I've found that a lot of advice out there on having effective meetings boils down to the idea that a significant portion of the value you get out of something comes from a relatively small portion of it.
In other words,
- 90% of everything is crap (Sturgeon's law)
- 80% of the value of something comes from 20% of the work put into it (Pareto principle)
Basically, if you spend 10 hours a week in meetings, it is very likely that the most impactful meetings take up about 2 hours of that time. And that about 15 minutes out of the average one-hour meeting is where you get most of the value from that meeting.
Obviously, the best thing to do to avoid meeting overload is to reduce the number of meetings you have. If you attended 10 hours of meetings this week, maybe try pre-allocating fewer hours next week to meetings. Cutting down from 10 to 2 might seem excessive (and impossible, if you work in a meeting-oriented workplace), but doing that will at least help you identify where you are getting most value. (Also, Zoom fatigue is a real thing. Do you really need that meeting, or can you handle it through a different channel?)
You could also increase the leverage you get out of each meeting. Most meetings are either information-oriented (where knowledge is shared) or decision-oriented (where decisions are made). In the typical workplace, more knowledge is shared than decisions are made so there are a lot more one-on-ones, “sync” meetings, brainstorming sessions, and so on. Most of these meetings are also precursors to decision meetings, so it helps to understand the context of how we make decisions:
- We face a fork in the road
- We analyze our options
- We make a choice
- We live the consequences of our choice
The reason most decision-making meetings last very long is because in each meeting, we go through all of these steps (in or out of order) for multiple decisions with too many people. A lot of times, you could simplify this process by separating these concerns: steps 1 and 2 are information-oriented and steps 3 and 4 are decision oriented. Ideally, you want more people to be aligned with the information and fewer people involved in the actual decision making. This means you could set up a knowledge-sharing meeting (or even better, just write it down and have a meeting where people read through the narrative). And then when you've made sure every one is on the same page, have a much shorter decision-taking meeting, and with fewer people.