In one of the increasingly rare moments at my Faculty desk, I pondered where the hours disappear each day. What do I do with my time? A quick glance at the diary reveals that I spend a good 75% of each day in meetings. Is this the best use of my time? Yes and no. To state the obvious, it depends on whether the meeting is productive.
It’s worth thinking about what makes a productive meeting. Let’s start by asking why we want to hold a meeting in the first instance. Is the purpose merely to communicate information? If so, in this world of electronic media I venture to suggest that such information could easily be communicated by such means. Surely we only need to convene a meeting if it is necessary to discuss an issue and make a decision. So, an effective meeting will begin with a clear indication of its purpose and the required outcome. It goes without saying that it must have an agenda and needs to start on time. But the real secret of effective meetings is preparation. If all participants read the papers and do the necessary groundwork beforehand, there is a greater likelihood that the meeting will finish well within the allotted time, thus creating space in our crowded diaries. We must make every effort to overcome Parkinson’s Law, which loosely stated asserts that work will expand into the time allocated to it. Alas, in the time-limited culture of the 21st century, it is increasingly commonplace to circulate papers within 24 hours or less before a meeting, leaving no time for the participants to prepare. We must change this inefficient culture.
If we professionalise our approach to meetings there is much to gain. As an example, I suggest it is not difficult to reduce the length of all meetings by say 10%. If the time spent in meetings is say 30% on average for academic staff, with 1660 working hours in a year, then there are ca. 50 hours per annum to be gained. I think we would all value an extra week of unconstrained time!