The best time for a meeting is 3:30 p.m. on Monday.
That’s the verdict of Mark Ellwood, who runs Toronto-based consultancy Pace Productivity Inc., after analyzing extensive data he has collected over the years about people’s expenditure of time at work, through electronic devices called Timecorders that capture what they are doing.
Mr. Ellwood started from the premise that the best meeting time would come when (a) employees aren’t likely to be tied up in someone else’s meeting; (b) the meeting is not likely to run too long; and (c) people are less likely to be late. Here’s his analysis sent to his clients and shared with The Manager’s readers:
The least-busy time for meetings is weekends, but that’s not viable for most organizations or employees. The busiest day of the week for meetings is Thursday, which gets 22 per cent of meetings in his sample.
Tuesday and Wednesday are nearly as busy, with Friday and Monday lagging behind. Monday is the least-busy day, with only 16 per cent of meetings. Still busy, but least busy.
As for time of day, the peak meeting time is 9 a.m. After that comes, in order, 8 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 1 p.m. Lunch is also reasonably busy, but 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. are the least-busy times in the conventional work day.
So there is least competition for meetings on Monday afternoons.
Shortest meeting time
The average meeting time, according to his Timecorder data, is 53 minutes. Meetings tend to be shortest on Monday, averaging 44 minutes. Tuesdays are probably a good day to be sick, by the way: Meetings are the longest that day, averaging 60 minutes.
As you might guess, the shortest meetings happen at the end of the day, when participants are antsy about leaving. The shortest meetings are at 5 p.m., 7 p.m., and 8 p.m., but those times are outside the general workday. The best time during regular work hours is a tie, at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.
“Monday afternoon is when meetings are the shortest. We wouldn’t suggest that shortness equates with quality, but all other things being equal, it is a pretty good proxy. Employees rarely complain that meetings are over in a flash – they complain that meetings go on too long. Shorter may well be better. And if that’s the case, then schedule a meeting for the afternoon,” he advises.
Starting on time
The last factor Mr. Ellwood considered was when a meeting is likeliest to start on time.
His data covers only three main time periods: starting the meeting at the top of the hour, at 15 minutes past the hour, and at half past. The worst choice for starting time was the top of the hour, when only 7 per cent of meetings begin exactly on time (although 30 per cent begin within three minutes of the scheduled time).
The best choice is for a meeting to start at half-past the hour: 10 per cent start exactly on time and 35 per cent start within three minutes of the scheduled time.
Putting the three factors together, the best time for a meeting is Monday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., since a session starting later would run past the end of the normal day. “There may be other times in your organization that work as well. What this analysis shows is that ‘usual’ times may not always be the best,” Mr. Ellwood concludes.
By Harvey Schachter