“For the most part, our leaders are merely following out in front; they do but marshal us the way that we are going.” – Bergen Evans (The Spoor of Spooks and Other Nonsense, 1954)

Dave Barry says the reason the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential can be traced back to a single cause: meetings.True enough. But like so many other things in life, meetings happen even if you do your best to avoid them. Here are some “rules” to make the meetings you must have less painful and more productive:

1. Before you call one, ask yourself if the same work might be better handled by phone/e-mail/memos, etc.

2. As we said yesterday, meet with no more than seven people at a time. If you think you need more than that, you may need to (1) have two or more meetings or (2) reorganize your business.

3. Make the meetingundefineds purpose specific and limited. Make sure all the attendees know what that purpose is beforehand.

4. Set a reasonable time limit. Most meetings are much longer than they need to be. Set a shorter time limit than you think you need and press people to finish on time. If you do, they probably will.

5. The meeting should be broken up into at least two parts. In the first part, the problem or opportunity should be presented and commented upon. This must be as “open” as possible. Try to limit the number of objections that arise during this period — including your own. One way to help this process is to suggest that all objections be handled later on. In the second part of the meeting, problems and implementation should be dealt with.

And to advance your own greedy goals, consider every meeting as a chance to better your career. Besides contributing to the group objective, is there a way to use the meeting to promote your own position? (Most of the time, the best way to serve yourself is to serve the group. Prepare well. Come with good ideas. Impress everyone. Get your agenda accepted.)

By figuring out ahead of time how you can help your company solve its problem or achieve its purpose — and by demonstrating to those at the meeting that you will play an important and helpful role — you do both your business and yourself a lot of good.