“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” This adage was first
written by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in a 1955 essay, so it has come to be known as Parkinson’s Law. It’s a relatively simple concept – that work will take as long as you allow it to take
– but one that is profound when you consider how true it is. And I don’t think that there is any activity where Parkinson’s Law is more evident than business meetings.
We all know the grind of having a calendar full of meetings. There are so many important things on our to do lists – coaching our reps, responding to customer needs, putting together plans to grow our sales, etc. – that the last thing many of us want to do is sit through yet another hour long meeting. Typically, that’s not because the information shared or things discussed in business meeting are unimportant. On the contrary, the content shared is typically very relevant to us and our work. No, what frustrates us and makes us dread the meeting is that we also know that much of the time will be wasted on unnecessary discussions, debates and redundant information. Meetings per se are not bad, but how they are conducted often is.
One of the easiest and best ways to remedy the wasted time in meetings is simply to shorten them. As a general rule, you can accomplish all the relevant and critical topics in a meeting in half the time. It sounds crazy, but that's how much time we often waste. If you don’t believe it, test it out. Next time you’re in a meeting, keep track of how much time you spend in productive discussions about the key topic, rather than engaging in personal chitchat, being sidetracked on new topics, having redundant debates or sharing information that has been shared. You are likely to find that Parkinson’s Law definitely applies.
So try an experiment. Start scheduling your recurring one-to-one or team meetings for about
half the amount of time you would normally schedule them. You will definitely need a clear agenda and a focused attitude to make this work. You won't be able to get sidetracked and still accomplish everything on your agenda. You will have to be disciplined in what you and others talk about, and pull the discussion back into focus when necessary. But if you can plan well and stick to the agenda, you are likely to find that you can accomplish the same amount of productive discussion in half the time.