Incredible things can happen when great minds meet. Unfortunately, most meetings are anything but great. Organizations are generally reckless about how they use their scarcest resource: people’s time. Research reveals that half the time spent in your nearly 62 meetings every month is wasted – that’s nearly 31 hours of your life. With 73% of workers choosing to do other tasks during meetings, and 91% of workers simply daydreaming through them, the annual salary cost of unnecessary meetings for U.S. businesses is approximately $3.7 billion!

It’s obvious that bad meetings need to stop. But justifying if a meeting is necessary is easier said than done. To help us confidently arrive at the conclusion that a meeting is required, Elizabeth Grace Saunders, author of How to Invest Your Time Like Moneyproposes four easy questions:

“Have I thought through this situation?”
If not: Set aside some time with yourself to do some strategic thinking. During that time you can evaluate the scope of the project, the current status, the potential milestones, and lay out a plan of action for making meaningful progress.

“Do I need outside input to make progress?”
If you find yourself in this place, don’t schedule a meeting; update your to-do list and take action instead.
“Does moving forward require a real-time conversation?”
It’s much more efficient for everyone involved if you send over items that they can look at on their own (while you’re not awkwardly watching them read during an in-person meeting) and then shoot you back feedback.
“Does this necessitate a face-to-face meeting?”
An online chat can help you answer questions quickly, or for more in-depth conversations, scheduling a phone call or video conference can work well.

By the end of this sequence if you decide that you still need face-to-face, in-person communication, then go right ahead and schedule that meeting. It’s worth noting, however, that the responsibility for protecting people’s time doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of the one calling the meeting. The onus of asking “is this meeting necessary” should also be on the attendee. The questions posed by Saunders can be flipped as follows:

  1. “Have you fully thought through this situation without me?
  2. “Do you need my specific input to move this forward?”
  3. “Do we need to have this conversation in real-time?”
  4. “Do we need to meet face-to-face, or can we do this this online?”

Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, once wrote, “Just as you would not permit a fellow employee to steal a piece of office equipment, you shouldn’t let anyone walk away with [your] time.” With the right decision-making process, you can dramatically reduce the number of meetings you attend. And when you do eventually have your meetings, they be the necessary types of meetings: ones that promote alignment, unlock creativity, and help you and your team reach the epiphany moment (and get back to work) faster.
Further Reading: Think through in advance how you can make meetings as efficient and effective as possible.

This post was originally published on 99U.