Monday 31 March 2008

I Don't Brake for Meetings

That's the bumper sticker I'd have on my car if I was the sort of person who affixed adhesive labels declaring how I feel about stuff to my vehicle.  But I'm not.  But I do write about it...

Meetings can be the single biggest black hole for time (and spirit) created by man.  Left unchecked they constitute a gradually increasing tax on your time giving very little back in return.  Before you know it all you do is attend meetings and you wonder why you never achieve anything you set out to.  After every meeting ask yourself a few simple questions - what do we know now that we didn't before we went into that room?  What conclusion did we reach and if we didn't do we know exactly what comes next in the journey?  If you can't honestly justify it to yourself then chances are it wasn't the best use of your time.

I have a few little rules I try to live by that I think have freed me from the shackles of an agenda-driven descent into madness and put me back in control of the lion's share of my time:

Always have a goal for a meeting or just don't go

Before you call a meeting think carefully about exactly what result you want to achieve by getting that group of people you've targeted together, make them aware of the conclusion you want to reach (so they can all do their homework and you don't have to adjourn until later for people to consider it) and don't let the discussion stray off course.  If you call a meeting; chair it.

Don't just accept invitations to meetings without question

Ask inviters about their goal and make sure it's actually a goal.  For example "discuss roadmap" is not an outcome, that's a method.  What do you want to change on the roadmap?  What do you want me to agree with?  Tell me or you'll be lonely in that room.

Never book recurring meetings with no end date

Because if you do you will be there until then end of time.  Granted, there are things that take time to work through - if you know when the activity you're governing with that meeting is due to end then book the series to end at the same time.  If you don't know when something is likely to end then book it for 4 or 6 weeks at a time (whatever horizon makes sense).  That can be a pain if you have to keep re-booking it but at least it provides a checkpoint for you to stop and think - do I really need to keep doing this or can everyone have that hour back?

Try to wriggle out of a meeting if at all possible

The first thing I do when I receive a meeting invite (or when I feel tempted to send one) is phone the other party - or better yet, if they're in the same office wander over to their desk.  Try and reach the outcome the meeting was intended for on the spot - so often mine are as simple as "can we do this?" to which all I need say is "yes as long as X and Y are true" and the job is done.  5 minutes instead of 1 hour - plus the time lost in context switching.

Be brutal and consistent about this.  You might initially offend a few people and seem pushy but only until they realize how much more effective you are.  But even if they don't who cares?  You'll feel better when you're time is spent making a difference instead of rattling through endless agendas.

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