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Make Meeting More Meaningful

I believe meetings, when done with purpose, carry an incredible amount of value. Real-time collaboration is a great tool for shaping early-stage ideas, and being able to laugh together does wonders for building social bonds.

However, meetings are the most expensive medium of communication in our organizations - and our trigger finger for firing new calendar invites is probably too hot. So, in this post, I'm going to share the strategy I use with my teams to have less frequent, more intentional, more productive meetings.

The true cost of scheduled time.

How much does a an hour long meeting cost? The conventional management calculation is the duration of the meeting multiplied by how many people are in the meeting:

meeting_cost=timepeoplemeeting\_cost = time * people

So, a one hour meeting with 5 attendees costs 5 hours of time. However, this function only calculates the cost of the meeting itself. It doesn't take into account the large amount of unproductive time the meeting creates outside its block on the calendar.

A one hour meeting makes the three hour period that contains it essentially unusable for deep, focused work*. Work like that requires at least a two hour period of uninterrupted time. So, this means our one hour meeting also has an exceptionally high opportunity cost multiple for the rest of the hours in an individual's day.

meeting_cost=timepeopleopportunity_cost_multiplemeeting\_cost = time * people * opportunity\_cost\_multiple

And in the case where a meeting is being held to fix an issue or reach an actionable decision, there is a cost to the time that person or project stays blocked while we wait for the calendar to tick down until the scheduled meeting time.

Factoring this in, our final equation for the cost of a meeting looks like this:

meeting_cost=timepeopleopportunity_cost_multiple+(blocked_timepeople_blocked)meeting\_cost = time * people * opportunity\_cost\_multiple + (blocked\_time * people\_blocked)

And this equation assumes that our meeting was productive and solved a problem. If the meeting was pointless, purposeless, and provided no organizational value, the effect is catastrophic.

All this to say that meetings are an extremely risky variable expense. An hour long meeting could cost the organization exponentially more time than its duration. So, how can we mitigate the cost of meetings and reduce the risk of them costing more than they are worth?

Meetings with meaning.

Purposeful meetings are powerful, purposeless meetings are poison. To ensure meetings are always created with a strict, well defined objective, I recommend filling out three prompts with each meeting invite: Purpose, Participants and Intended Results.


A meeting's Purpose is a statement that justifies its existence. A great purpose statement answers a single core question: Why does this conversation need to be a meeting?

Merely pondering this question will lead to fewer, more intentional meetings with fewer, more intentional participants. When you have to justify a meeting's existence every time you click "Invite", you start to notice how hot your trigger finger is. This new friction grants you time to question the medium.

Meetings are not our only form of communication. Write-ups, threaded conversations, and yes, email are sometimes much more effective tools for disseminating information. The purpose statement forces you to ask, "Is there a better/faster/clearer way to communicate this?"


A meeting's Participants is pretty straight forward - the people requested to join the meeting. There is nothing special in this section, and it is somewhat optional. The goal here is just to create friction and pose the question, "Who do we really need at this meeting?"

This section has a great benefit of eliminating the obligation to invite everyone on a team to every meeting for "visibility". The host can invite the whole team, but specify in the Participants section who should actually come. This solves the "too many cooks" problem many meetings run into.

Note: See the section "Minutes or it didn't happen" for more context on how you can remove people from meetings without losing "visibility".

Intended Results

A meeting's Intended Results are the specific, tangible, actionable goals that the meeting is designed to accomplish. This micro-agenda is essentially the task list for the meeting. It primes all participants to focus on the items at hand.

Great intended results start with solution oriented verbs like "fix", "decide", or "create". Words like "discuss" and "sync" do not imply a direct outcome and should be avoided at all costs. Idea generation and knowledge sharing are better served by asynchronous forms of communication.

In my experience, there should be no more than three intended results per meeting. Ideally, there is only one. Specifying meeting activity also allows the host to better estimate how long a meeting should be.

We have a tendency to schedule meetings in increments of 30 minutes. I believe that is far too much time for a meeting with only one item to cover. Meetings expand to the time allotted. So, my rule of thumb is to schedule meetings with 15 minutes per intended result.

45 minutes to cover three big questions might seem like too little time, but you'd be surprised how people operate when a meeting has clear, time bound objectives. Individuals communicate more clearly, groups shut down meandering, off-topic discussions, and everyone focuses on the work.


Let's look at a few examples of Purpose and Intended Results in action.

Scenario 1: Having an early conversation about a new feature

Get together to talk through ideas for the new Notifications feature.

