Five Strategies to Improve Your Meetings

February 26, 2024

Browse by CategorY
Jump into my free
5-day video lesson program below
jump in here!
want to get a taste of the bright method for free?
Welcome! We're all about realistic time management designed for professional working women here in this little pocket of the internet. I'm glad you're here.

Listen on Apple or Spotify

Meetings are critical for much of what we do, but they can also quickly become overused and ineffective. Let’s talk through five strategies you can use to improve your meetings so they’re more useful and everyone has more clarity coming out of them.

I also share actionable bite-sized time management strategies on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/_kellynolan_/. Come hang out with me there!

Full Transcript

 Episode 43. Meetings

[Upbeat Intro Music]

Kelly Nolan: Welcome to The Bright Method Podcast where we’ll discuss practical time management strategies designed for the professional working woman. I’m Kelly Nolan, a former patent litigator who now works with women to set up The Bright Method in their lives. The Bright Method is a realistic time management system that helps you manage it all, personally and professionally. Let’s get you falling asleep proud of what you got done today and calm about what’s on tap tomorrow. All right, let’s dig in!


Hey, hey! All right, so, today, we are going to talk about meetings. Now, while they can be useful, they are often overused. They drag on for too long, and they really can prevent us from getting our real work done. So I want to talk about five strategies today that we can use to improve meetings.

First Strategy: Have an Agenda for a Successful Meeting – 0:47

Now, first up is to know what a successful meeting looks like for this particular upcoming meeting and have an agenda to get there. So let’s talk about what normally happens. Most people, understandably, show up to a meeting. They just have a general idea of what it’s about, but there’s no real specific clarity about what the purpose of the meeting is, what the takeaways are that you want to have coming out of this meeting. Often, this clarity kind of evolves and strikes, if at all, towards the end of the meeting. Maybe 50% of the way through there becomes clarity of what you’re trying to figure out, and the first part of it was less useful than it could have been.

What increases the effectiveness of a meeting, which in turn makes you more efficient and clear on the work that flows out of it, is getting really clear going into a meeting on certain questions, which is, “What specific questions do I need answers to during this meeting, and what would an ideal outcome of this meeting be?” Are you deciding what research you need to do? Are you making a decision of how to proceed forward? Are you assigning out action items to different people? What is the point of the meeting and get really clear on that – what does success look like for you?

I would write all of these things down even if it’s just a quick and dirty agenda that only you see, and I would bring them with you to the meeting. I personally like to put it in a calendar entry (even if it’s one I just see) that I can lay it all out so that future me, I just assume she’s gonna sit down with two minutes before the meeting starts, and that way all the information is right there at my fingertips. I, sidenote, love doing that for doctor’s appointments and all sorts of things. Then, during the meeting, just keep an eye on the time and make sure that you are getting your questions or topics addressed before the time is up.

On the flipside of this, if a colleague asks you for a meeting, feel free to ask them for an agenda beforehand. One of my corporate executive clients did this, and she received a lot of agendas that she realized many of these would-be meetings could be handled over email or a quick call, and that’s something you typically find out when you’re already in the meeting and it’s too late.

In addition, even for the meetings that still had to happen, like they gave an agenda and she’s like, “Yep, this is worthy of a meeting,” the whole meeting runs tighter and more efficiently because of the agenda. So what I recommend doing is (today at some point or tomorrow, calendar it, whenever it works for you) look ahead at your next two weeks of meetings, and for each, block 5 or 20 minutes (depending on the meeting). Schedule time to prepare, figure out the answers to those questions that we talked about, and depending on the meeting, ask for an agenda. If you’re not the one who called for it. Particularly, if it’s someone who’s at your level or below in an organization, I hope you feel comfortable asking for that.

Even if it’s someone above you and you’re unclear about what the meeting is about, I would reach out and just say something like, “Hey, I see we have a meeting next week. I just want to make sure that I’m thoroughly prepared. What is this meeting about? Is there anything that I can bring to the meeting or provide beforehand?” It will help you prepare and feel more confident going in, and again, it’ll help that meeting be more efficient and more useful to really make things go more smoothly and have a lot more clarity coming out of it.

If you do these things, if you get clear on what you need as takeaways from these meetings or ask for agendas so you’re clear on what these meetings are about or can eliminate a meeting by getting to just answer it by a quick phone call or email, it is just so incredible how much more prepared you’ll feel, how much more efficient those meetings will run, and again, just how much more effective and clear you’ll be at the work that flows out of those meetings afterwards.

Second Strategy: Always Set an End Time – 4:23

All right, strategy number two is to always set an end time for your meetings or scheduled phone calls. I really want us to move away from any time where we’re like, “Let’s just meet up or talk at 10:00 AM.” In a personal, fun situation that’s totally fine if that’s how you like to run your social life. In the work context, I just think everyone benefits from having clarity around, “How long are we talking here? Is this a 15-minute phone call? Is this a 30-minute meeting, 45, 60?” It really helps everybody plan if we understand it.

