When my son Taylor was a teenager, he spent a day at work with me on Take Your Son and Daughter to Work Day. Taylor is a guy who loves being outdoors and working with his hands, and my job is just about a polar opposite. After ten hours with me that particular day, Taylor came home and told his Mom, "I feel so sorry for Dad. All he does is go to boring meetings. That is not the kind of job for me."
If you are like me and spend a good part of your workday in meetings, you know how frustrating that can be. I often find myself in meetings that were scheduled by others to help accomplish their goals and that often have little to do with what is most important to me. And in weeks where meeting seem to dominate, I find myself getting less and less sleep and staying longer and longer at the office.
So, these ideas are ones that either I have tried or that some of my friends have tried to make meetings more efficient so that they can go faster and accomplish more, and thus free up time for more important activities.
Always have an agenda. Starting a meeting with a prepared agenda is critical to keeping a meeting on track. At the top of the meeting agenda, include a statement about the purpose and objective of the meeting. That simple step will resolve a lot of time-wasters in the meeting. The agenda should include the general topic of each agenda item, an assigned person to introduce the topic and a time frame for the topic. For example, "Scheduling vacation days in advance - Jim T. - 15 minutes."
To make meetings even more effective, send out the agenda one business day in advance so that people can come better prepared to be informed and active participants.
Schedule the start and stop times for the meeting. When you schedule a meeting, let the participants know what time the meeting will start and end, and then stick to it. If you have trouble getting people to come on time to a meeting, put a clear quart sized jar in the middle of the table, and let people know that if they are late to the meeting, they will be expected to drop a dollar in the jar. When the jar fills up, donate the proceeds to a local charity. That can really help a meeting start on time.
To help meetings end on time, ask someone in the meeting to be a timekeeper and have him or her give everyone a ten minute reminder so that things can be brought to conclusion. No meeting should be extended beyond its ending time without an OK from all the participants.
Make specific assignments. If somone in the meeting needs to do something as a result of the meeting, make a clear assignment with an expected outcome and a deadline. All too often, we have the same meeting over and over again because people do not follow through on assignments and move the issue forward.
Don't invite the wrong people. Meeting often swell to a very large size because we think everyone involved in an issue needs to be there. Consider shrinking the size of the meeting and then sending meeting minutes to a broader range of people to keep them in the loop. If a person's input is not critical to the meeting's purpose, then extend them the courtesy of letting them do more important things.
Have a separate note-taker. Assign someone in the meeting to take notes and record the outcomes of the meeting. This will free up the meeting chairperson to actually run the meeting and keep things moving. Then the note-taker should send out meeting minutes or notes shortly after the meeting summarizing the meeting's outcomes.
Encourage active participation. Let everyone know that they should be fully engaged in the meeting. Cell phones should be put away and tablets should be used only for the meeting's purposes, not for multitasking. Keeping all participants focused on the meeting's purposes will help keep things moving and get the meeting over sooner. And more involvement by people in the meeting will surface issues sooner and make the meeting time go by faster.
Have a "parking lot" nearby. This is not about helping people park their cars close by the meeting location, but is about keeping the meeting on focus. When an idea comes up that is a good one but is off topic, put it on a "parking lot" list on a whiteboard or notepad where it can be addressed in a subsequent meeting. Too often, good meetings are derailed by good ideas raised in the wrong meeting. The parking lot list is a great tool for keeping on task.
One of my favorite leaders reminded me once that it takes an awfully good meeting to be better than no meeting at all. If you take a few steps to make sure that meetings are organized and focused, you can get more done in less time and get that elusive work-life balance back in balance again.