How To Use Email To Spend 50% Less Time In Meetings

A template to save you time.

If you’ve ever been in a meeting, then you’ve wasted time in one.

Most are inefficient at best, and unnecessary at worst.

They’re fool’s gold — they create the illusion of progress on a project while rarely accomplishing much.

In most meetings…

  • Participants don’t prepare in advance of the meeting because it’s easy to hide in one.
  • Participants don’t focus during them because they know they’re not a good use of their time.
  • Participants tune out because the majority of time is spent sharing updates about stuff they either already know or that’s irrelevant to them.

But there’s a solution to the purgatory that is meetings and conference calls — email.

When used in a strategic way, email can remove the “need” for most meetings and cut the time you spend in them by at least 50 percent.

Email is more productive than meetings because rather than generate improvised chatter and off-topic small talk, it forces thoughtful decisions and drives progress.

But this is only true if you use email in an effective way.

Here’s an example of how to do that.

An Email Template You Can Use To Make Meetings More Efficient

To help you understand how to use email to improve your meetings, let’s walk through a hypothetical scenario.

First, I’m going to state the obvious — which is unfortunately not obvious to a lot of people.

Meetings should only exist to address a problem. If there’s not a specific purpose for a meeting, there shouldn’t be a meeting.

For our hypothetical, let’s pretend you work for the Acme Widget Company and need to figure out how to announce a new product.

Rather than get a bunch of people in a room (or, even worse, on a conference call) to aimlessly discuss the situation, send an email to the group that does the following.

  1. State the problem/challenge including a time frame and deadline for a decision.

Example:

“We’ll release our new product on March 17th and need to lock in a release plan that includes a promotional strategy and live event. This plan must be locked 30 days from now.”

  1. Pose a specific question (or series of questions) to the group.

Example:

“We’d like your feedback on the following two questions:

What do you think will be the most effective use of our $50k advertising budget?

What would you recommend we do as a live launch event?”

  1. Suggest an answer, and/or spell out the options for moving forward (either created by you or some other relevant person to the project).

Example:

“In conversations with our marketing team, three potential strategies have come up.

The promotional strategy options include to invest in a Facebook ad campaign, hire influencers to promote the product, or do a direct mail campaign.

For the live event, we are currently considering buying a booth at the National Widget Conference or throwing a launch party at our office.”

  1. Ask for people’s feedback and invite them to suggest their own potential solutions. Give them a deadline to respond.

Example:

“Please reply to this email by end of day Friday and share your thoughts about these potential options and suggest any additional ideas you may have.

I’ll follow up regarding next steps — thanks!”

What To Do After You Send The Email

If you do nothing other than send an email like the one outlined above before every meeting — or have whoever initiates a meeting do the same —your time and your team will become infinitely more productive.

But to make the most out of this email template, you’ll want to do a couple more things.

Depending on how many people receive the email and the dynamics of your team, you can either ask people to reply directly to you and collate the responses yourself or have them reply to everyone on the email thread.

In most cases, it will be better to have them reply just to you and then you can summarize the responses for the group in another email as opposed to flooding everyone’s inboxes (and influencing the thoughts of others on the team).

Once you get the responses, review them and do one of two things:

  1. Realize you don’t actually need a meeting and celebrate your freedom!
  2. Use the information to guide the meeting you schedule.

For example, let’s say in our hypothetical scenario everyone replied that they thought a Facebook ad campaign was the best way to use the marketing budget, but were split about how to plan a live event and maybe one person also threw in a new suggestion for the live event that’s worth considering.

You could then send an email like this to the group:

Thanks for your responses!

There seems to be clear agreement that a Facebook campaign is the best way to spend our ad budget, so the marketing team can go ahead and map that out.

Opinions are split about the live event option and Susie also suggested an interesting new idea for that which would be a pop-up event at a store that may be worth considering.

So, let’s set a 30-minute meeting to discuss the following:

  • Adam will present the case for buying a booth at the conference
  • Mary will present the case for a launch party
  • Susie will present the case for a pop-up event

We’ll discuss and come to a decision at the end of the meeting.

And…scene.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your time working on the hypothetical (and super efficient) Acme Widget team.

But more importantly I hope you see how this approach can make a team more productive and ultimately get you to better, quicker, more informed decisions.

(It also ensures everyone’s voice is heard, which is an important added benefit and a story for another day.)

How To Deal With People’s Hesitancy To Do This

This may seem like an obviously better approach to meetings, but there will be people who won’t embrace it.

If you want to implement it, it’s important to understand what’s behind some of the resistance (or lack of adoption) you may initially face from others.

Typically, there are four reasons people don’t use email in this way and default to inefficient meetings instead:

  1. They can’t define the problem.
  2. They’re not sure what they want from other people or what to ask them to do.
  3. They’re scared to share their own opinion (or unwilling to expose it).
  4. They’re scared other people will say yes (or no) to their idea.

Those are all valid fears, but they’re not valid excuses and they’ll hold you and your team back.

So, you’ve collectively got to get over them to get more done and more of your time back.

Conference calls and meetings are often about whoever has the loudest voice and whatever happens to pop in someone’s head in a given moment.

They’re improv.

But email forces people to think through a scenario and consider what they want, what they need, what they believe, and how to respond to a problem.

It forces specifics.

That’s why it works.