Chris Roberts

Timeboxing - Keeping Meetings on Track

• Posted in Business

Timeboxing is a great tool which can be applied to meetings to help make sure you cover everything on your agenda, finish on time, and stay on-topic.

Here's how it works...

The first rule is that every meeting needs two things - an Agenda and a Time Limit. The second of these isn't usually an issue - most meetings are scheduled to start and end at a given time. The first is sometimes an issue. I'm sure most people have, at some point, been to a meeting with no agenda, or just a vague topic to discuss.

When you know what needs to be discussed, distribute the agenda to all participants inviting them to suggest changes before the date of the meeting. The aim is that by the time the meeting starts, the agenda should be complete and everyone should be satisfied that their topics are on there.

In order to run a timeboxed meeting, you need a programmable countdown timer which is large enough for everyone in the meeting to see. There are quite a few websites which offer such a facility (such as, iPad apps, or you could use a cooking timer if it has a large enough display.

Start by setting the timer to 2 minutes and set it running. You and your colleagues now have until the timer reaches zero to agree amongst yourselves how long you'd like to spend talking about each item on the agenda. You have to allocate time to everything on the agenda (otherwise, why is it on there?) and the total time must add up to the total time of the meeting (excluding the 2 minutes we're spending here) or less.

When the timer hits zero, reset it for the amount of time you agreed for the first agenda item, set it going, and hold your meeting! Each time the timer hits zero, reset it for the subsequent agenda item and keep going until your meeting is complete.

The important points to note about timeboxed meetings are...

  1. By allowing all of the meeting participants to agree the agenda and the proporion of time to spend on each item, everyone has a sense of 'ownership' for the meeting and can't feel too aggrieved if they run out of time for their topic.
  2. Making sure everyone can see the timer allows people to moderate their own behaviour, and allows people to steer the conversation back on topic. It's not uncommon for a participant to gently remind someone else that there's only 3 minutes left on the timer, for example.
  3. By the time the timer hits zero, you'd better make sure you've covered that topic. If you allow people to overrun the timer, you won't cover your entire agenda and the whole process falls down.

Finally, practice! Timeboxed meetings take a bit of getting used to for everyone involved. You may not get it right first time, or indeed every time, but when you get used to them they can be a real time saver.