Most meetings over-run. Why is that? Two reasons spring to mind. Firstly, they’re not properly managed. Secondly, we always try and pack way too much into them.

It’s not just meetings, it’s the same with presentations, anything involving an agenda, business or travel itinerary. We get too ambitious, want to cover too much and we don’t allow enough time for each item. As I’m fond of saying, we’re trying to stuff 10 pounds of dung into a 5 pound bag, with ugly and unsatisfying results.

Sometimes we deal with an item more quickly than we thought we would, but more often than not we take longer than we planned. It’s human nature, we’re social beings. With a modest amount of experience you can see straight away if an agenda is going to over-run, it’s not rocket science. I like to allow more time than I think I need for a meeting, because then I aim to finish early and give people some of their day back, rather than the other way with most meetings. It’s the temporal equivalent of under-promising and over-delivering. Then you start to garner a reputation as someone who can properly manage meetings. “I’ll go to his meeting, I’ll get something out of it and I won’t be chasing my tail for the rest of the day.”

It’s all about finding the right productivity balance between an agenda that’s too long, and one that’s too short, which then becomes prey to Parkinson’s Law. In my view though, it’s better to have a meeting with a light agenda where you get some useful discussion and some firm decisions, over a heavy agenda where you end up having to park everything and the time invested is wasted.

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