I decided to cancel/decline 12 meetings that were on my calendar for this week. Why? Because I actually want to get some work done. We have all become quite accustomed to frequent interruptions in the corporate environment, namely email, phone and random, drive by discussions, but worst of all – meetings.
Many have written on the topic before, but here’s my take on how you can take the initiative to improve meetings in your environment:
- Make decisions – A meeting is an environment where decisions should be made. If this is a meeting to communicate, consider using another medium and cancel the meeting.
- Prepare an agenda – If there is no agenda for the meeting, it is likely that the time will be unproductive, and the result will be a follow up meeting. Decline or cancel the meeting until the organizer creates an agenda.
- Prepare background information – Even if you do have an agenda, are there outside sources of information critical to the decisions that need to be made in the meeting? If so, gather and consolidate that information prior to the meeting. If that information must be gathered from individuals, call or email them personally prior to the meeting to gather the necessary info.
- Eliminate recurring meetings – I cancelled most of my one on ones and have opted out of a number of recurring meetings this year. I freed up over 4 hours a week and I can safely say that I’m not lacking information or interactions that I had when those meetings were on the calendar. Hopefully by next year I can free up another 2-3 hours a week.
- Limit meeting participants – Just this week, I was in a meeting with 8 other participants for an hour. 9 hours worth of meeting time of highly paid resources adds up quickly. If you can’t share a pizza among meeting participants you have too many of them (credit goes to Jeff Bezos for that concept!). Does this meeting really need to include 9 people, or could 1-2 people work out the details and communicate that to a broader audience via a medium other than another meeting?
- Schedule shorter time periods - …And stick to the schedule. Why do we only schedule 30 or 60 minute meetings? Because that is what Microsoft Outlook and other calendaring applications do by default. According to Parkinson’s Law, “work expands to fill the time allotted.” In the same way meeting time usually expands to fill the time allotted.
- Be hyper-aware 0f remote participants - If meeting participants are distributed, consider having everyone participate via phone. When there are two or more people in a conference room and individuals on the phone it can be difficult for the remote participants to hear, causing frustration. Make sure it’s clear who’s speaking at all times. Use a shared whiteboard tool such as typewith.me to take notes collaboratively.
- Have a scribe – One participant should be tasked with taking notes and promptly circulating them to all meeting participants.
Meetings fundamentally break up our days into unusable chunks. The human mind thrives when focused on a single activity. Often you must fight to keep contiguous blocks of availability to get real work done. Sure, running from meeting to meeting can create a sense of importance and even provide the illusion of effectiveness, but we should all beware mistaking busyness for getting things done.
Categories: Culture, Management, Productivity.
December 1, 2010 at 8:41 pm