How to Radically Increase Personal Productivity

By Ron Pereira Updated on May 17th, 2017

Think back to the last meeting you attended. How many people were there? How long was the meeting?

Let’s assume – for sake of example – that there were 8 people in your meeting. Let’s also assume the meeting lasted 1 hour. This means that your meeting lasted 8 hours.

Huh? Yep. This meeting lasted 8 hours. You see, you took 8 people away from their job for an hour… meaning 8 hours of potential personal productivity was lost during this 1 hour meeting.

Most people don’t think of it this way. They should.

You see, I’m convinced that organizations around the world could radically improve personal productivity by simply slashing down the number, and duration, of their meetings.

Think of it as applying the principles of Quick Changeover or SMED to the way meetings are run.

Can we be more prepared? Can we stand during the meeting instead of getting all comfy in those soft leather chairs? Can we completely eliminate non value added meetings called by the boss who justifies his or her existence by holding 4 hour staff meetings each week?

What’s radical productivity improvement you ask? I feel very comfortable saying a 25% improvement in personal productivity is possible right off the top. Maybe more.

Do you agree?

  1. Jon Miller

    June 9, 2010 - 2:55 pm

    Hi Ron

    What ways have you found to be effective in set-up reduction for meetings, quick changeover from meeting to meeting, or SMET – Single Minute Exchange of Topics?

  2. Ron Pereira

    June 9, 2010 - 3:03 pm

    Hi Jon,

    Simple things like make sure things are ready before people arrive… projector is setup, etc. If people arrive and you are still trying to figure out how to get your computer to talk to the projector you’re off to a bad start!

    So really things like setting up the projector are external tasks that should never be done once the “machine is running” meaning the meeting has started.

    Also, by sending out a detailed agenda ahead of time people can be prepared with answers to questions they know they’ll be asked instead of them scrambling for answers during the meeting.

    And the whole “stand up” meeting approach will do wonders for meeting productivity.

    And at the end of the meeting it’s important to prepare the room for the next group… erase boards, clean things up, etc.

  3. Michael Lombard

    June 10, 2010 - 7:40 am

    Thanks for the good ideas. Meetings are a huge part of my new job, and finding ways to make them more productive will be big for us.

    The “stand up” idea goes along with the meeting rules that David Mann lists in “Creating a Lean Culture.” One additional technique from that book that could be useful is the use of visual controls to direct the flow of the meeting. If we can make it quick and easy to see abnormalities in the discussions (conversations going off-topic), we have a better chance at self-correcting (getting back on-topic).

    Or, if an off-topic conversation thread is deemed valuable enough to discuss at the current meeting, the visual control can be amended to include a new branch (the same way we would amend standardized work sheets in response to kaizen).

    Without a visual control there in front of everybody to define what is on-topic and off-topic, the discussion can go out-of-control.

    Also, this visual control should not be just an agenda, because a change made to one will not revise them all. We want everybody looking at the same thing, so a central whiteboard or something like that should be used. If it’s a virtual meeting, then a screenshare should be utilized (WebEx, etc.).

    Does this make sense?

    • Sean

      January 17, 2011 - 1:58 pm

      Mike, I like your idea of a visual control to keep meeting on task and efficient.

      Do you have an example of one you’ve used before? I’m having a hard time visualising one.

  4. Wilson

    June 10, 2010 - 9:53 am


    What you express is very interesting, since I heard from Javier Palom Izquierdo at the early ’80

    From my point of view, it is very important define first which kind of meeting are you going to hold.

    First meeting in the morning in a manufacturing site with three shift +2000 people, it turns necessary have a short one no more than 15 min with all the departments involved and chairs with the plant mgr ( purchasing, quality, manufacturing with all the satges, sales, HR, Finance, Maintenance). That kind of meeting is just informative. Everybody express what goes wrong or good, people involved takes note to what should be done and when the expectation are succeed in terms of daily productivity correspond a reward, like a dinner. etc.

    The monthly result/review meeting hold with staff is that where you need a little more time to see where Co. goes and acting acordingly and what should be done, requires more attention. The daytime of the meeting should have be announced, of course and every department should have their presentation ready as well. And have the necessary time to analize and take out conclusions.

    I agree that the focus is carry out the meeting productive and at a minimum cost but most important is finish it with a clear pourpose for the next month with a proper corrective action. It could be dangerous try to hold a meeting in a hurry if the results could be catastrophic, unproductivity people in a meeting not always is a waste of time.

    What do you think?

  5. Robert

    June 10, 2010 - 11:05 am

    So where is the gain in time if you do the settings before or during the meeting? normally the same amount of time will be required on your end.

    Same for going to a meeting being prepared or not – the time spent on preparation woud be the same, just the timing changes, so that does not affect productivity overall

    This idea seems valid however for avoiding unnecessary meetings, reducing frequency or length of long regular calls etc.


  6. Ron Pereira

    June 10, 2010 - 11:17 am

    Hi Robert,

    The point of setting up before the meeting is so the whole group is not waiting for the facilitator. This, having to wait for someone to fumble with their computer and such, is pure waste for the other 7 people in the room. So while it’s true the facilitator must take the time… better him or her alone then the other 7 people as well.

    Also, the reason being prepared before the meeting is important is less time will spent overall.

    For example, if I know I am going to be asked to give an update on XYZ I can be sure to know what is going on with XYZ before the meeting.

    Conversely, if I show up to the meeting… get blindly asked about XYZ and am not 100% sure what the status is… well, we’ll likely sit and talk about it for 10 minutes attempting to figure it out. Then I will go away and find the truth… then we’ll come back to ANOTHER meeting for my official update. Pure waste.

    But I do agree with your last point… the key is to cut out unnecessary meetings and radically shorten the meetings we must have.

    Thanks for the comment.

  7. Mark R Hamel

    June 10, 2010 - 12:06 pm

    Hi Ron,

    I think your 25% productivity bogey is relatively conservative. If I could just have 10% of my wasted meeting time over the years…

    One meeting time-waster is the circular discussion in which participants talk about a particular issue or problem ad nauseum (often without the benefit of data), but do not move towards any sort of closure.

    When an problem/issue is identified, we need to quickly articulate what the problem is and whether it is substantive enough to spend any time on it or if it is even within the scope of the meeting. If it’s out of scope, we’ve got to move on (and perhaps record it on a parking lot list). If it’s not substantive, we’ve got to drop it right there and then. If it’s something worth pursuing, we need to determine the root cause and corrective action. However, often determining the root cause can take a long time, requires some time at the gemba and a level of analysis. If so, then an action item (who, what, when) should be identified to do just that…after the meeting.

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