Let’s start with a story. In a recent conversation with clients, one person was feeling that her schedule seemed unmanageable and proceeded to open her calendar. She turned her laptop so that I could look and her schedule seemed all too familiar. Every single hour was booked. From the moment she enters the office, until the end of her day, a solid block of meetings. With a schedule like that, how do you get your work done? In her case, she tries to handle work outside of work. After dinner or before the workday begins, she’s trying to clear out emails, answer her customers, and get work done.

This scenario rings true in the interviews I have conducted with dozens of peers and clients. People tell me that most meetings they attend are unproductive, that their input is not valued, or the material in the meeting is not relevant to them. Another common occurrence is that people book meetings for an hour regardless of content.  And even if the topics have been covered in 40 minutes, people continue to talk until the hour is up.

With virtual meetings, feedback was almost unanimous. Most attendees are not focused on content or involved in the discussion. People aren’t engaged so they’re just sitting there listening and waiting to contribute, which leads to multi-tasking. 

If this sounds familiar, I have solutions.

During the past ten years, working for national and global organizations, meetings were the way we got work done or at least a common approach. Then I met Jeff Henderson, the chief information officer for TD. He launched a program and discussions on handling meetings differently. We were essentially given permission and the tools to change.  The program he started continues to improve the way I work today, so I want to share a few of his ideas to make your meetings better.

Most of the meetings we schedule are 30 or 60 minutes, let’s reframe that time. Think about how much information is shared in a 5 minute TED Talk. At least for me, when I’m listening to a TED Talk, I am amazed by how inspired I am and by how much information I can gain in just a short amount of time, and that all comes down to preparation. That’s really what it’s about.

Commit to trying the following ideas for a week and then email me at Elizabeth@BreakTogether.net

I want to hear about your experience and whether this makes a difference in your meetings.

  1. Schedule shorter meetings. 20 or 45 minutes. Often people are just doing the default, right? Outlook and Google default 30 or 60-minute meetings. Schedule your meeting for a shorter time. People will be thrilled to see a meeting invite for 20 or 45 minutes because it’s unlikely for someone else to book their time at the end of that half hour or hour.
  2. Verify the purpose of the meeting. Whether you are the organizer or attendee, do you or any of the invitees truly need to be there? Could you or an invitee contribute through email or a quick conversation? If you aren’t clear, talk to the organizer and ask if you can contribute in another way. Practice that same technique when you are the leader.
  3. Preparation. While brainstorming meetings are helpful in some situations, look closely at your agenda. Do you have clear goals? Have you prepared for what you need to accomplish in the time allotted and is everyone else clear? Make sure you have timekeeper and a facilitator; both are important. These are reasonable things to expect if you’re attending a meeting and imperative if you are leading one.
  4. Feel free to decline. If you believe your presence will not add value at a meeting, at a minimum it will allow you to clarify the meeting organizer’s expectations of you, right? If someone else declines your meeting and you need them, it gives you an opportunity to contact them to clarify your goals for having them there. I bet they will be thankful for the communication.

Even if your company is not rolling out a program, you can practice these steps on your own.

Those are the four things that I took with me from Jeff’s program at TD and I continue to be grateful for his initiative to make our workday better.

Bonus Tip #5

The first five minutes of a meeting are usually spent waiting for people to show up or beep in if it’s a conference call. Or, the meeting might begin on time and re-start when key people show up.

Here is a very simple solution for both. Use the first 5 minutes for an engaging activity. Ask people to unplug, let go of what they just came from, and interact. Here’s a link to five simple activities that take 5- 10 minutes or less.

You will learn something about the people that you’re with, even if you have worked together for 20 years, so try that.

Let’s make meetings better. Let’s make them more mindful, connect with one another, and stop wasting the first five minutes.

I guarantee that if you get known for starting meetings with something fun, people will be on time.

Let me know if you find that to be true for you at Elizabeth@BreakTogether.net. Make it a great day!