There is no greater  time-waster than poorly planned, poorly managed meetings.  If you are in a position to call meetings, keep that in mind.  Ask yourself: is this meeting a substitute for action? Can I make the decision myself without involving others? Then, why not do so?

If you do have to involved others, consider doing it by telephone, perhaps by conference call.  Don't meet unless you need to, because every minute wasted is multiplied by the number of people in attendance.

But, assume the meeting is needed.  First, invite people in writing, being specific about what you hope to decide, not just listing subjects you want to consider.

For example, if you invite several people to your office to "discuss" product lines, you are, in effect, asking them to come and chat.  Consider, instead, the effect of a memo like this..

...subject, date, start time, end time, specific items to decide on...

Those receiving such a memo will come to the meeting knowing exactly what information is expected and are likely to have done some thinking and some homework.

Start your meeting on time, stick with the agenda, and try to reach some kind of decision on each item, or assign responsibility for further action.  Don't let the meeting drag on beyond the scheduled time.

But probably the most important point to remember is to restate, at the end of the meeting, the decisions reached and the assignments made.  Too many meetings end with people unsure of exactly what was decided and who is supposed to do what by what date.

After the meeting, the same day if possible, send a memo to the participants confirming what was decided, what responsibilities were assigned, and what deadlines were set for further action.  Never omit this step.  It clinches the assignments and establishes responsibility.  And the mere act of writing such a memo will make you face up to the question of whether or not you accomplished your objectives.

So much for meetings you call.  What about the meetings where someone else, such as your boss, is in charge and is wasting everyone's time by violating the suggestions outlined previously?

Well, don't just sit there and let your time be wasted without trying to do something about it.  If your boss doesn't prepare agendas before a meeting, suggest that this might be a good idea, "in order to keep us from getting off the track."  If meetings drag on forever, suggest privately that they be scheduled for 11:30 or 4:30  "to keep the more talkative people from getting carried away." If your boss won't crystallize a decision on one subject before moving to another, volunteer to keep minutes of the meeting.  This gives you a reason to interrupt and say,  "Just a minute - before we go on to another subject I want to make sure my notes are accurate: what have we decided to do about the item we've been talking about?"

The reason you were invited to the meeting was because you supposedly could contribute something.  Frequently the greatest contribution you can make is to help a weak chairperson keep the meeting on track. So don't just sit there. Speak up!

Reference (pages 88-91): ISBN 0-553-24426-4 ... "Getting Things Done" ...  Edwin Bliss