The business world seems to have got into a bad habit of spending an excessive amount of the day in meetings. Your time is precious!
When you spot someone spending the majority of their time in meetings, it usually means they are disengaged with their actual job and it is a warning signal.
So how do you make sure that you're making the most of your time in meetings?
First of all, a meeting is like arriving at a station. The train doesn't wait for you. The simplest rule for any meeting is: don't be late and don't accommodate lateness. When you allow someone to come in late, you find yourself going back to explain where you are up to, or the latecomer ends up asking questions you've already covered. It disrupts the flow of the meeting and the energy in the room.
I've always had this rule. I remember in the City Tower office we would hold our weekly UKFast sales meeting in the boardroom which had a huge, sliding glass door. Once we slid that door shut, everyone in the team knew not to open it until the meeting was over. It's something we still do today and the sales meeting is consistently the most productive, energetic meeting in the business.
Beyond this, I have five key rules for making the most of meetings:
Set a goal for meetings
What is the meeting for? What do you want to achieve? If you can't succinctly answer these two questions before the meeting, you don't need to meet. There is a trend in business to have meetings for the sake of meetings. It can easily become a way of procrastinating and avoiding the work that you really need to do. Equally, without a clear aim, the meeting can easily run on for hours and still leave the team involved feeling unfulfilled.
Stick to an agenda
It is all too easy for a meeting to go off track. Someone makes a point that opens a can of worms and before you know it, you're three hours into the meeting and still no closer to the original aim.
In a board meeting or an important meeting where a problem may arise like this, I 'take it offline'. The issue is written on a whiteboard instead of letting it distract the whole meeting. We then come back to the whiteboard at a later date or straight after the meeting to address it as a separate issue.
One hour long
Set a time limit for all your meetings. Look at what you want to achieve and how long you expect that to take. Be realistic but also be mindful that your time is your most valuable asset. Will this meeting be the best way to spend your time to get results for the business?
I learned a few years ago that some big American businesses are targeting their teams on the length and number of meetings they have with potential customers. It's a great tactic for building relationships, but it also means your team being drawn into lengthy meetings that are effectively sales pitches. It is wise to keep everything succinct.
Two pens and a pad
Write everything down. How many times have you said you would complete a task and then forgotten all about it? Or inspiration struck and you had nothing to jot it down on and you forgot your great idea? Having a pen and paper in a meeting is essential for this reason. Equally, I always take a spare pen or pencil in case the other runs out.
It's worth noting that typing into your phone, an iPad or computer doesn't have the same effect. We're not wired to remember things we typed in the same way that we are when we handwrite notes. It's far easier to remember something you have jotted down by hand.
No phone zone
Phones are an extraordinary distraction. You're holding a meeting. You have everyone you need in the room. That last thing you need is your smartphone ringing, beeping and notifying you of everything else going on in the world.
It's impossible to focus on the room when you have a smartphone in front of you. Meetings are face-to-face communication; you are not going to ring the person next to you so why do you need to take a mobile into the room? There's no doubt a phone in the meeting room that can be used if absolutely necessary.
Lawrence Jones is CEO of UKFast. His blog can be found here.
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