It also will help you know kind of the scope of what you’re talking about. A 15-minute meeting versus a 60-minute meeting, there’s a different preparation and expectation around that, and so, you having that clarity will really help you prepare for it. This is one of the reasons that I do love using Acuity. There are a lot of meeting booking software out there like Calendly and some others. You send a link specifically for a particular type of meeting with a time frame.

So if someone asks to get on my calendar, sometimes I do it outside of this platform, but sometimes I often use Acuity, and I will send them a 30-minute meeting slot or a 45-minute meeting slot, and that really helps me plan and adjust my life around that knowing the end time. Knowing an end time helps everybody stay on track more efficiently. So even when I’m booking outside of Acuity, I’m also very clear about starting something like, “I’d love to chat. Are you free for a 30-minute window on one of these dates?”

Again, being clear about how much time you’re devoting to a meeting helps everybody prepare accordingly and make the most of the meeting, and it helps it from dragging on too long beyond what you’ve expected or planned for.

Third Strategy: State Meeting Length and Meeting Purpose – 6:07

Okay, strategy number three is, at the beginning of each meeting, perhaps after a little bit of catching up, state again how long you have and what the purpose of the meeting is. Even though we just talked about these, and this is building off of strategies one and two, often in real life we do these things, we set up the meeting, we set an end time, we might send an agenda, but we might have done that a couple days ago, even a couple weeks ago.

So it’s really helpful to remind everybody at the beginning of a meeting how long you’re planning on it being and what the purpose of the meeting is. Don’t assume everyone has prepped in the way that you have. So, for example, you could say something like, “All right, we have 30 minutes to figure out what our response to client A should be. To be mindful of everyone’s time, let’s dig right on in.” All right, this one is simple, but simple can be deceptively effective so I wanted to put it in there.

Fourth Strategy: Schedule Cushion Time Between Meetings – 6:55

All right, strategy number four might vary by person, but I am a big believer in scheduling cushion time between meetings. You might be totally different, and feel free to follow what you know works for you. But I just want to urge people, if you’re not quite sure or you don’t typically do this, I would really schedule cushion time between meetings. I really dislike back-to-back-to-back meetings. I don’t like the stress of trying to wrap up a meeting on time. While I am talking about ways that we can wrap things up on time, and that is my aim, it seems like we’re creating unnecessary stress. If, inevitably, things go over by, like, five minutes, it’s just helpful to have some cushion so you don’t have to be stressed even if you’re trying to wrap things up.

I also really don’t like having no time to switch gears. I’ve got to get my head on for my next thing, even if I don’t have to really prepare. I like really just having a minute to be like, “Who am I meeting with again? What am I meeting about?” Again, “What are my takeaways I’m hoping to get out of this?” or “How am I adding value to this?” I just need to have a couple minutes to think about that and get my head on and, if I’m going back-to-back and feel like I’m scrambling just to even open up the Zoom room on time, I don’t get that ability to do that, and I’m kicking off a meeting already in a flustered state, and I don’t like that.

I also really do not like having time to run to the restroom or refresh my coffee or my tea or water. Any of that stuff, it’s really helpful to just have a few minutes to do that kind of stuff so, again, you’re in a more calm, prepared state than sitting there flustered and wishing you could have more water. That’s not the greatest place to be.

So, if you can and this sounds appealing to you, stagger your meetings by 15 minutes at minimum. I just believe that gives us the breathing space that we need. Block the cushion time in your calendar to remind yourself and others not to block it. It, again, will reduce your stress. It helps you not derail your day when something rolls over by, like, five or ten minutes and makes you flustered going into the next thing, and it gives you that time to shift gears.

Now, if this is really hard for you given your work culture and things like that, one thing you can try and do is start shifting meetings to 45 minutes. I am a big 45-minute meeting fan, and typically then your next meeting will start at the top of the hour. So if you do a 1:00 to 1:45, and the next one starts at 2:00, it gives you that built-in 15-minute wiggle room time that people are likely not going to book during.

Just to break this down one more layer from a practical perspective, again, I use Acuity, and you can kind of set these parameters within it. So I can say, “Don’t let someone book a meeting 15 minutes closer to the meeting before it or the meeting after.” So it has these automatic rules that protect that wiggle room for me that I like, but if you don’t use a meeting booking software, you can still do something like this where I would just add a line item to a weekly planning session where you look ahead at your next two weeks of meetings and block the wiggle room on either end of it that you want.

