Managing Time in Meetings

By A.T. Gimbel

We’ve all been there before - you are in a meeting that is running long and you have another meeting following it. Do you stop the current meeting? Do you politely excuse yourself in order to make your next meeting? Do you just run long and join your next meeting late? I was reading Brad Feld’s post on the topic last week, and naturally I saw this situation play out for me several times this week. Some people don’t mind being late; I like to be on time. My high school coach taught me if you aren’t 5-10 minutes early then you are late! While I’m not great at this, here are a few tricks I’ve learned over the years to try and help keep your schedule on track. Longer board meetings/conferences need more specific agendas and time buffers, so I’ll focus this discussion on the more common 30-60 minutes meetings that happen every day.

Confirm Agenda/Time in Advance if in Doubt

There are times where you get an invite for a 60 minute meeting that should take 20 minutes or a 30 minute meeting invite for something you know will take several hours. One trick is when you get that initial invite, if there is doubt, confirm the meeting objectives and agree on the appropriate time. You can also clarify that you truly only have that agreed upon time as you have a meeting immediately following the one to schedule. This allows the person scheduling the meeting to already be aware of your next meeting and prepare accordingly.

Start Meeting With Clear time and Objectives

Even if you confirm in advance, I am still a big fan of starting every meeting by clarifying the objectives and time available for the meeting. First, it confirms what you need to accomplish (a decision, just info sharing, etc.) So many meetings are wasted because everyone is not aligned on what needs to be accomplished. Second, regardless of what prep you do, people will forget your schedule. If you align with everyone at the start of the meeting, it gives another opportunity to confirm if all parties have a hard stop or if it’s okay to run long. If you are running the meeting you have more control to end it on time, but if you are not this gives you an opportunity to remind them at the beginning that you have a hard stop at the end of the meeting time.

Do a 5-10 Minute Reminder Before End Time

Even with prep and a reminder at the beginning of the meeting, many meeting leaders will still forget/not care. If necessary, I also like to give a 5-10 minute warning towards the end of the meeting and tie it back to the objectives. It not only gives another reminder that you have a hard stop, but also gives you a chance to reorient back to the meetings objectives in case they have not been met. This can also make it appear less rude when you do have to leave the meeting at the top of the hour to get to your next meeting.

This can still be hard in practice, but it can prevent those days where your calendar is full of back-to-back meetings and you feel like the first one runs long and the the rest of your day is off. Obviously each situation is different. Some meetings you lead and others you do not. Sometimes you have extra time to go long and others you do not. Sometimes the discussion is so critical you are willing to be late/skip the next meeting. But if time is one of our most valuable assets, the more you can do to maintain time is a plus for everyone!