Wall Street Journal: Where's The Boss? Trapped in a Meeting

What do chief executives do all day? It really is what it seems: They spend about a third of their work time in meetings…18 hours of a 55-hour workweek in meetings, more than three hours on calls and five hours in business meals, on average…Working alone averaged just six hours weekly…CEOs say they pine for more solo time to think and strategize…(however) CEOs say that meetings are an important part of their job, helping them connect with managers and clients, but can be a waste of time if they aren’t run efficiently.

Here’s the framework of my meeting structure and strategy:*

  1. Have an agenda and circulate it.  (Focus discussion on strategic priorities, road blocks and decisions.  Leave the general updates for email.  If there is no agenda, cancel the meeting.  Don’t waste time.)
  2. Schedule less time for meetings.  (“Meetings expand to fill the time you have.” If your meetings are generally one hour, cut them to 45 min or 30 min.  Keep the discussion and agenda moving.  Schedule separate longer meetings for brainstorming, planning and strategy sessions.)
  3. Don’t Schedule Meetings Back to Back.  (If you normally schedule a 1 hour meeting, schedule it from 10:00am to 10:45am.  This will give you time to jot down your follow-up notes.  It will allow you to catch your breath and de-compress.  And it will allow you to show up on time to the next meeting.)
  4. Start on Time.  (Don’t wait for late comers.  If being late becomes a habit for some, make it clear that this conduct is unprofessional and disrespectful.  Your team will quickly take your queue that you run a tight ship and respect everyone’s time.)
  5. End on Time.  (Again, if you set the routine, everyone knows what to expect.  And they will respect you for respecting their time.)
  6. Send around a follow-up email after the meeting.  (Who owns what by when.  Refer to the follow-ups during next meeting)

*(Now if I could just consistently practice what I preach…)

Sources & Great Posts on How To Run Meetings:


  1. Another great post, David. Dysfunctional meetings is one of my favourite topics. People waste so much time in them. Like you, I advocate “No agenda, no meeting”, and know of people who have saved several days per week for productive work as a result.

    Putting timings on the agenda so people know how long they have for each item also helps focus the mind. Also adding an objective for each item, so they know why it is being discussed.

    I also recommend not allowing Any Other Business. If they couldn’t be bothered to get it onto the agenda, they don’t deserve to hijack the meeting with unannounced (and unprepared) discussions.

    Sometimes discussions are unproductive because they are not introduced or set up properly. In this Blog I give a tool for avoiding this:…-about-and-why/


  2. Hello David,

    Thanks for the post and the resources. I had also written on the same topic a couple of weeks back –
    I liked your points on scheduling, I had not thought about those in my post.


  3. Excellent and practical, David. Thank you!


  4. Good stuff, David. Regarding number 6, I have found it useful to use a spreadsheet — online spreadsheet works best, like Google Docs — that I call an ACE sheet. 6 columns; Task, Accountable, Consulted, Emailed, Due Date, Status. Ideally it is a living document that inventories what the task is, who is accountable for completion, who they need to consult to complete, who needs to be emailed or informed. The other two are obvious. Throw that spreadsheet up on a data projector as you review and run your meetings and there will be no place to hide… 😀


    • Great idea Todd. “Throw spreadsheet up on data projector as you review and run your meetings and THERE WILL BE NO PLACE TO HIDE.” I can readily see this visual. Thanks for sharing.


      • We both know the purpose of a meeting is to escape without any actionable items, right? An ACE sheet is a simple, straightforward way to communicate around what needs to be done and track progress…


  5. Great recommendations. They are all what I call “structural” improvements to meetings … as contrasted to those which are about behavior in meetings (e.g., meeting norms). Putting an effective structure in place is easier and a more reliable way to improve results than changing behavior.

    But, your post only give 6 of these structural ideas and three of these deal with timing. There are many more potential structural changes. For example, has the leader specified how he expects the group to arrive at a decision on some task of the meeting? I write about structural changes to meetings in my blog, Considering Meetings. For example, see


  6. The people where I work follow zero of these rules. Well, occasionally they follow #6, but that’s about it. It drives me crazy.


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