I was tired of wasting time in meetings - so I developed this

productivity Oct 10, 2016

 

Have you ever spent time in completely useless meetings where you came out and knew that you had completely and utterly wasted your time…or you notice a bit later, when nothing discussed in the meeting ever comes true or is being implemented?

Probably a stupid question...I bet you have. I certainly have, particularly during my time working for large corporates (but not only then).

I was even guilty of planning just that kind of really time wasting meeting...how embarrassing!

Complex and overwhelming… heading towards burnout

Our world has become rather complex, super busy and overwhelming a lot of the time - what a contrast to 20 years ago, when things were so much slower, less information was streaming our way and we had simply more time to finish and accomplish things.  The level of urgency was a completely different one than we have today.

A high volume of long meetings increases the pressure we all experience today, and if they result in nothing or feel like a massive waste of time, it does not only add to our frustration, but can ultimately lead to heavy stress levels or even burnout.

What if….

So just imagine if you could save tons of time with a real improvement in your productivity just by dealing with meetings differently?

What if the meetings you did attend or plan would have end with clear results and only participants who can contribute to the topic on hand? So no one who would sit there and be bored or be constantly typing away - when no one had said anything worth capturing whilst simultaneously annoying everybody else in the room.

With, on average, 60 meetings per month, and being regarded by many people as their biggest time waster (take that FB!!), there is in fact lots of “room for improvement”.

I can literally hear you calling out: What an unrealistic dream...this will never change...and where should you start to engage people in a meeting? In our organisation this would be impossible to change.

Simple, but effective

So I gave this meeting area a good look and researched why so many meetings don’t produce any solutions and are clearly a waste of time.…and developed a simple model to help improving the results and reduce wasted time for all.

Basically it starts with the planning (like so many things), so if the preparation is good, the result can be good. ...duh ...what a surprise....Why do I say can be? Because it is about the RIGHT preparation.

                                          

The 6-Step Formula

1.      Why ?

Why the blazes do you call this meeting anyway? “I want to talk”, “We need to talk”...is not good enough. Nor is “we need an update meeting“.

First of all this will lead you, and the other participants, into the nirvana...secondly, if you are the boss, just imagine what inviting someone to a meeting with an unspecified topic can do to the people around you? What does she want to talk about? Did I do anything wrong? Is he unhappy with my performance? Is she going to fire me? You get the idea (of course this might fit very nicely with certain management styles). This creates insecurity on a major scale, particularly for 1-on-1 meetings. Even those can be a major time waster if not planned properly.

So, think very clearly about WHY you want to have or plan this meeting.

To give you some ideas…this could be about creating, e.g. a concept for a sales event.

Or deciding: what is the budget for the new marketing campaign?

Informing: Do you need to inform about something that is sensitive and requires feedback and reactions? If the information is purely factual....save your time and those of others and send an e-mail.

Finding a solution for: whatever the issue is, e.g. getting a handle on this particular problem which brought this project to a grinding halt and is in clear danger of not being finished on time.

Coordinating: e.g. for the planned event we need to coordinate the next steps and get a clear idea about accountabilities and objectives.

You get the idea…with a clear and detailed reason, why this meeting should take place you are already ahead of a lot of other people planning meetings. At least you know this particular meeting has a good reason for happening.

2.      Outline the expected outcome

What do you expect as an outcome for your meeting? Give this a thorough thought. Formulate an answer for yourself. “I expect that we go out with a basic concept for our next customer event.”, or “I expect my team to be able to understand the new strategy after the meeting.”, or “I expect to have all customers of John clearly assigned” I think you get the point here.

 If you know your goal, you have a good chance of getting there and staying on the right path. If not, the meeting can drift of in any number of possible directions.

Do you still want to have this meeting?

Are you clear about the reason and the expected outcome?

Congratulations  - then go ahead you will not be wasting the time of your colleagues and yourself. If not, don’t waste yours and everybody else’s time and stop –  or think again about what you really want to achieve and then re-start the planning process.

These two steps are relevant for ALL meetings. Even the one with your boss. Or your team member or colleague. Be considerate before blocking yours or anybody's time...if you want to get together to just swap ideas or socialize, that is great too, but be clear and open about it from the beginning.

3.      Set up a concrete agenda. And communicate it.

Don’t be fluffy, but precise...if you already went through step 1 and 2 you basically got your agenda almost ready.

Refine it while putting the most important topic at the beginning (if you got more than one topic to discuss). This is the one you absolutely must get addressed in the meeting.

If you want to learn more about how to set up a great agenda, please read on here.

4.      Participants...and their role

Ah – isn’t it great when we are invited to a meeting (or invite) and have no idea why and what our role is going to be in the meeting? Do I need to prepare anything or am I able to wing-it? Obviously the answer is NO.

 So make this clear – what kind of role does everybody have (i.e. contributor or decision maker). This will help you deciding whom you really need for this meeting. Everybody will be super grateful towards you if you are considerate with their time! 

 By the way, a meeting with 4 -7 participants is ideal  - some research in that field showing that as of 5 people, the likelihood that you come to a decision is fairly small, as the social interactions, i.e. people talking to each other, in fact explodes, making the whole thing rather ineffective and time consuming.

 More than 12 participants in a meeting becomes a conference, workshop or a brainstorming session, but not really a meeting anymore – highly ineffective! Well, most times.

 5.      When, where… the obvious… but also HOW

The typical logistic questions, but what most people don’t consider is that there are so many different ways of holding a meeting and this depends very much on the expected outcome and on the number of participants.

Besides the regular traditional meeting (we’re all sitting around a conference table in a meeting room) which can be very appropriate if you have sensitive information to deal with and if you need a high focus to take decisions, there are some other useful options:

Lunch meetings (great for discussions), Stand-up meetings (great if you work with a visual board in your team or with a project group), Walk & Talk (great for 1 on 1…particularly for sensitive topics).

And a short reminder: Don’t just plan the start time but also the end time…and breaks…. Our attention span is not hours, but rather minutes, so keep it as short as possible, 1.5 hours are optimal…anything longer is normally not effective. Rather split it into more sessions.

 6.      Decisions: Record, communicate, clarify accountability

Did you make any decisions during the meeting? Who takes over this task or job and? Don’t forget to communicate that to whomever needs to know about it, as well as who is effected by the decision. Don’t you hate it when you find out about decisions made in meetings just by accident (as you basically run into it). So try not to be this person responsible for that.

I have translated this 6-step formula in a One-page meeting planner, which you can download here for free, if you have not used the link above.

There’s your potential to saving a lot of time and being more effective in using your time and that of your colleagues. And this is simply achieved because you will not hold so many meetings anymore.

Try it out, pass it on to colleagues and see what happens. I ‘d love to hear from you how it helped you.

 

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