By following these easy steps, you can have meetings that are think tanks instead of time wasters.

Not much has changed in face-to-face meetings over the ages. You have the dominator, the rambler, conflicts over hidden agendas, and tug of wars over decision-making. Innovations in technology have made huge changes in business efficiency, but one thing has remained the same - too much time is wasted in meetings.

A recent survey by the 3M company found that workers spend an average of 1.5 days a week in meetings (almost four months of meetings a year). But respondents felt that a quarter to half of that time was wasted.

Meeting planning can make a big difference in productivity and peace of mind, and whether you're conducting a weekly staff meeting, organizing the annual board of directors get-together, or volunteering on a school committee, the principles are the same.

When meetings fail, it isn't the lack of the latest technological aids or failure to follow Robert's Rules of Order, according to Peg Kelley of Facilitation Plus, a Boston-based consulting firm that specializes in meeting training. The key to success is thinking ahead about how the meeting can produce the best results. "The tendency is to think about content, but not process," says Kelley. And she's not just talking about setting and distributing an agenda before the meeting or making sure there's an extension cord available.

Here are a few basics to keep in mind when planning a meeting.

Figure out why you're meeting. Too many meetings are counterproductive because some people don't know why they're there, which can slow things down to a crawl. Kelley recommends identifying the type of meeting that's required in advance, e.g. information sharing, information collecting, problem-solving, or decision-making. Some meetings are mixtures of these, but each type of activity is a separate thinking process and should involve the people with expertise in that particular phase of the process. Jumping into problem-solving before you have collected the necessary information will only require another meeting.