Ask These 9 Questions Before Every Meeting To Avoid Wasting Time

A lot of meetings are pointless. But they don’t have to be.

Ask These 9 Questions Before Every Meeting To Avoid Wasting Time
[Photo: The Climate Reality Project/Unsplash]

Many activities suck up a lot of our time at work. And no activity feels more like a time suck than pointless meetings.


Of course, not all meetings are a waste of time. If done right, a meeting can solve problems or convey information without an endless Slack thread. The key is preparation, and asking yourself the right questions. Before you get your team together for another pointless meeting, ask the following questions to ensure that it’ll be the most productive use of everyone’s time.

Related: Meetings Waste Money, And Now You Can Calculate Just How Much 

1. Do I Really Need To Hold This Meeting?

This question might seem really obvious to you, but some companies have regular check-ins without really thinking through why. As Laura Vanderkamp wrote in a previous article for Fast Company, recurring meetings often serve one purpose: “To make sure everyone is still doing her job.” But Vanderkamp argues that this shouldn’t be necessary if you have a high-functioning team. Not only are attendees missing out on valuable deep work time, Vanderkamp also pointed out that when they get back to their desk, there’s the “transition cycle” where workers check their emails and social media before diving into their projects.


2.  What Is The Goal?

If it’s not just about checking in, go a step further and ask yourself–what do you hope to get out of it? In a 2016 Fast Company story, Stephanie Vozza cited a Microsoft study that revealed most meetings aren’t properly planned, and 67% are held without an agenda. You can’t make an agenda if you don’t know what you want to achieve. And without an agenda, there is a greater risk that your meetings will be wasted hours, Vozza wrote.

3.  How Can I Make This Meeting Memorable?

Let’s face it, as engaging as you might be as a facilitator, people zone out in work meetings. And sometimes they don’t always take notes and miss out on important information. You can prevent this from happening by including a unique element. It doesn’t have to be major–employee engagement software provider TINYpulse starts their staff meeting at 8.48 a.m., an odd but memorable time. E-commerce company Etailz does a Q&A at the end of the meeting, which turns into a stare off if no one says anything, as reported in a previous Fast Company story.

Related: Do These Four Things To Make Your Presentation Sound More Interesting 


4. What Do I Need To Tell Attendees Ahead Of The Meeting?

There’s nothing worse than having unprepared attendees. But you can’t blame them for not having good ideas if you put them on the spot and didn’t give them enough time to prepare. In a previous Fast Company article, Stephanie Vozza listed out the categories that meetings tend to fall under: information-share meetings, creative-discussions meetings, and consensus meetings. For creative discussions and consensus meetings, the more you warn participants about the issues or ideas you want to discuss, the better prepared they’ll be. If they’re hearing about them for the first time in the meeting, you’ll have to allocate extra time for clarifications.

5. Who Really Needs To Be At The Meeting?

You know how annoying it is when your inbox is clogged with emails you’ve unnecessarily been copied to? People also don’t want to spend their days on meetings if that means not getting their actual work done–or staying at the office later because of it. Jeff Bezos is famous for his “two-pizzas” rule when it comes to meetings. That is, he limits the number of attendees to the amount of people he can feed with two pizzas. As Lydia Dishman previously reported, “Meetings with a large group tend to get bogged down. Smaller groups are more efficient, especially when the right decision maker is sitting at the table.”

6.How Can I Turn The Agenda Items Into Actions?

Of course, meetings are for discussion, but if all you have in your “agenda” is “discuss x, y, z,” you might end the meeting and realize that no one knows what they should do next. In a previous article for Fast Company, author of Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams Roger M. Schwarz suggested turning items into questions. For example, instead of “discuss video schedule,” write “when will videos be completed?” This way, you’ll leave the meeting with clear next steps.


Related: Two Items That Aren’t In Your Meetings Agenda, But Should Be 

7. How Can I Make Sure That Everyone Is Included?

If your meetings are dominated by one or two voices (and there are more attendees), that’s a drain on your productivity. After all, the whole point of meeting is to exchange ideas and thoughts. As Aleah Warren previously wrote for Fast Company, if organizations don’t ensure they include everyone, they’re missing out on diverse perspectives that could be extremely valuable to the team.

8. Who Is The Best Person To Speak On Each Agenda Item?

Being useful in meetings doesn’t always mean knowing everything. In a previous article for Fast Company, copywriter and comedian Thom Crowley realized that being useful is about identifying what you don’t know, and who is the best person to speak about that topic. He wrote, “Pretending to know a bunch of stuff I don’t know, or half-know, or think I might know takes up a good bit of brain space that I could otherwise use to apply the knowledge I already have to contribute something worthwhile.” Even if your made-up answer sounds impressive, it’s not going to help your team down the line when they realized that your answer did nothing to help their project whatsoever.


9. How Can I Ensure That This Meeting Is The Best Use Of Everyone’s Time?

Meetings have opportunity costs. And too many nonessential ones drain a company’s progress and productivity. Ultimately, the key question is understanding whether it’s the best use of everyone’s limited time. As Shivani Siroya, CEO of fintech startup Tala, previously told Fast Company, “Walking into any meeting, it’s important to remember that everyone in the room is sacrificing part of his or her day to be there. And when you treat people’s time with the reverence it deserves, suddenly, meetings become a force for good in your day, rather than the thing you had to do.”

About the author

Anisa is a freelance writer and editor who covers the intersection of work and life, personal development, money, and entrepreneurship. Previously, she was the assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section and the co-host of Secrets Of The Most Productive people podcast.