It’s no secret. Meetings can be a big time-suck. That’s why today’s savvy entrepreneur knows how to run quick and productive meetings. Even big companies like Google have learned to stay true to their startup roots by following some simple meeting rules. Here are some proven tips you can easily work into your own small business procedures.

1. To meet, or not to meet?

Productive MeetingsIf you ask Basecamp (formerly 37Signals), their answer will undoubtedly be not to meet. Their best-selling book Rework and Getting Real urge “There’s nothing more toxic to productivity than a meeting…the goal is to avoid meetings. Every minute you avoid spending in a meeting is a minute you can get real work done instead.” Instead of setting up a meeting think about whether you can simplify the concept and just discuss it online or through email.

2. Have a simple goal.

Be clear about what you want to achieve and have an expected outcome. An agenda is great too, but keep it simple. At American Express they start each meeting by asking “What exactly are we meeting about?” and then answer it in five words or less. Many companies schedule recurring meetings but try having meetings only when there’s a purpose. Scheduling a meeting before you have a clear goal or waiting for a recurring meeting to make an important decision is counter productive.

3. Keep it short and stick to it.

How is it that meetings tend to go on…and on…for so long? This is one of the biggest meeting pet peeves. Lengthy meetings tend to lose focus and breed needless discussion. Try having a meeting end time of 30 minutes or less. Scientifically, people start mentally checking out after 10 to 18 minutes anyway. Plus, you’ll be surprised how much quicker decisions get made when there’s a deadline to meet.

4. Use a timer.

So you’ve scheduled a short meeting but how do you stick to it? Use a timer. Yep, a real timer. Google Ventures uses one and at some Google gatherings there’s a 4-foot countdown projected on the wall. But no need to get that fancy. Just set the timer on your smart phone or use an app like e.ggtimer.com. Setting a timer is rule #1 when meetings are unavoidable at Basecamp. When the timer goes off, meeting’s over. Period.

5. Take handwritten notes.

In a world of high-tech gadgets, simple pen and paper may seem a bit pedestrian but get this: research shows handwritten notes are better for comprehension according to a study by Mueller and Oppenheimer. When you hand-write something it tends to sink in a bit more. These guys might be onto something.

“I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.” —Field Notes Brand

6. Stay focused.

In our last post we talked about how multitasking is a big no-no. Same goes for meetings. Eliminate any distractions and invite as few people as possible. Focus the discussion on one or two areas so you don’t waste anyone’s time. There’s nothing worse than sitting in a meeting while the group starts discussing a topic or issue that doesn’t involve you.

7. Wrap it up right.

At the end of the meeting, write down key decisions and assign action items. Apple found their most effective way to end a meeting was to assign every task a DRI—Directly Responsible Individual. This ensures accountability so that things get done. It also helps bring clarity. Save time at the end of your meeting for this important step to make your meeting productive.

What meeting rules does your organization have? What tips or suggestions would you like to share?