we can’t get back. Every minute that goes by is a minute spent and when you are busy or juggling multiple projects the last thing you want to do is see valuable time chewed up by a meeting that provided little value or direction.
Therefore starting each meeting with a reading of the agenda, first of all, reminds people of everything that needs to be discussed, providing a guideline for how much time should be attributed to each point, and allows the organizer to wrap up or close down points of conversation that are taking too long to conclude.
It is on this point where meetings often drift on and on. In many situations, each stakeholder knows their position on a point, yet often find the need to talk around and around the topic as if to convince themselves that they are making the right call.
After sufficient time has been allowed for discussion forcing the point and requesting a decision can often save time and result in the same outcome as if the discussion dragged for another ten minutes.
It Allows You To Map Action Items To Specific Stakeholders
Having a written list of agenda items that are read, and can be referred to throughout the meeting, makes it easy to map follow up actions to individual users or stakeholders.
At the end of the discussion on each topic or agenda item the meeting organizer should confirm the outcome and note who has ownership of that point.
With a written list of agenda items, the owner of that point can now be assigned to that item, ideally with a deadline on when they can get back to the group and confirm the task has been completed.
Even better if you are working from a digital, rather than physical list, during your meeting it is very easy to cut and paste your agenda items into an email at the conclusion of the meeting to confirm with everyone what was agreed and who has ownership of each action item.
Compared to meetings that don’t start with an agenda using this process ensures there is a clear separation of each agenda item and no confusion over the responsibility that can often arise if a meeting freely flows from one topic of conversation to another.
In Time You Will Find You Need Shorter Meetings
One of the most frustrating aspects of meetings is the unguided desire of people to set meetings in 30 minute or 60 minute increments. There is no loginal reason why a meeting needs to be 30 minutes, as opposed to 20 or 25, yet whenever you go to set a meeting your brain defaults to using 30 or 60 minute increments.
As you start the practice of kicking off each meeting with a run through of the agenda you will find the process of running a meeting getting “tighter”. That is to say more efficient. You will begin to appreciate just how long it takes to run through certain topic items, be more effective at keeping the meeting on topic and find that you can push for an answer or outcome much earlier in the discussion.
Mastering these skills will then give you the confidence to change how you structure your day and meetings. You will be able to discuss what used to take 30 minutes, in 20 minutes. And what used to take an hour in 40 or 45 minutes.
While these changes might not seem like much, consider this. If you can cut what used to take 30 minutes down to 20 minutes you can run 33% more meetings in a given hour. With written agenda items you summary/action notes from each meeting area also easier to distribute and you have a clear list of responsibilities that you can hold people accountable to.
As we have seen one of the best productivity hacks you can implement in your office day is one of the simplest. Starting each meeting with a reading of the agenda helps keep meetings on time, reduce off topic conversation, makes it easier to assign action items to specific stakeholders and in time will shave time off your meeting schedule and make you more efficient with what you do.