Many people are on autopilot when it comes to organizing their calendars and scheduling meetings.
They click on the grid in their calendar to create an event or propose a meeting time, and it automatically defaults to an hour-long block.
If they need to edit its duration, the next suggested meeting length is usually 30 minutes (the recommended event duration, according to Google).
Google is a smart company. These two options are presented as the ideal length of meetings partly (we assume) because they’re the ones most selected by users and partly (again, we assume) because they’re easy to stack on top of one another when scheduling your workweek.
With the average person’s workday being eight hours long, they have eight to 16 blocks of time to work with (give or take) when organizing each day.
But what if the ideal length for team meetings (or any meeting, really) wasn’t an hour or even 30 minutes long?
The Ideal Meeting Length is Shorter Than You Think
Five minutes shorter, to be exact.
In her book The 25 Minute Meeting: Half the Time, Double the Impact, productivity expert Donna McGeorge argues that the ideal meeting length isn’t 30 minutes but—yep, you guessed it—25 minutes.
Her reasoning behind the suggested meeting length was inspired by a popular productivity hack that first gained ground in the tech community.
Organizing Time with Tomatoes
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method created by Italian consultant Francesco Cirillo when he was a university student in the late-1980s.
To help him focus on his school work, Cirillo would set a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to 25 minutes, rewarding himself with a five-minute break at the end before starting the process over again (and taking a much longer break later on).
Since then, the productivity hack has grown in popularity, especially among programmers and productivity nerds.
So, What Does This Have to Do with Meeting Lengths?
According to Fast Company, McGeorge’s reasoning for readjusting the average meeting length is supported by Parkinson’s Law and the Ringelman Effect, which state that “work expands to fill the time allotted” and individual productivity decreases “as the size of the group increases,” respectively.
Basically, the longer the meeting and the more team members added to it, the less productive everyone will be.
To make the most of your time together, McGeorge says all effective meetings require “the three Ps”: purpose, people, and process.
“Clarity plus scarcity makes for urgency,” says McGeorge. “If we’re clear about what we want to do, we know what our purpose is, and we’re scarce around the amount of time—25 minutes—we create a sense of urgency for getting things done.”
These are topics we coincidentally tackled in-depth in our recent guide to running a team meeting over Zoom.
But, like any rule, there are exceptions.
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Types of Meetings and Suggested Lengths, According to Microsoft and Slack
Although having 25-30 minute meetings could be more efficient, Paul Axtell—a consultant speaking with Microsoft Workplace Insights—argues that it can be limiting, depending on what’s being discussed in your meeting.
“If the purpose of your meeting is to talk through something, you need to give people enough time to voice their opinions, build on one another’s ideas, and reach a conclusion,” he says.
Slack, for instance, suggests allotting these amounts of time for each type of meeting:
15 to 30 minutes = team meeting
30 to 60 minutes = one-on-one meeting
40 to 60 minutes = brainstorming meeting
60 to 90 minutes = strategy meeting
Click here to see the full list of team meeting types and lengths.
Food For Thought
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to making meetings more efficient (although having fewer people attend them seems to help).
So, to maximize your time together, it pays to focus on the three P’s listed above—here’s our interpretation of them:
Purpose: The goal of your meeting generally indicates who needs to attend and how long it should be, so don’t send out any invites until you know what you want to discuss.
People: Reduce the number of people invited to a meeting. Only make a few guests mandatory, and connect with colleagues ahead of time to see if they want to attend—maybe a quick chat over asynchronous communication like email or Slack could suffice.
Process: Use a meeting agenda to keep the meeting on track, so you don’t go over time. Research shows that 15 minutes max is usually enough for each item in an agenda, helping you save valuable time.
And, when in doubt, don’t forget to use your timer—whatever shape it is.
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