Most people’s diaries at work continue to be ‘time poor’ yet ‘meeting rich’. The tool that continues to be most frequently used in meetings is, well, talking. So one of the biggest opportunities we have for gaining ourselves more time is to become more efficient in our use of this tool called talking during meetings. Talking freely can sometimes be useful. For example, at a time like this: ‘Tell me where you put the bomb, Joe’. At times like this, you really do need Joe to feel OK to bare all.

But when what is said is not moving the purpose of the meeting forward, it is simply stealing your time.

Here is a typical extract from the kind of discussion we witness in organisational settings. It is based on a real example but the names and specifics have been changed.

The remit of this group of middle managers was to undertake a project to identify the causes of reportedly high levels of stress across the company. Ironically, the managers had already told us that the main issue, they believed, was lack of time and having so much to do. In fact, how they were going to manage this project with everything else they had on their plates was the purpose of the first item on the agenda of the meeting.

It went something like this:

Dan: ‘So how are we going to allocate resource to each part of the project?

Simon: ‘Can’t we just have a big plan in the open area and we’ll all move something forward on it when we have the space in our diaries?’

Annette: ‘That’s how Jane Webster set up the ‘ Showtime’ project and that descended into chaos’.

Mandy: ‘That was typical of how she manages though rather than the process. She is so disorganised’.

Simon: ‘Is she? That surprises me. She worked at the next desk to me and always seemed ‘together’ when we worked in the other building’.

Dan: ‘Yeh, but the other building lent itself towards everyone being organised. I loved that building. Did you ever get to use one of the new-fangled desks?

Annette: ‘I didn’t get to work in that building in the end but I have always heard good things about it.’

Marina: ‘I worked with Jane Webster and trust me, she is a nightmare to work for whatever building you’re in. She never stopped harping on about when she was at Quanti-Airlines. We used to say to her: ‘It couldn’t have been that great, you left’ and she always reckoned there was just no more for her to do there. You’d think she singlehandedly kept the company running and personally piloted the planes’

Simon: ‘I used to work for them. They were OK. They had a great reward structure but promotion was hard to come by – lots of ‘dead men’s shoes. I was there when the CEO….

Dan: ‘I do like Quanti-Co Airlines. I choose them for holidays whenever I can.

Mandy: ‘Me too. I go on holiday with them every year.’


……and so it went on….and on…..and on…


There are three particular time stealers being lobbed into the conversation here and, in our experience, they are common.

  1. Discussing opinions and spurious data
  2. Post-morteming yesterday
  3. Asking questions about issues unrelated to the meeting’s purpose


  1. Discussing opinion and spurious data

Whether as individuals we like something or someone or not is infrequently germane to the task in hand. Yet it seems we cannot resist letting our colleagues know. Chances are, it’s irrelevant and they don’t care. Save it for Facebook.

  1. Post-morteming’ yesterday

Unless being done in a systematic way as part of a ‘Lessons Learned’ review, dissecting what happened yesterday is a pointless exercise.

Recounting events that took place in 1842 may be fascinating and undoubtedly more interesting than your meeting but that is not the purpose of the meeting.

If you find yourself tempted to wheel out a ‘I can remember when’ story, my advice is to save it until you are propping up the bar with the last of your colleagues to go to bed. Stories about your past experiences – especially when they were in other companies – are unlikely to take the team further forward.

  1. Asking questions about issues unrelated to the meeting’s purpose.

Curiosity is the lifeblood of continuous improvement. But asking lots of questions about matters and people unrelated to the topic in hand sucks the lifeblood out of your colleagues. Worse still if you’re the one who answers the irrelevant questions!

So our key tip for getting some time back in your diary is to be on the look out for these three distractors popping up in your meetings and agreeing with your colleagues at the outset to save them for the coffee breaks.