Ever see a long meeting on your calendar and immediately start thinking about ways to avoid it? Is it too late to go home sick? Maybe I can fake a family emergency, or come up with a last-minute project that just can’t wait.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Meetings can painfully boring—and worse yet, a huge time suck that keeps you from the work you really need to be doing.

But while those hours in the conference room are unavoidable, they don’t have to be a waste of your time. In fact, by employing a few simple strategies, you can make meetings work to your advantage, impress your boss and co-workers, and build relationships with all kinds of people in your office while you’re at it.

1. Be Prepared

A boss once told me that you should come to every meeting prepared to contribute something—after all, you’ve been invited for a reason. So before you go, make sure that you’re prepared to be an active participant. Figure out what you already know about the topic of the meeting, and determine if there’s anything you need to research and learn beforehand. Jot down a few questions that you plan to ask in the meeting. Even if you’re in a rush, make sure that you go in knowing what will be discussed and what you’ll be required to do with the information. There’s nothing worse that sitting through a long meeting, only to realize later that you should have been taking detailed notes or gathering information for a project.

2. Make an Effort to Network

A big upside of meetings is that they give you a chance to mingle with new people within your company. I’ve had jobs where the only time I met anyone outside my small department was in a meeting. Take advantage of this opportunity by arriving a few minutes early so you can make small talk with people as they arrive. Ask them about their weekend or just chat about the weather. Starting off with a little socializing will set a more positive tone and hopefully make everyone a littler happier to be there. Plus, you might make a new friend or meet someone who can help advance your career.

3. Make it Your Time to Shine

Don’t be afraid to participate in meetings and ask questions. Asking someone to clarify a point or elaborate on something you’re unfamiliar with can be a little nerve-wracking (especially if you’re one of the youngest or least-experienced people in the room), but it can also work in your favor. Your co-workers will recognize that you’re paying attention and thinking critically about the topic at hand, and that you have the guts to speak up when you’re confused or need more information. Hey, they’re probably even silently thanking you for asking the questions that they were wondering about, too.

4. Impress With Your Listening Skills

I recently gave a presentation in front of a group of 20 or so community members. (And yes, like most people, I put public speaking right up there with root canals on my fun-o-meter.) Most people played with their phones, avoided eye contact, or even whispered among themselves. But a few people actually seemed engaged in my presentation—they made eye contact with me, nodded and smiled as I spoke, and raised their hands when I asked questions. In short, they became this nervous speaker’s new best friends.

By practicing these sorts of “active listening skills,” you not only benefit from paying attention to what’s being said, you also build a relationship with the presenter. So, sit at the front, avoid sneaking glances at your phone, and nod when the speaker makes a point you agree with. Your professionalism will impress your co-workers, and the speaker is guaranteed to notice and appreciate your support.

5. Make Smart Use of Your Time

The worst thing about meetings is that they can seem like wasted time, especially if the conversation veers off topic or includes items that don’t pertain to you. If this happens, try to avoid spacing out or slipping into a post-lunch coma. Instead, see if you can find ways to maximize your time. If you’ve been taking notes, recap what you’ve written and figure out what needs your immediate action when you get back to your desk. Or write out your to-do list for after the meeting, or a list of short-term goals for the week. You’ll stay alert and be much more ready to jump back into the discussion than you would if you spent the meeting, say, day-dreaming about your wedding with Ryan Gosling.

Yes, in the working world, meetings are inevitable. But by being prepared, building relationships, and using your time wisely, those hours in the boardroom can be productive to your job—and your career.

Photo of meeting courtesy of Shutterstock.