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Why 25 minutes is the optimal time for meetings

When people trim their meetings down to 25 minutes, they’ll see a range of benefits, both personal and professional, says Donna McGeorge. 

Many of us are time-poor, stressed out, overwhelmed and on the verge of “death by meetings”. Our calendars are full of irrelevant or tedious back-to-back catch-ups, and our email is overloaded with messages screaming for attention.

Every time we get a chance to breathe and catch up on some “real work”, our computers ding! to remind us of another pointless meeting that is starting in five minutes.

Unfortunately, we need meetings. We need them because when they work, they are valuable. Clear actions get set, decisions are made and the whole business moves forward. But what we don’t need is for meetings to waste our time, money and resources. 

That’s where a 25-minute meeting can help. A meeting that is short, sharp and productive. A meeting that gets the job done efficiently. A meeting that gets more value in way less time – seriously.

Change your default settings

Many people run meetings according to their default calendar app, which is automatically set to 60 minutes. Waiting for latecomers, going off track, having an unclear agenda, watching mobile phones and wasting time fixing tech all contribute to wasted time in meetings of that length. Yet doing work in short, focused bursts has long been supported as a way of efficiently using time and energy.

The science of 25 minutes

As far back as 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor, one of the very first management consultants, made the connection between productivity, effort and rest or breaks. He found that people who made a focused amount of effort for 25 minutes, and then spent the next 35 minutes resting, increased productivity by 600 per cent.

Francesco Cirillo’s book The Pomodoro Technique centres on short bursts of work for 25 minutes at a time, followed by a five-minute break. This choice of 25 minutes was not arbitrary and was based on several different trials, experiments and iterations.

Parkinson’s Law explains that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Put simply, when you give people time to get stuff done, they will use whatever time you allow them. 

A 2002 study published in a journal of the Association for Psychological Science showed that people who imposed strict deadlines on themselves for tasks performed far better (and more consistently) than those who didn’t. More interestingly, it found that those who allotted too much (or ample) time to complete tasks often created more work for themselves.

When we concentrate our effort in shorter, controlled periods of time, we achieve more. 

Scarcity + Clarity = Urgency

I was once invited to a meeting in an organisation that was notorious for late and inefficient meetings. I had resigned myself to the meeting starting and finishing late; however, something amazing happened. A manager came into the room and announced before we started, “I have a hard stop at 10.30am.”

Immediately, there was an increase in energy, attention and focus. People were ready and able to get down to business! I noticed the effect of this technique, started using it myself and had the same results. 

When time is short, and we are clear on the outcome, it creates a sense of urgency and we are likely to be more productive and produce higher quality work.

When people trim their meetings down to 25 minutes, they will find that the wasted time spent on tech issues and pointless chitchat will be eradicated, too.

Donna McGeorge is a speaker, author and mentor. 

RECENT COMMENTS

Love this .. I grow my own veggies and fruit, they taste better when in season locally
Jules 24 days ago
Thanks, Sophie -- some good life advice in your article!
Peter Eedy 42 days ago
Hey Sophia, I’m the dad of a 12 year old rugby player, Molly has been playing for 4 years. Great insight into the thought process of a young woman and I’m hoping the benefits she’ll get over time.
Paul Bunker 44 days ago