I love my job. It’s great to work with our smart and dedicated people, I enjoy the challenge and there is enough variety to make sure it’s never boring. The one thing that I dread sometimes is having days with more than five hours of meetings. I don’t believe this can be useful or productive for anyone. On top of that, it freaks me out.
I don’t mind working hard at all, but I like to have some control over my life (even on a day to day basis :-)). Having full days of meetings makes me feel like I have none, which in turn generates stress. Another challenge with these back to back meetings is that with every one of them I’ll have less energy and it becomes harder to concentrate. As an introvert, I need quiet time to recharge. An hour in between meetings to do some work and listen to some music does wonders, but quite often I’ll be lucky to have 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon without meetings. Just enough to take a bathroom break and get a tea.
Two months ago, I started to try and change this pattern by critically reviewing my calendar and the meetings in it. When I see that a day is filling up I block time to ensure there will at least be some time to recharge a bit during the day. Below are 5 tips that I have found to work so far and that have greatly improved my productivity and the quality of my work days. Both from my perspective and judged by the output I’m able to generate. If you feel like your calendar is running your life, you might find some of them useful.
1. Evaluate all recurring meetings that you have
Do you have an active role in these meetings, or are you there to listen in? If it’s the latter, what value does listening in add? Does it help you to do your job better, or are you there to make someone else feel good about the fact that you are in the meeting? Or are you only there, because the meeting was in your calendar? If the meeting doesn’t add value to your life or work, remove it from your calendar. Don’t just remove the next instance, but remove the series. If there is an instance of the meeting where it would be valuable for you to be there someone can send you the invite for that particular instance of the meeting. And if they don’t you’ll have some more time to do work.
2. Every meeting needs an agenda
When someone plans a meeting without a clear agenda ask them to create an agenda before you accept the meeting. Based on the agenda you can determine whether that meeting will indeed be your highest priority at that particular time. Consider if the topic of the meeting can maybe be handled over email instead of by dragging people into a meeting. If the timing is inconvenient don’t feel bad about proposing a different time for the meeting. Whenever you feel the meeting is too long or too short, propose to change the amount of time scheduled for the meeting. If people that you feel are critical to the meeting are not invited, make sure they get the invite. In case you are not the right person to discuss the topic with point the organizer to the right person or people and decline the meeting. Don’t spend 30 minutes discussing who should be discussing the topic at hand. You have better things to do, even if it’s just taking a bio break.
3. Align on the purpose of the meeting
Make sure that everyone knows what the purpose of the meeting is and that there is an agreement on what the desired result of the meeting is. That way you know for sure that the people in the meeting are all working towards the same goal. If someone disagrees with the purpose, or the desired result, they can indicate this upfront, so that it can be tackled before or at the beginning of the meeting. To avoid what Tim Minchin describes as “being like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts” (http://www.timminchin.com/2013/09/25/occasional-address/).
4. Preparation is key
Send out homework before the meeting, or if it’s not your meeting ask the organizer how the participants can prepare for the meeting. By making sure everyone in the meeting is prepared it can be a lot shorter and the outcome will most likely be more valuable. If it’s not possible to explain how people can prepare for the meeting rethink the purpose of the meeting and whether a meeting is the right format to tackle the issue or task. Maybe more thinking needs to be done before it makes sense to have a meeting? Are there still prerequisites unclear that mean that it’s too early to call for a meeting? Then postpone the meeting.
5. Meeting or email?
If you are running a completely virtual meeting, make sure you only invite the people who really need to be there. Then during the meeting make sure everyone can play an active role. If you are a participant in a virtual meeting decide whether you will join the meeting, or work on your email. By combining the meeting and your email you won’t be paying attention to the conversation in the meeting, you’ll get tired from hearing it anyway and you will be less efficient answering email. Avoid the old “could you repeat the question, you were breaking up” excuses. Isn’t it amazing, how there’s always static on the line just when that one question is being asked?
Be hard on yourself and others before organizing or accepting a meeting. Quite often we are in meetings that could have been a lot shorter, or that could have been handled through a simple email exchange. Of course, having face to face time with people is valuable, but make sure that it’s a useful way of everybody’s time. Over the last years, we have gone a bit “meeting crazy”. Having all these meetings is not only tiring and inefficient, it quite often also means that real work that has real deadlines cannot be done during the day. This work then moves to the evening, which should be your time to relax and do other things instead of work. By not having downtime we become tired, less efficient and less productive and eventually unhappy. Claim back some of your time and help others to do the same. It will be worth the effort!