We Spend Lots of Time in Meetings. Here is How to Make the Best of Them.

Two weeks ago I posted a blog about a group discussion in which we talked about the productivity-maximizing principles espoused by Cal Newport’s book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. My objective was to suggest ways we all can complete mundane responsibilities, while still maximizing time spent on our most challenging tasks, like reading, research, writing, etc.

Apart from Deep Work, our group also discussed how to effectively prepare for, participate in, & manage successful meetings. Above all else, I strongly believe that a thorough & specific agenda is essential. Indeed folks like Bezos & Dorsey are also advocates of meeting participants all working of a specific written doc. (See “the smartest thing we ever did’ at Amazon)

Here are a few agenda pro tips we talked about:

1. Send in advance – minimum of a few hours or even the night before

2. Include necessary resources – links to articles/studies, attached plans. (“I sent it to you last week” isn’t helpful when the object should be reviewed/discussed in the meeting.)

3. Specify next steps associated w/ key projects – *this is the most difficult part of compiling an effective agenda & the most evident weakness in futile meetings*

4. Prior meetings should have identified the next steps to be taken by team members & these 3-5 actions should be included in shorthand on the agenda. If not, then it is a leader’s job to identify the next actions.

5. Overall project momentum is slowed when a specific action languishes or is impeded by a challenge – these things need to be surfaced & discussed during a meeting.

6. Use the parking lot – progress will not be made on every project every week & all of the time. It’s okay to move some items to a “parking lot” so they don’t fall off the radar.

7. Convert to client reports – agendas w/ links & resources can easily be converted into periodic reports, even annual reports.

Apart from preparing agendas, everyone has an important role to play in fulfilling 3 goals for every meeting:

1. Before. (a) Demonstrate progress: How have we advanced to our objective since we were last together? (b) Know the end state: What approval/feedback do we need for continuing progress?

2. During. (a) Did everyone get the direction they needed to continue making progress? (b) Is everyone actively engaged? Are we leveraging all of our resources?

3. After. Does everyone clearly know what is expected of them & by when they should deliver?

Finally, if you read the above list & it is evident to you that you’re no longer playing a specific role for the team, then maybe you don’t need to be there. Your time is valuable to DCI. You are on our elite team because you are an expert in some facet of the work we provide for our clients. But if a 3-4 week period passes and you are not actively engaged in advancing some element, then I recommend you ask the account lead if you need to be there at all. It may be that your time is more productive spent in other ways – which is better for you, better for DCI, and better for our clients.

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