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You Want Faster Meetings – Here’s How
We don’t necessarily like meetings, but they are core to doing business. How well a meeting is run affects meeting quality, and quality often boils down to time and how it’s used. A well-run meeting leaves participants informed and refreshed; a poorly-run meeting, confused and exhausted. What follows is no deep philosophy, just techniques I know to work for having effective, efficient, and better meetings with regards to time management.
You want shorter and more effective meetings – especially since “Zoom fatigue” is real. Read on.
First, respect time. Respect the client’s time, the project’s time, your teammates’ time, your time. Here are some things I try to consider before and during meetings.
Is the meeting necessary?
Is a meeting the only way to handle this issue? Could it be handled over Slack? If you’re not sure, first try handling it without a meeting. If that works, great! If it doesn’t, you can then call a meeting and it will be better informed by the prior discussion.
If a meeting is necessary, make it efficient.
There are steps you can take to ensure a valuable use of everyone’s time before the meeting even takes place.
Invite only those required to be there. If you must invite others, mark them as optional. Ensure the invite contains a description listing who is the meeting leader, the agenda, and relevant documents. It helps people prepare, or even decide if they can skip the meeting or send another in their place.
Schedule for as little time as possible. Not only does that consume less time, but limited time keeps the meeting on track, and prevents a slow start and crammed finish. It’s also easier to schedule a quick meeting than a lengthy one. Use “speedy meetings”: 30-minute meetings go 25 minutes, 60-minute meetings go 50 (your calendar software may support this technique; if not, you should still do it yourself). If you’re in meetings all day, you need breaks to mentally wrap up the prior, change gears, prep for the next. You need to stand up, stretch, go to the bathroom, get a drink or a snack. If you’re in an office, you may need time to walk to another meeting room. Account for these things.
During the meeting, it’s worth considering not just how it runs, but what everyone’s role should be.
Start the meeting on time. Corollary: arrive on time, or earlier. There should be a designated scribe for the meeting, recording notes and publishing them in the publicly designated area. It provides not just a record, but a way for those who couldn’t attend the meeting a way to stay informed.
Begin by stating the agenda and ground rules. For example, “To ensure we get through everything, let’s hold questions until after all the demos.” Stay on agenda and enforce the rules throughout the meeting. Yes, the meeting leader should interrupt when needed to keep the meeting on track. Recognize important derailments and redirect them to a more appropriate time or place.
End the meeting on time (don’t forget “speedy meetings”). In fact, start wrapping up at least 5 minutes before the scheduled end time – figure out this exact clock-time before the meeting starts, watch the clock, and begin wrapping up on time. Wrap-up is a time to summarize, restate action items, and thank people; it’s not a time to open the floor for more questions, but you can provide direction on where questions can be asked. As well, if the meeting is running over but you have another place to be, it’s OK to leave and stick to your schedule even if others are not sticking to theirs.
Second, remember – everyone involved in meetings is human, including you. We are built with limited capacity. Constantly overflowing our capacity day in and day out – that’s how burnout comes to bear. We must moderate our capacity, and remember that when we schedule a meeting, we’re affecting those people’s capacity. We want a productive team, not a burned out one – we must be considerate in our use of meetings.
Enforce your own boundaries
Fill your calendar with “unavailable” blocks: too early before work, too late after work (helps with family commitments, time zone differences, and enforcing work hours). Schedule your time for lunch. Schedule your external appointments (e.g. doctor), and include time for travel. Schedule focus time, especially if you work on a “maker schedule”. Don’t forget about PTO. If you maintain multiple calendars, keep relevant time blocks synced across the calendars so people can know your full availability. And stick to your boundaries: don’t give up your lunch for a meeting.
Use your calendar’s schedule assistant to find a time when required attendees can meet. Have the means to help those who cannot attend the meeting to catch up (record the meeting? notes? summary post on Slack? Catch up with them in person later?). Or maybe this is a signal to try solving the problem without a meeting.
Don’t apologize, fix it. If you’re always apologizing for being late, you’re acknowledging you have suboptimal behavior. While the apology is appreciated, improving your behavior will go further – especially for yourself.
If meetings always start on time, that becomes the expectation. If rules are set and followed, that becomes the expectation. People will rise to the level of expectation you set for them, so set your standards well. This includes setting your own expectations for yourself. If you fail in holding a good meeting, the solution isn’t necessarily to loosen up (e.g. meeting derailed, ran out of time, make the next meeting longer), but to examine how you failed and can improve to meet the stricter goal (e.g. avoid derailment by enforcing agenda and rules).
Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?” -Marcus Aurelius
Time is our most precious commodity. We don’t dislike meetings – we dislike having our precious time wasted. Putting the above techniques into practice with a 90% success rate (because sometimes we will fail) will help time be better spent.
At Big Nerd Ranch, kindness is a core value. It’s important to understand the distinction between being kind and being nice. Some of my advice may not come across as nice, but I’m ok with that – I prefer to manifest kindness, to my teammates, to my clients, to myself, to you. ❤️ Thank you.