Business meetings can quickly become a big portion of your working day if you let them. They often run over and not enough is said about the topic at hand. You end up having to book in yet another meeting to finish what you started.

To avoid having that happen in future, here are five tips to help you get the most out of all of your meetings.

Create an agenda and homework for attendees

Around 24 hours before the meeting, send out an email to everyone who is attending. Attach all of the relevant documents and statistics they may need, create an agenda for the topics to be discussed at the meeting, and lay out a goal. You should let everyone know whether the meeting is for idea generation, to give out information, or to set assignments. This way, everyone has to do their homework and digest all of the information ahead of time, and you don’t have to waste the first half of the meeting bringing everyone up to speed. Make sure that you follow best practices to protect your company data when sending out private or restricted information.

Only invite the essential personnel

When seeking efficiency, the smaller the meeting group is, the better. You probably don’t need to invite as many people as you normally would. Heads of department can relay information to their subordinates, so you only need one person from each area. Make sure that they are all directly involved with the project in question, so you don’t have anyone sitting around who doesn’t need to be there. This will cut down on questions and discussion.

Stick to the agenda – no side topics

Make it a rule from now on that no side topics are to be discussed in meetings. You talk about what is on the agenda, and nothing else. If someone wants to bring up another topic, encourage them to set up another meeting later on. When you come to the end of your agenda, if there is still time blocked out for your meeting, you can always come back around to that side topic and discuss it then.

Encourage silence as agreement

Create a policy of only speaking out to disagree or add value. There’s no use in having everyone in the meeting share their agreement with something – if everyone agrees, they can simply stay silent. This may feel unnatural at first but it will save a lot of time. It also helps to get to the meat of the meeting: actually deciding things and getting them done. Allow everyone to speak without interruption, and when they finish, those with objections can bring them up. Otherwise, a lot of time is wasted in half-started sentences and saying yes to everything.

Work to intervals

Our brains work best in intervals of 15 minutes. After that, we struggle to pay attention. This means that when your meeting drags on for 20 or more minutes on the same point, everyone is losing focus and concentration. Work to an interval timer: 15 minutes for each segment of your agenda. You will get more done when you know that time is short, and you can also take a small break of a minute or so between each segment to help everyone stay refreshed and focused. This means better productivity all round.

Getting your meeting balance right is all about ensuring there is no idle talk, everyone knows what they are doing, and only the important topics are discussed. Once you follow these five tips, you will wonder why you ever tried to hold meetings the old way.

About the author:

Sienna Walker is a careers and business blogger, currently writing for DirectorStats and BizDb. As a staunch supporter of constant education and self-improvement, Sienna often writes about topics that help both businesses and individuals operate better and more efficiently. Follow her on @SiennaWalkerS.