In a nutshell: Ask yourself four simple questions before scheduling that meeting. Trust us — you and the other participants will be happier.

Long meetings can be torturous. It’s right up there with waiting at the DMV or getting teeth pulled. You have to do it, but it’s far from fun. In addition to meetings dragging out longer than they should, attendees often aren’t prepared, and people are present who don’t need to be.

There’s good reason you dread long meetings. According to Forbes’ “10 Reasons Why Your Brain Hates Long Business Meetings,” you’ve been programmed to learn most of what will be discussed will never actually materialize. It can also be overwhelming to sit through hours of meetings, conjuring up that feeling of being a kid waiting for recess.

So, before you schedule your next meeting, ask yourself these questions:

Is the Meeting Necessary?

Meetings aren’t the only means for getting things done. There are plenty of other suitable solutions for collaboration like email, to-do lists, suggestion boxes, conference calls, online collaboration tools, project management tools, virtual whiteboards and chat forums. Michael Gelb, author of “How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day,” writes “Although your boss may not accept the idea that ‘the greatest geniuses sometimes accomplish more when they work less,’ the art of incubation is, nevertheless, essential to actualizing your creative potential.” Sometimes requiring people to contribute on the spot is not an ideal solution. Think about how you can best accomplish what you’re after.

Who Needs to Be Invited?

According to Business Insider’s “3 Ways Steve Jobs Made Meetings Insanely Productive – and Often Terrifying,” recounts how Jobs once stopped a meeting cold to politely kick someone out. His first belief was that meetings needed to be kept small to be effective. He also once declined to attend a meeting of tech moguls called by President Obama because too many people were invited.

Before inviting the whole department, consider the key decision-makers for the issues involved. Typically, a representative who has the biggest stake in the decision or will have to implement any changes is ideal to include. You can assign these individuals with disseminating information as necessary and involving their own army should they need additional support for what they will be responsible for.

Is There a Detailed Agenda?

A classic meeting fail is sitting down at the conference table only knowing the title of the meeting is “marketing budget” – and nothing else. “Marketing budget” could mean a million things. This not only leads to unprepared attendees, but it typically necessitates another meeting. An agenda should be sent out prior to the meeting (not presented at the start of the meeting) so people have time to gather materials in preparation. Also, each agenda item should have a person responsible for it. This is another Jobs tip: an accountability mindset.

Be sure that you have a goal for the meeting. As Stephen Covey advises in the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” “Begin with the end in mind.” Ideally, a decision should be made by the close of the meeting.

How Long Does It Need to Be?

It goes without saying that if you want shorter meetings, schedule shorter meetings. You have the ability to include an end time (and you should so people know what to expect). You don’t have to be an expert in human behavior to see that people become less productive as meetings drag on. Our minds start to wander. And, according to Fast Company’s “9 Science-Backed Methods for More Productive Meetings,” Work expands to the time you schedule for it.” Some ideas for shortening meetings:

  • Set a timer – really. When it dings, it’s over. (I’ve done this. It works. You learn to move through information at lightning speed.)
  • Host a no-chairs, standing-room-only meeting. People get tired – physically – and don’t unnecessarily drone on.
  • Ban laptops and cellphones – because they’re a distraction. Scribble notes old-school style, with pen and paper.

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