and focus those conversations. The 10 strategies below will help you do both.
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One of my personal productivity rules is to never attend meetings that lack an agenda. I’m all about deliberate meet-ups, and you can achieve this in two ways: by shrinking your meeting length, and by making a meeting more focused (which also saves time).
Here are 10 powerful ways to do both.
To shrink the length of your meetings:
- Run five–minute meetings. The Wall Street Journal recently wrote a piece about managers who run five-minute-long meetings. In those meetings, people speak for around 15-30 seconds at a time, providing status updates and asking quick questions. There’s no time for lengthy presentations, small talk, or long-winded anecdotes. Many companies have used this method to shrink the length of their meetings down to five to 15 minutes—from 60 minutes or more. Make sure no one gets too comfortable by standing in a huddle rather than gathering around a meeting table.
- Institute No Meeting Days. Another strategy that works for companies is to designate a certain weekday as a No Meeting Day. This lets everyone spend at least one full, interruption-free day focusing on their most important work.
- Aim to end early. If you’ve scheduled a meeting, focus on ending it early, and mention this goal from the get-go. This lets people focus on that same goal, and makes it taboo for people to speak too long—they’re ruining the chances that the meeting will end early. Everyone loves the manager who ends meetings early, and gives people back some of their time.
- Start at weird times. Most meetings start on :00, :15, or :45, because these are the default settings in Outlook. Starting a meeting at 9:18 not only gets peoples’ attention—it also ensures no one arrives late. A similar strategy is to start meetings on the :15, versus at the top of the hour. This gives people time to get to your meeting or hop on your call when they have a previous appointment that runs late.
To keep your meetings focused:
- Live by the “three bounce rule.” Managers swear by this simple rule. As soon as meeting participants have three back-and-forth exchanges on a topic, that subject is tabled for a separate meeting. This helps a meeting get back on track.1 This tactic works well when coupled with the five-minute rule.
- Consider the actual cost of a meeting. Meetings are more expensive than you think once you start calculating their cost in dollars and cents. For example, gathering 10 engineers in a room for an hour costs $399.19 in their collective time.2 Does the meeting add that much value?
- Focus on impact. Whenever someone in a meeting gives a status update, get them to mention how their work impacts others in the room. This rule comes from Jack Skeels, the CEO of a management-training firm, and ensures meetings focus on what actually makes a difference.
- Never run a meeting without an agenda. As mentioned, this is a personal rule. A meeting without an agenda is a meeting without a purpose. When you’re scheduled to attend a meeting or a call that doesn’t have one, prepare by writing out the main points you want to get across.
- Identify whether your employees are “makers” or “managers.” An employee usually has one of two types of schedules: a manager schedule, where every day is full of meetings; or a makers schedule, which is almost always sparse. Managers are used to hopping from one meeting to another, while a meeting in a maker’s schedule can destroy productivity—limiting an ability to dig deep into a project, a writing assignment, or a logo design. Mind whether the employee you’re meeting is a maker or a manager. As Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, put it, with a maker’s schedule, “a single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces, each too small to do anything hard in.”
These tactics work well in environments where meetings have ballooned out of control. Sometimes extended meetings are a good thing, though—such as when you have remote employees. This leads to the final tactic:
- Make select meetings longer, ensuring everyone has the chance to connect. When implementing ideas like the five-minute rule and No Meeting Days, it’s possible to make a meeting too efficient. While this is a refreshing change for employees who work out of an office, meetings are a chance for remote employees and decentralized teams to genuinely connect and say hi.
As you implement a few ideas from this article, be mindful and ask: are each of the people on your team—including those who work remotely—still able to connect?
While many meetings can be a waste of time, it’s worth keeping in mind that they do have a purpose—they let you coordinate your work around your team, and collaborate more effectively. But it’s also easy for meetings to balloon out of control. If this is the case with the meetings you run and attend, these 10 tactics will help.
The average engineer in the United States earns $79,837, according to Glassdoor. Assuming the average engineer works 40 hours a week, for 50 weeks a year, that’s 2,000 hours—$39.92 an hour. Multiplied by 10, that’s $399.19. While 40 hours of work a week may sound conservative, in practice, the average full-time American worker works for 6.79 hours a day, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey. ↩
When I graduated University a while back, I received a few full-time job offers, but decided to decline them to dedicate a full year of my life to exploring my weird passion: productivity. For a full year I did anything and everything to become more productive. That included conducting dozens of productivity experiments on myself, like living in total isolation for 10 days, only using my smartphone for an hour a day, waking up at 5:30am every morning, and working 90-hour weeks. Today, I’m on a mission to share my more human approach to productivity on this blog, in my talks, and in my bookThe Productivity Project.
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