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Plug The Productivity Drain: How To Stop Agenda-Less Meetings

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

Agenda-less meetings are often poorly organized, lack preparation, and are ultimately unproductive.

As an individual contributor, you might feel the pain of these aimless meetings more than managers, who likely have more say on which meetings they attend. Managers, check out my last post to help boost your team’s productivity with a meeting agenda.

If your productivity is getting decimated due to endless chains of back-to-back meetings that come with painful context-switching, know there are ways to fight back against meeting bloat.

In this post, I’ll discuss a few strategies that meeting participants can use to ask the right questions and prepare for meetings effectively. I’ll also explain how to engage during the meeting and capture the key takeaways so you never miss a next step or action item.

Why Should You Demand a Meeting Agenda?

In the first place, it may not be immediately clear why so many meetings feel like unproductive timewasters. If you find that your meeting invites often come without an agenda, this may be the main culprit.

  • Attendees Prepare in Advance – You will be better informed and can prepare to contribute when the organizer outlines the topics in advance. This directly contributes to better organization and constructive engagement.

  • Manage Meeting Flow and Time – The meeting organizer should communicate time blocks for each topic on the agenda. This ensures the meeting flow prioritizes the important topics.

  • Clarify Next Steps – Tasks that need to get done should be identified in advance. Adding the next steps to the agenda allows you to finish the meeting ready to discuss the next steps to reach the goals originally shared in the agenda.

What To Do About Agenda-Less Meeting Invites?

As an invitee who’s neither presenting nor making decisions in a meeting, you may feel trapped by your schedule and not be at liberty to decline invitations. Even worse, not knowing how to discuss this productivity drain with your manager can create a problematic cycle that contributes to burnout and a loss of enthusiasm.

We've all suffered from this at some time in our careers. Rest assured, you are not powerless. Below I've listed three ways to help you deal with agenda-less invites.

1. Ask for a Meeting Agenda

You may not be able to decline the meeting, but you can be the first to raise your hand and request an agenda from the meeting's organizer. Be deferential and inquisitive, something like, "Hi, I was wondering if there is an agenda for this meeting that I might view in advance?" This message reads as a gentle reminder but sets the expectation that an agenda should, in theory, exist somewhere.

2. Discuss Unproductive Meetings With Your Manager

If gentle reminders aren’t getting the job done, it may be time for a frank conversation with your manager. There is no reason this needs to be contentious; you can think of it as simply asking your manager to help you do a better job for them.

Emphasize that your primary concern is your ability to be a productive employee and that you’re interested in sharing your perspective on what you view as a problem. Approach the situation without prior judgment, show your manager an earnest desire to remedy a bad situation, and they’ll see your sincerity. This kind of honesty is crucial for respect and team building.

3. Use the Agenda When It Comes

Most importantly, when you receive an agenda, make full use of it. Understand it in advance and use it as a guide to prepare and for knowing what content and discussion topics you’ll need to engage with in the meeting.


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How To Be a Better Teammate: Maximize Your Meeting Presence

Ultimately, even an agenda-less meeting can turn productive if the right attendees show up having done their homework and help each other stay on task. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your meetings whether they come with an agenda or not.

1. Decide if You Need To Attend the Meeting

Decide whether your presence is required at the meeting. Ask yourself these two questions:

  • Will I have anything to contribute?

  • Will I have anything to gain (that I can’t get via meeting notes or recording)?

If the answer to both is no, and you have the choice to opt out, do it.

2. Always Prepare in Advance

Use any materials shared in advance to prepare for the meeting discussion and gather any information you think might be valuable. Check for any pre-reads or pre-work and collect your thoughts on the important topics so you’re ready to engage.

3. Nudge the Conversation Back on Track

Try to use gentle reminders during the meeting to keep the conversation on track if you feel it’s going off the rails. A well-timed question or comment can keep the discussion on topic and headed toward reaching your goals.

4. Take Notes

Notetakers are more organized and better at recalling important information weeks after being exposed to it for the first time.

Quality notes can also be an invaluable resource for teammates who weren’t able or didn’t need to attend certain meetings. Perhaps just one member of your team needs to go to the meeting, as long as they take detailed notes for everyone else.

Final Thoughts: Turning Lemons Into Lemonade

Agenda-less or otherwise unorganized, unproductive meetings can be a drain on an entire office. To any individual contributor or other employees out there suffering from meeting bloat, know that you’re not alone, and you do have the power to affect change.

Use your voice and be a valuable contributor when it comes to meetings: ask for an agenda and stick to it when you get one. Good managers always appreciate the effort that goes into making the company, and you, more productive.

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(Not a Google user? Join our waitlist)


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Not a Google user? Join our waitlist!

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