Meeting Killer – or how to regain your time

Meetings. Discuss.

Can you relate to this? Your calendar for the day says you have 3 one-hour meetings and the prep work required for each is done. That gives you enough time to get the rest of your real work done…. right?

If your workday is anything like mine, nothing could be further from the truth; Interruptions, unplanned work from other people and groups, phone calls, emails, IMs… the list goes on. Whilst this might add up to a varied and interesting day, it doesn’t always help your personal productivity. Enter the Meeting Killer.

Before we can find ways to reclaim your time, it’s time to watch a video from the excellent TED series (it helps make more sense of this article):

Jason makes a lot of great observation – I don’t necessarily agree with all his suggestions (“no speak Thursdays” sound almost impossible – most of my day is working with people), but I do like his intention. Kill the meeting; Claim back your time!

Walk the talk; Practice what you preach

One of the first steps of preventing meetings that suck your time is to create your own perfect meeting environment. Let’s face it, some meetings are really worthwhile – what makes them so? Typically it’s because:

  • The meeting has a clear purpose and objective which everyone can recognise and talk to – and so they know why they’ve been asked to attend
  • It brings together people who may never have connected before and creates human networks (creates good feeling and esprit de corps)
  • It resolves issues and questions, creates solutions and strategies which are desired

So how does this translate? For every meeting request I create it has the following:

Purpose The purpose of this meeting is to: 

  • Show the work in progress
  • Discuss how the remainder of work will be done
  • Agree our Service Level Agreement against this item
Objective At the end of the meeting we will: 

  • Approve the work to date
  • Agree the timeline for the remainder of the work
  • Establish the Service levels for which this work will adhere to
Attachments / References (include references to other material – typically stored in Sharepoint or some other shared repository – try not to include actual attachements as this just clutters others’ inboxes)
Additional Information (include conference details, WebEx, Livemeeting or other details)

This seems rather simple and possibly incomplete, but we have to remember that most people want to know WHY they are requested to attend a meeting but don’t want War and Peace on it. This has the basic set of information that provides most attendees with sufficient  detail to understand and prepare.

Also important for swift attendance for conference calls is to include the Dial-in information for the call in the subject line. Those calling in from mobile locations are more easily able to dial in rather than waiting for the meeting invite to open.

I have toyed with the idea of including the “cost” of each meeting – possibly creating a “blended” rate for employees, contractors and “offshore” resources and applying it to the meeting attendees. The idea here is to represent how much money the meeting is indirectly costing and therefore how important it is everyone subscribes and is involved – it won’t be accurate but it will make people sit up and listen when they realise the attendees of a meeting are costing the company $750 for the hour!

Preparation is key

Most meetings will require some degree of preparation – some important meetings will require rehearsal. By taking the first step of creating a template meeting request you have already started to prepare. However you do need to follow up that good work with other supporting material:

  • Mind Maps are great at showing complex ideas or concepts that would otherwise take a while to explain and probably cause the audience to switch off. They also allow the audience to start make connections whilst you are talking. Typically I find that I only have to explain part of the subject before people start jumping in and contributing. If you haven’t already got yourself a Mind Mapping application, check out my favourite, Mindjet’s MindManager – the best out there I’ve tried to date (and I’ve tried a few).
  • Use Powerpoint type presentations with concise and brief points; there’s no need to be totally verbose – just get the concept of the topics. There are lots of articles on creating effective powerpoint presentations if you need them.
  • Ensure that meeting etiquette is maintained. Check out this article if you want a refresh on this subject.

Great, but how does that kill meetings?!

So now you are armed with the tools to hold effective meetings, you know what to look for when you receive meeting requests from others. Add suggestions from Jason’s TED video (you watched that, right?), you are armed to know when a meeting looks like it’s going to be lacking.

Personally when I receive meeting requests that clearly were just thrown together, or show no clear agenda and/or objective I reject them on the basis that it needs them. Also depending on the person I suggest I can send a meeting request template for them to use… done as tastefully as possible.

Dear (name)

I realise we all work at a fast pace environment and so we don’t always have time to put together all that we’d like. Having received your meeting request I noticed that it really didn’t contain enough information for me to attend – like an agenda, objectives, etc. Just like you, I’m also very busy and therefore will direct my focus to work where I can offer true value – and in the case of a meeting – also prepare.

If you’d like to send another request with the details, I’d be glad to consider it again. If you also wanted, I can send a copy of my meeting template which really works for me.

I’m also considering a “blackout Thursday” – after lunchtime every Thursday I will not accept any meeting requests, have my calendar fully booked and only respond to IMs and Emails.

With that discipline in place you’ll start to find your meetings will probably decrease and your personal time to do the work you’ve planned increases. Certainly from my perspective it’s made me think about creating meeting requests – and in rejecting others badly constructed requests, it also makes them think about why they’re pulling together their requests and why I rejected them.

If you have any tips for meetings and how to get back your time from them, please comment!

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