Fifth Strategy: Get Clear on Decisions Made and Next Action Steps – 10:02

Okay, turning to the last tip, which is the fifth one, let’s wrap this up with the wrap up. Now, one of my sisters actually shared this with me a number of years ago now, and I thought it was just simple and brilliant. Those are the best strategies. So in the last five to ten minutes of a meeting, get clear on what everyone’s next action steps are and what decisions were made.

So, for example, you can say something like, “All right, we’ve got five minutes left. Let’s use that time to get clear on what everyone’s next steps are, and let’s just be really clear on what big decisions have been made today that will affect that work.” Not only does this, again, help meetings run on time because you’re saying, “We have five minutes,” and then you can really enforce those five minutes, but it also gives people clear direction, which often we might think had been established earlier in the meeting but isn’t always that clearly established. It gives people that clear direction for what they’re going to do next, and it makes sure everyone is on the same page for how the project is going to move forward.

In addition, if you can, tie each of those action steps to a time frame. So, for example, “Stacy’s gonna do XYZ and update us via email or a project management tool within the next two weeks about that.” So really kind of listing out a time frame for that as well.

Pro Tip: Set a Timer – 11:14

Now, taking a step back, if you’re like, “How will I know? How am I remembering with five or ten minutes left to do this wrap up?” I am one of those people who gets thoroughly immersed in conversations and meetings that I’m having with people, and I really lose track of time. So, for me, this is something I have to think about, and I am a huge fan of using timers. So, if it’s a 60-minute meeting, I’m gonna set a timer for the last 10 minutes so I’m reminded to wrap it up in time and say that statement and be able to have those 10 minutes to work through that wrap up. If it’s a 30-, or a 45-minute meeting, I’m gonna do that for the last 5 minutes.

I really recommend using an alarm. Now, I now use a watch alarm, like an iPhone iWatch alarm, and it just vibrates, so it’s a little bit less disruptive. I can feel the alarm going off. Sure, people see me turn it off, but it’s not an actual alarm going off. But I did used to do this with my phone, and it would go off, and people would hear it. I know from past experience that can strike some people as weird, and it’s totally fine if you don’t like that, and if you don’t have a watch and don’t want to do this strategy, but I have to encourage you to maybe just try it because I love it.

Using an alarm lets me immerse myself fully in a meeting without having to constantly check the clock, and it helps me make sure to protect the time to do it and depending on how you phrase it and explain what the time is, it shows a respect of other people’s time.

So, let’s just say I’m working with a client, and they hear the alarm, I could get awkward or not explain it or whatever it might be, but I could also say something like, “I really get into this stuff, so I use alarms to help me stay on track and be respectful of your time,” and it seems to go over fine. The benefits are worth it, and even if there are some people who are like, “That’s kind of weird,” I think the overall message of people hearing that their time is being respected creates a culture that we really want to foster of respect of people’s time even if it requires you to use outside tools to help you get there.

Strategy Recap – 13:18

All right, so just to recap, strategy one is know what a successful meeting looks like and have an agenda to get there.

Strategy two is always set an end time for your meetings and scheduled phone calls so that you don’t have this kind of confusing amorphous meeting set that no one really knows how long it’s supposed to be. It will really help you prepare and stick to being on time or close to it.

Strategy three is at the beginning of each meeting, state how long you have and what the purpose of the meeting is. And this can be really informal. It can be something like, “All right, we have 30 minutes to figure out what XYZ is. Let’s be mindful of everyone’s time and just dig right in on it.”

Point four is to schedule in cushion times between meetings. It’ll help you go to the restroom, get water, get your head on, just wrap things up in your head and move onto the next meeting. I have always found it to be invaluable, and it really reduces stress.

The final point is that wrap up where you can consider using a timer and then using that last five or ten minutes to get really clear on what are the steps going forward, what decisions were made, and make sure everybody is on the same page and you really just walk away with a lot more clarity.

All right, I hope that’s helpful! If you have any strategies that you think would be really valuable to share on the podcast or on Instagram or wherever it might be, it depends on how many I get and whether we should have a follow-up episode, definitely just email me at ke***@ke********.com. I would love to hear them, and if there are enough sent in, I will do a follow-up episode with everybody else’s strategies because I nerd out on this, and hopefully you do too.

All right, well, thank you for being here, and I will catch you in the next episode! 

[Upbeat Outro Music]

Add a comment
+ show Comments
- Hide Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

check out my 8-week bright method time management program

Want to learn the full Bright Method, a system designed for working women that reduces stress and ups your peace of mind when it comes to managing it all (personal and professional)?

Learn more
Want to focus on email first?

Reclaim your time from your inbox

Spending too much time in your email inbox? You’re not alone. Check out my short’n’sweet, self-paced email management course to help you reclaim control over your inbox.

LOVE these strategies?



Hello, more breathing space.

Learn three realistic time management strategies desgined for professional working women that you can implement in just 20 minutes. Enter your info below & get the free guide in your inbox in a minute.