Intended Results

  1. Discuss the concept
  2. Get feedback from the team
  • ❌ Purpose is vague and doesn't justify its existence as a meeting vs another form of communication. Pitches should almost always be write-ups.
  • ❌ "Discuss" is a verb without a direct outcome
  • ❌ Feedback on work should almost always be given asynchronously and close to or within the tool used to do the work

Quickly iterate together and spitball ideas for the potential Notifications feature.

Just me and Keith so we can move quicker - we can send out minutes to the whole team afterwards.

Intended Results

  1. Create an initial breadboard diagram that sketches out the affordances and gives us the confidence to move on to fat-marker sketching.
  • ✅ Purpose has a clear need for synchronous communication ("quickly iterate").
  • ✅ Clearly defines and reasons the participants.
  • ✅ Contains a specific, clear, solution-oriented Intended Result.

Scenario 2: A weekly one-on-one

Chat about what's been going on this week.

Intended Results

  • ❌ Purpose is vague and doesn't justify the meeting's existence
  • ❌ No specific intended results

Openly discuss personal and professional issues, problems, or concerns Drew has as well as give feedback on Drew's professional development and performance at the company.

Intended Results

  1. Update professional goals doc
  2. Make a plan to mitigate or bubble-up any issues
  • ✅ All personal and professional feedback should be delivered and documented in-person.
  • ✅ Contains ritual Intended Results - good for creating habits and systems to document these types of discussions.

Get on the same page.

A meeting's meaning is measured by its outcome - not its invite. So, once the participants get in the room, it's time to do the hard part: stay on task. To do this, I recommend sending out a collaborative document with the following template before the meeting:

# Present
Who showed up.

# Purpose
The meeting's purpose statement

# Intended Results
The meeting's list of intended results

# Notes
The space for writing stuff down as it happens.

# Action items
Any tasks for specific people that came up during the meeting.

Then, at the beginning of the meeting, the host asks everyone to pull up the doc and reads off the intended results. This ritual sets the tone and intention for the meeting and centers the participants around the common goal. It gives everyone two minutes to warm up a little and get their heads in the game.

Then, as the participants get started, it's time to...

Take notes.

One of the strengths of verbal communication is its speed - most people can talk much faster than they can write. However, the spoken word is also the forgotten one. By taking notes, you ensure that the important discussion points, decisions, and action items get recorded.

To do this well, there should be an expectation that not talking means note taking. That means there is no scribe, secretary, or note taker. This keeps the conversation open to everyone and ensures equal responsibility for organization and documentation. Writing great notes is a team sport.

This is also where the collaborative document comes in handy. While someone is speaking, multiple people can be writing things down in the Notes and Action Items sections. This has an added benefit of giving a previous speaker nearly instantaneous feedback on how their points were perceived based on the notes taken from others on the call.

Being on the same page makes meetings much more efficient. And it has the added benefit of essentially drafting the final, most important piece of a great meeting...

Minutes or it didn't happen.

Minutes are a short, summarized version of our meeting that we can disseminate to everyone on the team. This has two major benefits:

  1. It increases transparency without limiting productivity by bringing visibility to meeting discussions without requiring that all team members be present.
  2. It allows everyone in the meeting to check their understanding and ensures participants are leaving with the same conclusions.

I like to use this format for minutes:

Hey friends 👋. Here's the TL;DR from the meeting Keith, Chelsea, and I 
just had about ____. Major decisions marked with 🚀.

- Intended Result #1
  -  🚀 Major decision or outcome
  - Highlight reel of notes on subject
- Intended Result #2
  - 🚀 Major decision or outcome
  - Highlight reel of notes on subject
- Extras
  - Extra important decisions or outcomes
- 🛠 Action Items
  - List of action items

Full meeting notes here: link_to_meeting_doc

Someone (usually the host) should be assigned to write this message and send it out to the rest of the team. It should be sent no later than 24 hours after the meeting's conclusion. Any longer than that, and you risk people acting on incorrect information.

The meat of this message can also be added as a "TL;DR" section in the meeting notes doc so that future team members can easily look back through the catalog of meeting notes.

Cancel the invite. Send a write-up.

Now you're equipped to hold intensely effective meetings. But remember that the ideal meeting is no meeting at all. In future articles, I'll talk through more ways writing can solve your communication woes.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how to run effective meetings and hear what you thought of my strategies. Any and all feedback is always welcome on Twitter.

Until next time.

* This article by Asana has a lot of great information about structuring time for deep work.

Drew Lyton
Drew Lyton
Monday, August 15, 2022

I'm a software engineer, ex-founder and writer who cares deeply about creating a better relationship between technology and society. I'm currently writing a book about early stage entrepreneurship.


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