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How many hours a week do you spend in meetings? And how many of these hours do you think are productive and the best use of your time?

Many organizations fall into the trap of overscheduling their employees in too many staff meetings that take away from the real work that needs to be done. Often, the knee-jerk reaction to any problem or conundrum is to call an emergency team gathering, without considering possible alternatives.

Staff Meetings Aren’t the Only Solution

1. Use ongoing collaboration tools.

Instead of spending an hour or two a week checking in with your team at various meetings, use online collaboration tools to stay up-to-date as each project progresses. Share information and delegate duties through wikis, task lists, file-sharing websites and other tools that create more transparency. If you know exactly what everyone is working on and what else still needs to be done, you have less need to all staff meetings.

2. Chat via instant message.

Instant messaging (IMing) can actually be a helpful work tool, not a means of procrastination, when used effectively. Get your team to use the same program, such as Google Chat or AOL Instant Messenger, and stay logged in during the work day to answer quick questions or share links or other relevant information (employees can put up an “away” or “do not disturb” message when they need to do uninterrupted work). You may be able to solve a problem in a one-minute IM chat that would take 30 minutes in a group meeting.

3. Discuss over email.

The most frustrating staff meetings are those that cover topics that could have been resolved with a few group emails. If you just need updates on various projects or information that doesn’t require discussion or analysis, skip the meeting and send an email. Gather the information that you need and save everyone time. If you need to check in with employees individually, do so outside of the group context, either through in-person conversations or one-on-one emails.

How do you keep staff meetings from taking up too much of your workday? What alternatives do you use on your team?

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