When's the perfect time for a meeting?

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By James Glynn

Ever wonder why you don't have everyone's undivided attention in a meeting? It's all down to timing.

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[Image credit: iStock/g-stockstudio]

Workplace meetings are like comedy, as their success or failure both depend on the same crucial factor - timing.

You could be telling the most witty and original joke imaginable, but if it's awkwardly delivered, you won't even raise a smile.

Similarly, a company presentation or brainstorming session will get an equally muted response from attendees if it's been scheduled for a bad time.

But what exactly do I mean by "bad time"? Surely, as long as everyone is free and the meeting is during working hours, there's not a problem, right?

Wrong!

There are countless reasons why employees won't be receptive to information or bursting with creativity at certain times of the day. Even with the best will in the world, people won't be at 100 per cent productivity 24/7. 

This isn't a complaint or a criticism. It's a simple biological fact, so why are you ignoring all this when you're scheduling meetings? 

Surely it's more logical to book presentations or creative sessions for those times when people are most likely to be alert, engaged, focused and enthusiastic. Otherwise, isn't it just a waste of time?

Okay, then, I hear you ask, when should we be pencilling in meetings? Well, here a few suggestions for times you should definitely avoid.

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[Image credit: iStock/AndreyPopv]

Early mornings

Not everybody is a morning person and it takes a little time for their motor to warm up. You therefore won't get much out of them if you book a meeting for 9am, or much into them either, as they probably won't remember a word that others have said afterwards. 

On top of that, if a person has to prepare for an early meeting, when do you expect them to do it? Should they turn up ridiculously early or prepare 24 hours in advance? Neither option seems ideal.

Late afternoon

The clock strikes four and people's thoughts will soon turn to getting home. They've had a long and busy day and they're dying for their tea. How on earth, then, can you hope to muster any enthusiasm for a presentation, or fresh and innovative ideas in a brainstorming session? All people will be doing is looking at their watch and hoping the meeting doesn't overrun and make them miss their bus home. 

Add to that the fact that as soon as they step out of the door, not everybody will carry on thinking about work. Therefore, they won't be applying what they've learnt in the meeting straight away and will have plenty of time to forget everything they've just heard.

Lunchtimes

Struggling to find a time when everybody is free? You might try to get round this by booking meetings at lunchtime, but are you going to get the best out of everybody if all they're thinking about is how hungry they are?

Laying on food during a lunchtime meeting doesn't solve anything, as you're still depriving staff of a well-earned break and the chance to get some fresh air and exercise. How can this possibly be any good for their productivity, morale and health?

Furthermore, the law states that people are entitled to a proper break after four hours of continuous work. And I've not even mentioned how disgusting it is to have a meeting room full of people trying to talk and eat at the same time.

A poll by BBC Breakfast found that 54 per cent of office employees regularly work through their lunch breaks, largely because of the workplace culture at their firm. Booking meetings at lunchtimes contributes to this problem and can easily stop employees performing at their best for the rest of the day.

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[Image credit: iStock/IPGGutenberUKLtd]

Straight after lunch

The natural circadian rhythms of the human body can lead to people feeling drowsy and struggling to concentrate in the early afternoon, and food can add to that sluggish feeling. While this doesn't happen to everybody, it's still perfectly normal for people to experience a post-lunch slump. Common sense would therefore suggest that this probably isn't the best time to call people in for a brainstorming session or expect them to remember everything you want to say in a presentation.

Mondays and Fridays

People often arrive at work on Monday still buzzing about what they did at the weekend, while on Friday they're probably looking forward to more fun, excitement and relaxation over the next 48 hours.

That's two days of the week when employees are preoccupied with thoughts of the weekend, rather than bursting with innovative and fresh ideas that would help your business.

Participation can be another problem on Mondays and Fridays, as anyone using their annual leave to enjoy a long weekend is going to book these days off. So if a meeting is that important, why are you scheduling it for when lots of people won't be around and those who are there aren't paying attention?

As efficiency consultant Andrew Jensen notes, Mondays and Fridays are "typically the least effective days to hold an important meeting". I concur.

When then?

So we've covered some pretty large swathes of the working week - and you might wonder if I'm questioning the value of having meetings at all.

Well, I'm not. All I'm saying is that meetings can be a waste of time and energy if the people in attendance aren't listening, concentrating or participating.

I've always thought the middle of Tuesday afternoon is the perfect time for a meeting. You're over the weekend, Friday is too far in the distance to be on your mind, you've picked up from the post-lunch slump and you're probably not looking forward to doing anything that special in the evening. 

So imagine my delight when I read a study by online scheduling service When Is Good concluding exactly the same thing and suggesting 3pm on a Tuesday as the best time for a meeting.

I don't believe there's much point in scheduling meetings just for the sake of it and strongly feel that timing it right is critical if it's to deliver any substantial and meaningful results. 

A good meeting will have a clear purpose behind it and a set of positive outcomes that you want to achieve. 

Your chances of reaching these targets will improve immeasurably if you schedule meetings for those times when people are actually willing and able to perform at their best.

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