I was running a workshop recently, and at the very end of the 2-hour programme, one of the participants asked me the following question: why are we here and why did we have to have this training?
It was a surprise for me and gave me a bit of a pause, and not because I did not know the answer but because I was intrigued by the fact that someone spends two hours of his busy day on a training (but can be a meeting, call, conference, you name it) and does not know why and what for. This is actually happening more often than not in the office environment – we tend to accept meeting invites without knowing what is expected from us and why we need to be there.
Do you have time to work?
When I coach managers and discuss prioritization, time management, and how to make most of their days, one of the topics they bring is how to reduce the length and number of meetings they participate in. Increasingly in the past year, we experienced a massive jump in the number of hours we spend on meetings. What we earlier could have solved with a corridor talk or a quick chitchat over lunch, now, we need to put in the calendar and discuss during another meeting.
One of the most severe problems of managers I work with is that they don’t have time to work cause they are in constant meetings. It leaves them tired and frustrated and brings lots of evening work and weekend “catching up” on daily tasks. Sounds familiar?
Are all your meetings necessary? Do you really have to be there?
I encourage you to do a quick check. Have a close look at your calendar for the past ten days, check all the meetings you participated in. Now ask yourself a few questions about each of the meetings:
- Was my presence essential at that meeting?
- Did I learn anything new?
- Did I contribute during the meeting?
- Was it well planned and solved the challenge it intended to?
- Was a meeting the only way to solve the issue (could it have been shorter/skipped/replace by an e-mail)?
- Was it the best use of my time?
You can probably ask many more questions, but even with those few above, you probably get the picture. Many meetings we participate in are not very well planned, are missing crucial participants or information, or can be replaced with an e-mail or a phone call.
So, after checking your calendar and asking the probing questions, could your past ten days be a bit less “meeting crowded”? Could you have used your time better and more effectively address the same items those meetings covered?
How to make the most of your meetings?
To make your calendar a bit less crowded and perhaps eliminate some of the unnecessary meetings, ask a few questions every time you receive an invite. Especially when you are not sure why you need to be invited in the first place.
Here is what you can ask for:
Agenda. From my experience, most of the meeting invites contain no agenda and neither are listing questions nor items to be discussed. If you receive an invite like that – ask the organizer for the agenda; it will give you a picture of what to expect.
At the same time – don’t forget to include the agenda in the invitations you are sending. It has a few benefits – while putting it together, you will get a clear picture of topics you will cover, who you need to invite to reach a decision and how much time is required for the meeting.
- What’s the ask from me – if you understand the agenda, ask yourself if you know what’s expected from you. Do you need to prepare anything, collect the data, do any pre-work? Coming prepared to a meeting saves time and helps to avoid the so-called “follow-up” meetings. If you are not clear – ask.
When preparing your meeting – do you know what you need from each person you invite? Are all the participants the right and necessary audience? Will they know the answer when you ask them, or will they need more time and information and they will come back to you? Help them be prepared.
- What’s the goal of the meeting – what should be the result? Do you need a decision? Will you brainstorm for a new idea? Do you plan information sharing? It is easier to reach the goal when you have it clearly defined (btw, it works not only in case of meetings).
Don’t be shy to ask if you need to participate at all or if your presence is needed during the whole meeting. Ask if you can answer questions/send materials upfront instead of spending an hour on zoom. Get the agenda, be clear on the goal and what’s expected from you.
Indeed, there will be meetings which you cannot skip. There are topics and issues that can only be discussed in a group. That’s fair and understandable.
But some meetings clearly do not require your presence; I am guessing you (perhaps even more than once) “participated” in meetings and were browsing through the net or answering e-mails at the same time, right? Let’s face it; it is a waste of your time, multitasking is a myth.
Respect your time, energy, and talent – these are not unlimited and using them on pointless meetings should be the last thing you want to do.