Struggling with time management? Spend a lot of time in meetings? Do you allow them to waste and rob you of your valuable time? Want to regain control?
Coping_ Getting on top of Meetings (Audio)
How much time do you waste in meetings? Do you feel you are spending more of your day in meetings and need get more of your work done “before and after work”? How much do you feel in control? How can we spend less time in meetings and maximize our time in those we do have to attend?
Would you agree with me however, that managed correctly, meetings can be a great platform to get information exchanged, people updated or persuaded and things decided and done?
Can you see also how they can provide a great opportunity to “present” aspects of yourself you don’t often get a chance to? Eg to the Management of your or your clients company etc?
Time Management and Meetings
I liked a definition of meeting I found: “the social act of assembling for some common purpose” because of the inclusion of the word purpose. How many meetings don’t have or serve a purpose? However, from my experience of certain meetings this definition lacks the word civil, doesn’t it?
The (business) world is a stage to be played on. With the right focus and the right preparation and the right attitude, meetings can be used most effectively to your and everybody’s benefit.
While my emphasis appears to favour the presenter at meetings, the techniques I have learned work equally well in “general” office type meetings we are so often exposed to.
However my purpose today is to address managing meetings from a productivity perspective. I am unashamedly focusing on your time and your outcomes here.
Active or passive
We can passively allow meetings to go over us and waste our time. Or we can be “at cause” and influence the meetings so we get what we want and don’t allow our time to be squandered. It’s a choice – a decision you can to make.
Meetings can be to exchange ideas, or planning, or troubleshooting, or decision making etc, but given that you are professionals, meetings are often places where you will present or listen to progress updates or where you will seek approvals or decisions.
Depending on whether you initiated the meeting or were invited, you may have more or less influence over the outcomes you wish to achieve. However, if you aren’t the initiator, you can still have a lot more influence than you might think.
If you are invited, and you decide you need to be there and there isn’t an agenda, you can still tactfully insist on establishing the purpose before the meeting commences, can’t you? Better would be to do so before the meeting so you can decide not to go if there is insufficient purpose, or if you might delegate someone else to go.
Also, knowing the meetings purpose, you can better prepare yourself so that you assure the best outcomes for yourself or for your cause.
Preparation is critical to a successful outcome and any productive meeting. Would you agree a common reason so much time is wasted in meetings is because people don’t want to be there and haven’t bothered sufficiently to prepare themselves? I always say that it isn’t that hard to be better than most, if you are willing to invest in the right preparation.
A great example of preparation was when Ansett used a consultant to help them win the “official airline of the 2000 Sydney Olympic games” status. They went as far as using actors to play the roles of the decision makers and practiced in room replicas the presentations would be held in, using a “wearing different hats” technique I teach my clients. The rest is history.
Depending on the purpose and the agenda etc, it is often extremely important if you are presenting for an outcome, to have lobbied appropriate players, particularly thought leaders and decision influencers or makers before the meeting to ascertain their real expectations, their agenda’s and their respective positions to your topic so you avoid any risk of “ambush”.
Time Management – Driving the Agenda
This will aid you in your preparation to use it to make a contribution to what the “others” want and to influence the outcomes that you want. Remembering when there aren’t always formal agenda’s in place, the onus is on you to be prepared so you can raise your level of influence.
I learned through bitter experience to make it my business to know the agenda of the meeting I would present to so I knew whether I was on at the beginning (fresh/sharp) or the end of the day (weary), or before (hungry) or after lunch (sleepy).
Particularly if you are at the end of the agenda, what is the likelihood of your slot being cut short or postponed and how could you influence those eventualities? For example, Board or steering committee meetings can be notorious to run over time and often behind in their scheduled agenda. Know and prepare your Plan B. If you have say 4 points in your agenda and two of them need an approval, then be sure that you deal with them first.
Also, who is in the meeting and how could you lobby them to stand up for you if that “interference” occurs?
Just as important is to clarify the expected outcomes and how the meeting will know or measure when they have been achieved.
My scars remind me how often Boards dig in and get stuck on the summary page and wreck any time plan you prepared so carefully. I learned to respectfully interrupt and ask the chairperson how they would like to play this – eg we only have 20 minutes and we have already used half the time on one point. “Is this important enough in their eyes to continue focusing on or would it be more prudent to move on”? Diplomacy at work.
Who is in the meeting? Who are the decision makers? Who are the thought leaders? Who are your likely allies and who your likely opponents? How can you focus on building rapport with the right people?
What do you know about the position each attendee will take towards your topic? Can you find out and lobby it beforehand?
Professionally run meetings will have an invitation, an agenda, a chairperson, an objective, a time frame, projected outcomes, and minutes. Whether these aids are present formally or informally, everyone in the meeting can help keep it on track by using the structure to “rescue” it, including you.
If you are the initiator, please be sure these aspects are covered professionally.
There is no such thing as a stupid question. Of course I don’t mean domain knowledge questions you are “expected” to know, but don’t be afraid to ask a question. Usually the others whose criticism you fear will also be wondering about that question but may not wish to be seen to not know. However, don’t be a “smart-alec”. If you want to disagree with what’s being said, do so, but stick to the facts. Don’t criticize the idea or the person and always have an alternative to offer. Also, in the interest of your time, if you can influence it, try to recognize and “kill furfies” questions.
It is sometimes useful when you find yourself in a meeting that can’t seem to find an end to compute in your head what the hourly rate of those around the table might add up to and then ask that question: “do you realize that this meeting is costing the company about $x an hour?” and use that as some leverage to get everyone focused back on the outcome you all wish to achieve.
If there isn’t a chairperson, make sure one is appointed when clarifying purpose and don’t be shy to tactfully call them to keep the meeting on track.
Of course it isn’t always “politically” possible to achieve this, but we are talking about the use of your time here, and it is quite within your rights to expect that your time is respected and not squandered, and that you will respond if it is. An easy way to do this is to tactfully question “relevance” of time wasters or “furfies” that don’t belong in this meeting. Can they be pushed “off line”?
Remember that the chairperson shouldn’t take the minutes. That’s a distraction for them keeping control of the meeting and guiding it to the required outcomes.
If the purpose demands it and there isn’t one, “volunteer” a minute taker. You will know when it is politically expedient to “volunteer” yourself to take minutes. The minute taker is a powerful role, and can often influence the outcomes, also politically with careful wording etc.
I like to send corrections to the minutes as soon as I receive them (usually by email). Perhaps you can influence others to do the same? Try to refrain from dealing with corrections at the start of the next meeting thereby increasing the risk of getting “bogged down” in the content of the last meeting and missing the purpose of this one.
If the chairperson or minute taker doesn’t, why not offer to summarise the key points or outcomes of the meeting? It’s a great way to practice your summarizing skills and also to “get known” for that strength. It has often been said, history is recorded by the “victor”, not the “loser”.
The above isn’t rocket science, is it? Maybe there are some suggestions that would take you out of your current comfort zone, particularly if you aren’t known for taking such strong positions. Don’t let that intimidate you.
What if you chose to practice or apply one or more of the above ideas in your meetings in the coming weeks to realize how much influence you can actually exercise over your time being wasted?
Would you agree that if you are the meeting initiator or presenter, you can start immediately by “putting your stamp on it”?
We are talking about your time here. If you are serious about getting and staying on top of your productivity then wouldn’t this be worth some investment? Remember that it is a choice you can exercise over the use of your time.
What if you did, and what if it worked and you freed up some valuable time to devote to the things you love or need and want to do better?
What if you could?
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