This afternoon, as I was walking back to my office after seeing patients in the clinic, I was overtaken by the fast walking President of our faculty practice group (the professional practice organization for all the departments at our hospital). I know him well as we sit on several of the same committees. He was hurrying to the University for a meeting. I commiserated a bit on the endless number of meetings he (and to a lesser extent I) have and then asked him when he can reflect on what is happening and the plan. He reported that he sets aside time on Fridays. I wonder if this is the best approach. As my own schedule is packed with one to two hour meetings, often before or after usual work hours, I have become somewhat sensitive to the time commitment. While some scheduled meetings actually require that much time, rarely is that the case. During the later stages of long meetings, I keep thinking of the opportunity cost to being there.
My favorite scheduled meeting is with a team based in Chicago. We schedule the meeting 3-5 days ahead of time, agree on an agenda, and only allot 15 minutes to make the decisions. It turns out that others have rebelled against meeting bloat and now schedule ultrashort meetings lasting only five minutes or so. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, executives from a variety of industries schedule five-minute meetings for relatively minor decisions. The meetings start on time, words have to be chosen carefully, PowerPoint presentations are banned, and conciseness is essential. Of course, five-minute meetings are not for everyone and every topic. The price paid for the efficiency of ultrashort meetings is the loss of relationship building. So, while I do not see five minute meetings anytime soon in my future, I hope that we can find a better balance and schedule a full hour only when we really need that much time.