Shorter meetings are more productive. Here’s why.

No matter how much you want to, you can’t eradicate meetings.

Most of the time, they’re a key gateway to connection, information exchange and decision making at your accounting firm. But, often, they can eat up the majority of your day before you know it, reducing your productivity, increasing fatigue, and impacting your mental health.

According to a study by organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry, 67% of respondents reported their productivity is impacted due to too much time spent in meetings and calls.

Not only is too much time spent in meetings negatively affecting people, but it’s affecting business too. Annual business loss estimates in the US are as high as $37 billion due to wasted productivity in excessive meetings.

Meetings as we know them aren’t working. So, what’s the solution?

Short of bringing an end to meetings altogether, what if they were shorter?

Just because meetings are a necessary function of your accounting firm doesn’t mean you can’t rethink your meeting habits, experimenting with techniques that make them more productive.

Are shorter meetings more productive?

It’s important to note that shorter meetings haven’t always been the answer to boosted productivity. Before the internet as we know it, meetings were the lifeline for many businesses.

Rather than being a key gateway to connection, information exchange and decision making, they were the gateway. 

But the world is different now. Apart from instant messaging and email often replacing the need to meet, workers themselves have changed.

Studies repeatedly show how social media has reduced our attention spans and ability to focus.

And this reduction in focus forms part of the foundation supporting shorter meetings.

Many start-ups are already capping their meetings to a maximum of 30 minutes. In some cases, people are limiting meetings to 15 minutes. For Richard Branson, they’re 10 minutes.

A lot of time is wasted in meetings. Agendas get forgotten, topics go amiss, and people get distracted. While some circumstances call for workshops and more elaborate presentations, it's very rare that a meeting on a single topic should need to last more than 5-10 minutes.

Richard Branson, Virgin Group

So, why are shorter meetings more productive? It’s simple: there’s less time for anything else.

Here are 8 reasons why having less time for meetings boosts productivity

Less time means more pressure to get through the agenda

If attendees can see they only have 20 minutes to get through a meeting, they simply won’t waste time. They’ll get to the point quicker, because there’s no time for anything else.

Less time means more reason to prepare beforehand

If your meetings are short, you don’t have time at the beginning to get things sorted that should have been prepared in advance. 

This is where having a meeting agenda is key. 

Ideally, agendas will:

  • Set expectations for the meeting

  • Include everything that needs to be covered

  • Outline an overall objective for the meeting

  • Include contributions required of attendees (these might include work updates, a visual presentation, data that should be collected prior to the meeting, or even something they should read beforehand)

If you slash your meeting lengths, chances are that everyone will come prepared because they have no time at the beginning of the session to do so.

Less time means the ability to hyper-focus on a single topic

If you only have 20-minute meetings, you’re not likely to cram 7 topics into each 20-minute time block. Instead, you’re more likely to focus on one topic at a time. And this means you can hyper-focus. This results in higher quality outcomes—instead of skimming the surface of many topics, you’re able to deep-dive into one.

Less time means fewer distractions and increased engagement

While there are conflicting studies on the average length of adult attention spans, the shorter the meeting, the less time available to become distracted and tune out.

When attendees don’t tune out, they engage—even if it’s as small as a head nod.

Less time means reduced burn out

A Microsoft study found that back-to-back meetings increase stress on the brain

Moving from meeting to meeting without breaks can cause spikes in stress.

And when your meetings are shorter, you have more time to schedule breaks in between, alleviating stress and reducing burn out.

That’s a win for mental health, and team morale.

Less time means less overwhelm

When you have less time, you use it more efficiently. This means less clutter. Fewer slides, handouts and supporting material avoids ‘cognitive overload’. This reduces the chance that people will become overwhelmed and/ or tune out.

If you do need to share materials, consider:

  • If you can provide them in advance for attendees to absorb prior

  • If they’re actually necessary

  • If you can narrow down to the single-most important slide/ chart/ table

Less time means less opportunity for clients to ask for free advice

When you set a short and defined meeting time limit for your client calls, you reduce the time they’re able to fill with questions that ultimately lead you to providing free advice.

Setting clear expectations of meeting objectives, length and agenda are critical in ensuring your clients respect your time.

Experiment to find the sweet spots

It’s important to understand that there isn’t one single length of time that is optimal in achieving all these benefits. You’ll need to experiment with different meeting lengths until you find what works best for you, your team and your clients. 

Lengths will vary depending on the type of meeting, who is involved and your objectives. But, underscoring your decision making when setting these meetings should be: less is more.