Check out the abridged – and hilarious – video for this issue

In 1904, the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed a building for the Larkin Soap Company in Buffalo, NY (or, as I like to call it, Southern Canada)

The Larkin Building was the first to include such now-normal concepts as central air conditioning, glass doors, and suspended partitions between toilets.

This of course brings up some pretty important questions, not the least of which is whether going to the loo at work was an open showing before Frank came around.

Did it really take until 1904 to invent a wall between toilets?

Fortunately for you, I’m not here to talk about toilets. At least not today.

I’m here to talk about the other innovation Frank Lloyd implemented for the Larkin building. The one that has gone on to alter the entire model of the American work experience.

He created an open floor plan.

<insert gasping sound>

The open floor plan was a great idea, in theory.
It is still a great idea.
In theory.

After all, what better way to increase productivity than to tear down the siloing walls of solitude, right?

Now here we are, more than a century later, and we’re completely screwed.

meetings useless unproductive coffee

The Problem With Meetings

One unexpected behavioral byproduct of the open floor plan is that it caused people to start having more meetings.

“More meetings” is like saying “more coffee”.

Sure a coffee or two every day is a good enough way to stay productive. But turn it into five coffees per day and you’re nothing but a walking heart palpitation.

It’s the same with meetings.

A focused meeting or two can be productive. But when your day is maxed with mindless meetings well.. you might as well set up the IV drip and begin your caffeine transfusion.

In today’s day and age, there is a cumulative $37 billion per year lost by companies due to unproductive meetings.

This is because nearly 3 out of every 4 meetings are considered unproductive.

Want to know what that means in real-world terms? No need to break out your abacus, I gotchoo.

Here’s the bottom line: 31 hours per month are wasted by the average employee in unproductive meetings.

31 hours per month?!
What. The. F***k?!


Think of it this way – if your company moved to a 4-day, 32-hour work week, you would still have just as many productive hours as you do now, but without the useless meetings.

Not surprisingly, almost every American worker (90% of them) wants fewer meetings in the workplace.

Let’s put this in perspective:

  • If 90% of Americans wanted to exercise 3-4 days per week, we’d virtually eliminate obesity.
  • If 90% of Americans wanted to eat less red meat, we’d practically solve our environmental crisis.
  • Heck, it only took 59% of Americans to effectively ban cigarette smoking in public.

But despite 90% of Americans wanting fewer meetings, there are still not fewer meetings.

There’s a problem with this.
And the problem is leadership

meetings useless unproductive daydreaming

Better Leadership Is The Answer. I Forgot The Question.

In my executive coaching work, I often stumble across leaders who view meetings as validation that their employees are collaborating and communicating. They believe that the more meetings that happen, the more productivity that occurs.

That, my friend, is a whole mountain of malarkey.

These are the same leaders who think that meetings are critical for decision-making and problem-solving.

Wrong there too, Captain.

Here’s a fun fact for you:

The best problem-solving is not accomplished by hanging out in a meeting or sitting in front of your computer.

The human mind is at its most creative and most able to solve problems when it is rested and moving.

Yes, this means that your most strategically productive moments are more likely to happen when you’re out for a walk, or just hanging around thinking.

But here’s the problem…

Daydreaming is not considered by most leaders as a productive activity, even though it is the basis for some of the most productive and strategic work you can do.

The very leaders who think that more meetings mean increased productivity are the same ones who get frustrated with employees who go out for random walks during the day, or who simply sit at their desk and think.

At the same time, the leaders wonder why the company isn’t as creative, innovative, and proactive as they’d like.

Let me be crystal clear on this:

Short breaks away from the desk will result in more productivity than if you stayed at the desk and worked that entire time.

This all leads us to two important things. Actually, eleven things, but who’s counting?

[Editors note: Everybody. Everybody’s counting]

meetings useless unproductive ten commandments

The Ten Commandments For Making Meetings Productive Again

First, there’s you.

Get up and walk around. Take a ten-minute break every ninety minutes – step away from the desk, put down the electronic device. Just be. It will change everything.

Secondly, your meetings.

Regardless of your boss’s opinion on meetings, you can dramatically influence the company culture by improving your meetings. As a bonus, it’s super simple to implement.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to share with you – and with you only – the Ten Commandments for making your meetings more productive.

Let’s just keep this between you and me, ok?

1. Thou Shalt Create Clear Objectives

Define a goal for the meeting. If that goal can be achieved through an email, phone call, or Slack message, cancel the darn meeting.

Boom, one meeting gone.

2. Limit Thy Attendees

Invite only the people who are essential to the meeting’s objective. Oh, and remember, group creativity peaks at 5 people..

3. Embraceth No-Meetings Days

Whether it’s Meetingless Mondays or Focus Fridays, I recommend you block off one day on your calendar for only the most critical meetings.

I block off Fridays, in case you care.

4. Agendize

Create and circulate an agenda before the meeting. Stick to the agenda during the meeting. Don’t be afraid to thwack people on the knuckles if they don’t stay in line. That or provide free donuts.

5. Shutteth Up Thy Yammering

91% of attendees pay attention in meetings that are 15 minutes or less. After that, you’re screwed.

By 45 minutes only 64% of attendees are paying attention. Don’t waste time.

6. Thou Shalt Communicate Asynchronously

Can you replace the meeting with Slack, Teams, Loom videos or project management tools?

If yes, then replace the damn meeting.

7. Ye Olde Quarterly Meeting Reviews

Regularly review your meetings to determine which ones are productivity killers. Then kill those productivity killers before they kill you.

8. Empower Thy People

Empowering others to make decisions on certain things without your approval will increase productivity, reduce pointless meetings, and make you look like a superhero (sans the red tights….I hope).

9. Useth Thy Technology

Dropbox, Google Drive, Slack, Teams, Basecamp, Asana, Hubspot, Whatever the tools you use, make sure you get a solid tech stack to improve productivity. Need help? Call me.

10. Let Thy Recap Runneth Over

Right after the meeting ends, summarize the meeting with action items and deadlines. Copy all those that need to know on your summary.

And there you have it, the ten commandments for making meetings productive again. Now, go forth and conquer the meeting madness.

Remember, every time you cancel an unnecessary meeting, an angel gets more productive. Or, at least, you get back an hour of your life.

Now go for a walk and solve some real problems.

A Somewhat Relevant Quote

The least productive people are usually the ones who are most in favor of holding meetings.

Thomas Sowell – economist, social philosopher, super impressive fella

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