What does it say about us when we schedule meetings adjacently such that attendees must arrive late and/or leave early? What does it say about the value of those first and/or last 5 to 10 minutes? It could say that those minutes aren’t all that valuable — it’s okay to miss them, after all. It could also mean that the attendance of all those invited to the meeting is not important. If that is the case, why were invitees invited in the first place? If my attending isn’t that valuable, why should I bother attending at all? So what’s the big deal about 5 or 10 minutes? Multiply that 5 to 10 minutes by the number of attendees (use 5 for the purpose of this illustration) and you get 25 to 50 minutes, which aren’t nominal chunks of time. I don’t know about you, but I can get quite a bit done in those timeframes.
Even if we could be on time (or more on time) for adjacent meetings (as in the case where those meetings are in the same room), it wouldn’t be a good idea schedule them without a time buffer. Having no breaks between those two meetings means that we neither have time to at least begin to digest information from the previous one nor to prepare for the next. In school classes begin at the top of the hour and end in 50 minutes, leaving time to get to the next class, use the restroom, etc. Classes that last longer than 50 minutes tend to have a scheduled break. Plays, concerts, and the like have intermissions so that audience members don’t have to miss anything. Why should meetings be any different? Studies consistently show that we can focus for no more than 90 minutes at a time at best. Assuming that all of the meeting (the content from the start to finish) is of value, all attendees should be fully present and attentive the entire time. Limiting the length of the meeting makes this attentive presence possible. Therefore, maximizing the value of a meeting dictates that attendees arrive on time, are prepared (mentally and otherwise), and do not leave until it is over.
My proposal: the default meeting length should be 45 minutes and should always start at the top of the hour, always leaving at least 15 minutes as a buffer. People are more likely to be able to engage and concentrate for a 45-minute timeframe. And a 15-minute buffer gives people time to get to or prepare for what’s next and to wrap up loose ends of the one just completed. Having meetings start at the top of the hour helps with logistics and facilitates scheduling a groups of people. If a meeting requires more time to meet its objectives, consecutive meetings can be scheduled. Attendees can pick up where they left off after a nice 15-minute renewal break. Let’s start respecting and protecting our time and that of others.
For more recommended practices for effective meetings, see my earlier post. Creating and Conducting Purpose-Driven Meetings