Make your meetings more effective


In a previous post we scratched the surface of how bad it can be to bring laptops at meetings.

That’s definitely one of the reasons we often perceive meetings as a huge waste of time. It’s not the only one though.

It’s important to start recognizing how we are contributing to making the meetings we attend so inefficient and learn how we can solve this unfortunate state of things on a case by case basis.

Don’t fool yourself: you are not multi-tasking

No one can really be multi-tasking. Not even you. Observe yourself, try to avoid bringing your laptop to a few meetings, measure how much more effective you really are (someone did) when you give your full attention, see the truth behind the illusion.

I agree that measuring how the quality of your work can benefit from this change of approach can be tricky. It’s something you’ll be able to appreciate only in the long distance. For the first period you’ll have to learn to trust your guts and to feel the increased sense of control you have over things.

Still in doubt this applies to you? I suggest an easy experiment: pick a poem, divide it exactly in 2 halves. Try to learn one while you repeat it out loud being in a silent room. To increase even more your isolation from distraction it may help to walk while you repeat the sentences. Then try to do the same with the 2nd part while you chat on WhatsApp with your friends and listen to a podcast on a subject you care about. Clearly no something you would do at work but it should simulate pretty well what happens when you are running a tough investigation while listening to a tech talk and being continuously interrupted by team chats. Compare the effort required to complete 2 equivalent tasks.

Learn to say NO

If you know in advance that a meeting is of no interest to you, learn to say NO to the invitation. If are in doubt whether your presence is required, contact the organizer and solve the doubt. A 2 minutes inquiry can save you (and everyone else) a painfully useless hour. If you realize you are not needed only once the meeting has started, stand up, apologize to the other attendees for the misunderstanding and show respect for their time and yours by leaving the room.

Learn when it’s time to have fun

Work should be fun but truth is that we are not paid to have fun. I’m a great advocate of keeping the atmosphere always relaxed and enjoyable but there’s a proper time and place for everything. By accepting to attend a meeting you committed to share value-time with the other attendants. If you have a joke you want to share, those are the people you have to share it with and not the ones in of that chat room you are so addicted to. And because they are present in person, you can tell the joke with your voice instead that of your fingers. There’s no need to run a parallel conversation to keep the funny things separated from the uber-serious stuff you are discussing.

You’ll be surprised at how sharing a laugh can affect the productivity and the level of satisfaction coming out of the meeting.

At the same time, try to imagine how annoying it can be for someone who’s talking seeing you laughing after a joke shared with someone else.

Take ownership and if required wear the hat of a moderator

Ok, you realize it takes 1 hour to say what could be said in 10 minutes. You’ll probably also have ideas on how this extraordinary result can be achieved. Well, it’s time to teach also the others how it can be done. Take the responsibility to moderate the conversation. Politely interrupt fights or long monologues, recap the important points, ask the opinion of those you know are shy but when encouraged in doing it always have some valuable insight to share.

Something I’ve heard very often is “I’m shy, I really can’t help it. I’ll let the other do the talking, they are better than I am at it. I prefer to write code OR prepare a report OR whatever you think you are paid for”

This can’t be an excuse to avoid your responsibilities. More and more our daily work is about interacting with other people. Your technical, organizational, analytical skills are only a small part of the value you can bring. When you work in a team the team becomes your new self. The needs of the team become your job description. The same applies for the (often temporary) team built for the meeting. Here of course I’m assuming every attendant is recognized as useful for that meeting. If you realize that’s not the case, by now you should know how to address it: kindly apologize and leave the room. But if you decide to stay, it’s your duty to contribute actively. If you don’t share your thoughts, your ideas, your concerns, you are not adding any value and so you are doing only part of your job. But at the end of the month you expect your full payslip. Whatever your situation, always remember: no man is an island.

And a second later “Fine, I agree with all your points but I have so many meetings that I don’t have any time left to do the job I was hired for”

Are you sure about it? Did you check with your line manager if he/she agrees that you are more valuable typing on a keyboard or answering emails than contributing to that meeting? You may be surprised that your managers value much more the time you spend interacting with others, helping them learning, understanding, gathering important info and identifying problems than the time you spend doing your supposedly main tasks.

If you are already a manager yourself instead, maybe it’s worth to stop a second and consider if you can free up some time by learning how to delegate.

Do you really need to personally take care of collecting that data and formatting that report? Do you really need to act all the time as the proxy for that technical discussion or can you leave your developers to contact directly their counterpart on that 3rd party service provider? These are often tasks that are carried over during meetings because they are time consuming but don’t require too much attention or strong skills. If that’s so, why not give a chance to someone who wants to step up in a role involving more responsibility but letting them gain some experience?

I checked with my manager and really his/her expectations are that I’m able to attend all those meetings AND carry over my tasks

Once again, are you sure about it? Probably yes, you have been a good boy or girl, did your homework and triple checked that’s the case. Well, the solution is not to hide the problem by lack of capacity by doing poorly multiple things at the same time (remember: no one is really multi-tasking). The problem is that either the meetings are really too many or they consume inefficiently much more time than needed or you have too many tasks to carry out. Let the problem come to the surface, let it naturally become evident and discuss it with your manager. It’s your duty to let your manager become aware of an issue. Then together you can find a better strategy to cut the time of the meetings, learn to delegate some tasks, hire a new team member to increase the overall capacity of the team. But if you keep on hiding this chronic lack of time, you are preventing any improvement to be made simply because no one is aware that it’s important and needed.

There are of course many cases where one MUST take care of multiple things at the same time. The problem arises when you constantly do that and your agenda is filled with meetings. At that point the only solution seems to be to demote meetings to 2nd class citizens. Don’t. Work instead on making your calendar more sustainable. I hope this article gave you some insights on how that can be done.


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