Picture it – You’re at a large table with people surrounding you on all sides- 15 maybe 20 people are at the table- laptops in front of each of their faces and cell phones never more than an arms length away – presentation on a large screen in front of you – a piece of paper, an agenda if you will, to your left side – and the clock sl-o-w-ly ticking away at the FOUR HOUR meeting you have been invited to attend. In this meeting, you will be responsible for contributing 33, maybe 34, minutes of dialogue and then it hits you, like a sudden smack to the back of the head- Everything on your personal to-do list that you don’t accomplish due to this constraint for the next 4 hours- you’re STILL responsible for completing. Alas… One. More. Late. Night. At. The Office.
And there you have it, the death of an employee.
Alright, maybe it’s not THAT simple, but it’s also not that far from reality. As an employee (granted that you are a good one) you know your responsibilities and because they are just that – YOUR responsibilities- you’re going to make sure they are completed on time and on budget. This means you are at the office late, and sometimes on weekends, to ensure this happens, but after so many of these night and weekend shifts it starts to take a toll, thus we enter the burn-out phase of your employment. This phase is critical and quite unfortunate because with a few small steps, it could have been avoided or at least delayed.
Here are some rules to live by, the ones that everyone knows about and still chooses to avoid or let slide when they fall victim:
1. AGENDAS ARE AMAZING. – Okay, please excuse my bluntness but they really are phenomenal tools and yet we let them go by the wayside. Take the time to actually plan your agenda so that it makes sense for the meeting and then stick to it. Time manage the agenda – give each topic adequate but efficient time. If you are a participant of the meeting and you notice a section is running over by more than 5 minutes, speak up! You don’t have to be a jerk about it but simply say “these are excellent points, so much so, that I think we need to plan a separate meeting for this topic alone” if you do it that way you will probably be in and out in 30 minutes or less because it’s ONE TOPIC.
Leading to my next point…
2. YOU CAN’T SOLVE THE WORLD’S PROBLEMS IN ONE MEETING. – I do believe in agendas, but if there are so many topics to cover on the agenda that each one receives about 5 minutes of true attention, or the meeting turns into 4 hours, then you have overloaded this meeting. If something can be solved in 5 minutes, then major kudos to your team, but chances are that is not the scenario so now you are just skimming the subject, switching everyone’s brains over to this new topic and then ultimately never even approaching a solution. While this won’t work for every scenario, try to stick with 3 – 6 topics per meeting, depending on total length of the meeting.
Leading to my next point… (Like how I keep doing that? It’s called a transition, a terrible one at that, but none-the-less a transition.)
3. MEETINGS SHOULD BE ONE HOUR. – Give or take thirty minutes. I do whole-heartedly believe you can accomplish your goals in 30 minutes, as well as, believe that sometimes projects and presentations require 90-minute meetings. For anything beyond 90 minutes, consider once again, how many topics you are attempting to cover in the meeting and how many solutions you are hoping to reach. Maybe, JUST MAYBE if you really think about it, your one, 4-hour meeting should really be separated into 3, or even 4, separate meetings with ONLY the appropriate parties in attendance for each of these meetings.
And now for the main point of this lengthy little post and my three sub-points – If the majority of people in your meeting are consumed by their smart phones, are continually checking emails on their laptops, or feel that it is acceptable to leave the room to take numerous phone calls, then your meeting lacks focus, you’re trying to solve too many problems which is making your meeting too long, and collectively you probably have the partial attention of the wrong individuals to begin with.