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Let's squeeze in a quick meeting

Hi! “I have no idea what I was doing there. It had nothing to do with my work at all.”  Sound familia

Work in Progress

November 16 · Issue #58 · View online
The newsletter about work

“I have no idea what I was doing there. It had nothing to do with my work at all.” 
Sound familiar? 
Meetings can be an awful waste of time. Or just plain awful. 
But far from being a meeting-pessimist, I believe in the power of good gatherings. They can be useful – even critically important – as long as they meet a few conditions. And although those conditions are likely not new to you, a regular refresher can be nice. 

Let me start with the basis for smart meetings. Respect one another by showing up on time, keep meetings short, and provide an agenda. If there’s no agenda, then make sure you have one of your own. For any meeting, you should have a clear view of what you hope to achieve there.
And set aside prep time in your calendar. Whenever you schedule a meeting, schedule prep time. Then take that time to go through any documents and formulate questions you want to raise. (This is also the perfect time to cancel an unnecessary meeting.) During the meetings themselves, you can then focus on the task at hand and what others are saying. 
But there’s more:
Don’t be afraid to call a quick meeting
Clearly meetings have an image problem. We tend to think they’re annoying or a waste of time. And of course many meetings could just as easily be covered in a good email.
On the other hand, we can also forget to report key issues and we sometimes invest hours in things a coworker could help clear up in a matter of minutes. Or say the next step for a complex problem isn’t clear. Squeezing in a quick meeting can keep you from getting bogged down or frustrated.
We just need to get better at (1) letting each other know how to get in touch and then (2) coming together on demand for a specific purpose. 
As a team member, you can make it clear to everyone how and when people can best contact you. If you’re a manager, you can continually clarify which project takes priority over other work (if that’s the case, of course). And emphasize that other work can be interrupted for work on that top project. 
So do that. This is especially important for starters, because it’s hard enough to let on that you don’t know something. Let alone if you have the feeling you’re bothering people with your questions. Or that you suspect you’d benefit from discussing the matter with – God forbid – more than one person at the same time.
Undermine the need for meetings
We’ve all complained about meetings. But if you really want to do something about them, ensure there’s nothing left to discuss. Undermine the need for meetings.
Managers want to be updated on projects and their progress. Are you sick of meetings? Then share your progress proactively. Or better yet, find a way to make your progress always visible somewhere. Then in the worst case, you just have to run through what you’ve already shared. In the best case, the need for a meeting has vanished entirely.
The classic: Take time to prepare
Another common complaint: All those strategy meetings, team retreats, and brainstorming sessions don’t yield much of anything concrete. This isn’t something I can solve in a paragraph, but I think your own preparation can be key. For that kind of session, a half-hour of prep before the meeting won’t cut it.
Reserve a number of little time slots throughout the week, no longer than 15 minutes each, to give your thoughts free rein. You’ll notice it primes your brain to work on the upcoming session subconsciously. And your ultimate suggestions will be better and more inspired when it comes time to sit down together and think.
Have a good week and good luck with those meetings!

PS The opening quote is from this Freakonomics podcast I just listened to on How to make meetings less terrible with Priya Parker. She’s the author of The Art of Gathering: How we meet and why it matters.

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