13 Dec I Need to Talk About Meetings
13 December 2022
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
I subscribe to a couple of essay aggregators in addition to four or five blogs and three newspapers. More than I can possibly keep up with. So, most of the time, I find myself skimming the headlines more so than reading the full content.
Several articles recently caught my attention related to meetings and time management.
One was written by a web author named Jack Turner. He recently embarked on a ten-step process to reduce the amount of time he was spending in meetings each month. His bottom line was “less time in meetings = more time for doing.”
Here’s what he said he did:
- Informed his entire team and those he reported to that he was intentionally stepping back from many meetings where he did not feel his presence would add value. In this way, he was asking for their support.
- Designed a process to measure his “productivity ratio” meaning the relative time he spent each day doing what he called deep work, emails, breaks, and meetings.
- Spent 15 minutes each night pruning the next day’s schedule.
- Scheduled two hours of uninterrupted time each day.
- Developed a strategy for dealing with unplanned meetings. The strategy he developed is one where he pushes unplanned meetings into the afternoons (because he feels more productive in the mornings) and not assuming that he has to accept all meetings he is invited to.
- Assigned proxies when it made sense – other members of his team who can attend the meetings in his place.
- Used available technology such as Google docs to problem solve in writing instead of in meetings. Turner says that this “works by an individual with a problem circulating a shared document with their initial thoughts to key stakeholders, who can then comment on the document or add in additional narrative without the burden of version control.” He credits the process with improving his team’s collective thinking and note capture quality.
- Scheduled “office hours” meaning hours when his colleagues are welcomed in for “drop-in” meetings. (This would only work when his calendar is public and his team is trained to look for the office hours time slot.)
- Raised the bar for accepting unplanned meetings. He now requires a 300-word problem statement and a clear agenda before evaluating whether to accept an ad-hoc meeting request.
- “Batched and hacked” his meetings. Batched in the sense that he tries to schedule meetings together on the same day or at least back-to-back. And hacked, meaning arbitrarily making a 60-minute meeting 45 or a 30-minute meeting 20.
OK – phew. That’s quite a list, and I can certainly buy into much of it. I love the dedication to spending 15 minutes each day organizing your tomorrow, and I love “scheduling” uninterrupted time.
I also love the intentionality of having ad hoc meetings sharply focused on the process for solving a specific problem (though the 300-word mandate seems a bit much).
What I have a harder time getting around is the underlying assumption that meetings are wasteful. OK – some meetings are wasteful, but that’s a judgement you are best able to make after the meeting has happened. It’s harder to predict which meetings will be critically important and which meetings will be wasteful before they happen.
For me relationship development is just as important as the “productivity ratio.” And that’s the piece that is missing from Turner’s list. Most of the time, relationship development doesn’t happen on a schedule. Any parent knows that.
COVID has screwed this up for me even further. When I had to travel to meetings – across town or even across the hall – I had some built-in space at the front end to get mentally prepared, and at the back end to mentally review what just happened. (Some would call that wasted time.) With ZOOM or Teams or Google Meet, we tend to run out of one meeting and open up another right away. That’s a net loss for me.
There’s a popular saying that if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, take the time to bring everyone with you.
I think evaluating meetings comes down to this: if it’s all about your personal productivity measured on a daily basis, Turner’s list makes some sense. But if it’s about team relationships and team productivity measured across years, maybe meetings have a purpose larger than the actual agenda. That’s the “taking the time to bring everyone with you” part.
Perhaps, instead of unilaterally deciding that “less time in meetings = more time for doing,” we should engage the entire team in helping make meetings more effective and useful. And we should start by asking what we get out of meetings instead of why we find them wasteful.
Happy Holidays!, and have a great week.
PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.
Photo by NickePe courtesy of Pixabay.