Perhaps one of the most pervasive threats to our every day productivity, meetings can suck away mornings, afternoons, and even entire days. Here are some tried-and-true tips for keeping meetings on track and productive.

Limit the number of attendees

It’s a natural law of the workplace – the more voices in a room, the longer it will take to come to a decision. You may think you’re inviting all of the stakeholders in a specific project to be a part of the conversation, but being invited means you’re expected to contribute, and every participant will feel compelled to add their two cents even when it’s not helpful.

Make sure everyone who is invited is critical to making a final decision. Avoid inviting people simply because they have general knowledge of the topic or because they’ve been part of the project from the start. These people can always be called or dialed in during the course of the meeting if necessary. Instead, only include the team members who are crucial to moving toward the next step.

2. Try standing (or even walking) meetings

For smaller groups, standing meetings can help your team get focused and come to a conclusion fast. Standing implies a certain sense of urgency, and you’ll never have to set a timer or reel in the small talk – no one wants to stand and strategize for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time, so your team will get right to the point and be more open to agreeing on group decisions. Added bonus: with a higher cost to each passing minute, people will think twice before being “that guy” who derails the conversation with an unnecessary question or issue that can easily be resolved with an email.

If there are only two or three of you, a walking meeting might be ideal. Conduct your meeting while heading to the coffee shop across the street or just around the office floor. Walking helps you keep pace and stay on topic.

3. Send 2 to 3 meeting objectives to the team ahead of time

Objectives and agendas are two different things, and confusing them can be the difference between a productive meeting and an extended conversation that leads nowhere. Figure out what your top 2 to 3 objectives are, and make sure the entire team knows them ahead of time.

Objectives lead to decisions, whereas agenda items tend to lead to open discussions. “Decide on a final project timeline” is an objective whereas “Review timeline options” is an agenda item. See the difference? Minor semantics, but with a big impact.

4. Review outcomes, email action items

Much like pre-meeting objectives, post-meeting review and action items are critical to productive meetings. Basically, they keep the entire team’s focus looking forward rather than getting stuck in a single stage. At the end of each meeting, spend a couple minutes stating the outcomes of the discussion. What was agreed upon? What is the next stage of development? What are our new objectives for the next two weeks?

Then follow up with an emailed list of action items, making sure each one is assigned to a specific person. It creates accountability and a sense of trust in the process. Everyone clearly knows what they’re supposed to be doing next. (Hint: Pay attention the next time Cal’s HeadsUp pops up on your screen – there’s a nifty feature for email follow-ups right in the app).

5. Ban latecomers

It’ll seem harsh the first time you turn away a latecomer from a meeting, but it will send a clear signal. Warn employees and co-workers that your meeting will start exactly at the scheduled time, and latecomers won’t be allowed in. Being 5 or 10 minutes late might be standard practice given the culture of your company, but it is detrimental to everyone. Respecting start times makes everyone understand that meetings are a sacred time for being productive as a group.

If that seems too harsh, then impose a silly ‘punishment’ on offenders. Make latecomers contribute $10 to a party fund for every infraction, or force them to stand for the duration of the meeting (provided you haven’t followed tip #2).

6. Make phones and laptops taboo

Yes – for everyone – especially leaders. Nothing is more disruptive to the spirit of a meeting than when the manager picks up his phone to check emails or send a text. The message is clear: “This meeting is less important than what is on my phone right now.”

And just like yawning or pen clicking, checking electronic devices is a contagious condition. Once one person does it, everyone else follows suit. Ban all electronic devices from your meetings for a more meaningful discussion.

Go forth and be productive! Team