Dear Meeting Guru,

Is it always necessary to establish a time limit on meetings? If so, what's the ideal time to set?


Blessed Meeter,

For everyday, information-sharing meetings, a time limit should be set. Setting a time guideline signals to participants that the meeting is "on a schedule". Having a set schedule can dissuade particular behaviors such as getting off-topic or commenting when it's not absolutely necessary. This does not, however, mean that if an important issue arises but your time's up that the meeting must adjourn and be rescheduled for another day. On the contrary, it's probably better to address it then rather than later.

For "special" meetings, it's not always necessary to set time limits. When the issue to be discussed is extremely important, it's natural that time becomes secondary in importance. In fact, the tick-tock of the clock in certain situations is actually counter-productive. For example, when resolving problems, meeting participants don't want to be disrupted by the clock. Instead, end the meeting the moment the objectives are achieved or when progress toward meeting them ceases.

Another example is a brainstorming session. If your group has a momentum going, the meeting shouldn't be adjourned simply because the time's up. If it comes to a point in the session where brains are fuzzy and few ideas are being generated, that's your signal that the meeting should be over.

Basically, there isn't an ideal amount of time to allocate to all meetings. In fact, most meetings must be considered on a case-by-case basis. When planning a meeting, evaluate the amount of information that must be addressed. Then consider the degree to which each agenda item must be discussed. Only then will you be able to allocate an appropriate quantity of time for that particular meeting. Remember, be realistic! Don't try and squeeze too many agenda items into your shorter meetings. You'll end up going overtime and participants will become frustrated.

Also, when planning how long your meeting will last, don't forget to include breaks. If your meeting lasts longer than an hour, take 15-minute breaks every hour.

Time can certainly be a difficult and complex issue. At first glance, it may seem simple. But take a closer look and one realizes how complicated it can be. I hope this information will help the next time you must plan a meeting.

Thank you for sharing your meeting dilemma. Asking questions requires both humility and curiosity. With these two characteristics, you'll discover solutions to many of life's problems. As the wise philosopher Confucius once said, "To know what we know, and know what we don't know, that is understanding." In other words, we must realize what we don't know, ask questions and then share this newfound knowledge with others. Asking questions is how we can all gain a better understand the world.

Until next time… may good meeting karma always be with you.



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