As part of my job I have to go to a lot of meetings. As it turns out, all meetings are not equally important. Many times, either during a meeting or after the meeting, I end up asking myself why the hell did I go to this meeting. Sounds familiar?
A couple of yeas back, instead of just whining about it, I decided to do something about this situation. I set a personal goal to cut down the meetings that I would go to by 20%. Not only I succeeded but I kept the same goal the year after and I accomplished that as well.
This is how I did it:
Ask for prep documents and an upfront agenda
If the meeting that I am invited to does not have an agenda in the meeting request, I ask for it before I commit to it. This approach has two positive effects: 1) it forces an organizer to think what he/she wants to accomplish that invariably results in a productive meeting b) I have an opportunity to opt out if I don't receive an agenda or the agenda doesn't require my presence. I also ask for prep documents for a meeting; I prepare for all my meetings and I firmly believe that meeting time should be judiciously used to discuss what people think about the information and make important decisions as opposed to gathering information that could have been accomplished prior to a meeting.
Opt-out with an alternative ahead of a meeting
If I believe the agenda is partially useful but I won't add any value by being part of the meeting, I connect with an organizer ahead of the meeting to clarify a few things or give my input, either in person or via email or phone. In most cases, me reaching out to an organizer serves the purpose and I don't have to go to the actual meeting. If I do end up having to go for such meetings I ask an organizer for a permission to either walk-in late or leave early. This saves me a lot of time and I don't have to sit through a meeting when I am not required to be there.
Postpone a non-critical meeting
If I see that I am invited to a non-critical meeting, I ask to postpone it by a few days citing my non-availability. In many cases, the issue would have been resolved in a few days and we won't be required to meet. It is important to decline the original meeting request and ask the organizer to create a new meeting request in future even if you have an intent to postpone and not cancel the meeting. Most people don't create a new meeting request and I won't hear back from them.
DVR the meeting
I ask organizers to record certain meetings when I believe that parts of a meeting would be useful at later stage. I fast forward non-interesting parts of such meetings and listen to the parts that I like. I underestimated the effectiveness of listening to a recording until I organized a few meetings as podcasts and listened to them during my commute. Most fascinating part of this approach, other than an ability to fast forward, is being able to listen to a meeting as an information session without having to worry about understanding all details and anxiety to make decisions.
If everything else fails, multitask
I believe it is somewhat rude and distracting to others when people bring their laptops/tablets to a meeting and keep working on it and not pay attention to the meeting. But, this isn’t true when the meeting is an audio conference. I don't work on my laptop or tablet when I am in a meeting room; I am fully committed to the meeting and completely present. However, for certain meetings, when I know that I don't have an option to opt out and it is going to be a waste of time, I dial into the meeting instead of being there in person. I do continue to work on my laptop while participating into the meeting. This is not to confuse with remote meetings that I participate in or lead when all people are not at the same location. I am fully present for those meetings.
Before you ask, yes, I did meticulously measure the time I saved. I had a simple spreadsheet that did a great job. I was a little hesitant in the beginning to push back for meetings but l became more comfortable as I started saving more and more time. I would highly encourage you to follow these rules or create your own and save yourself some quality time that you can use do other useful things.
Photo courtesy: Ho John Lee