This is why meetings wreck productivity

Meetings are time killers and are often used in large companies by managers to make themselves look busy. In big companies, communicating that work is being done is often more important than actually doing any real work.

This should have been an email

First, most meetings are completely unnecessary, and many could be replaced with an email. I’ve worked in several Fortune 500 companies and at least half of the work hours were consumed by an endless parade of meetings rather than actually getting work done. While working for a large bank, I had over 36 hours of meetings scheduled in a single week. ( I was actually booked for 44 hours, but was double or triple booked for a few).

To make things worse, most meetings are scheduled for an hour by default, even if the agenda (if there even is one) could be handled in 20 minutes. This encourages a lot of time wasters during the meeting and removes any sense of urgency to move things along.

You could be doing something else

Then there is the opportunity cost of the meeting itself. If you are in a meeting for an hour, that means you aren’t doing something more productive — like actual work. Most people have become pretty good at multitasking during meetings and keeping up on email, but that means they are only half paying attention, so what’s the point?


But the ultimate productivity killer is the constant start/stop in during the day that keeps you from any deep work. Imagine for a moment that you have 4 one-hour meetings scheduled in a day, and 4 hours of actual work to accomplish. However the meetings aren’t scheduled in a single back to back 4 hour block, but are scheduled every other hour: 9am, 11am, 2pm, and 4pm all in different areas of the building. Every other hour you’ll need 10 minutes to get to and from each meeting, including packing up your laptop, grabbing your phone, maybe stopping at the bathroom or refilling coffee. Then when you get back to your desk it takes you a few minutes to get refocused, launch your applications and dig into your work – which you can do for about 30 minutes until you have to leave for another meeting.

The best case in this scenario is that you will have four 30 minute blocks of time to get any real work done, which is exactly what happens at most large organizations — most everyone in a large meeting plagued organization only gets 2-3 hours of actual work accomplished in a day.

Anyone who actually wants to get work done has to show up at the office early to get an uninterrupted jump on the day and stay later to finish any work before they leave. That leads to 60 hour work weeks, which has been shown in itself to destroy productivity. It’s a vicious cycle that sucks productivity out of an organization and energy out of its people.

Bernie Klinder is a serial entrepreneur, investor and consultant. This article first appeared at Quora.