Yesterday I came into the office all fired up, focused, and ready to jump into the day. My commute was unusually easy, which allowed my mind to wander. I came up with some possible solutions to a problem I had been having with the report I've been writing. I made a bee-line for my desk, disregarding my usual inclination to head first to the kitchen and make a cup of coffee.
I had just opened a new Word document and was set to begin some uninterrupted time of absorbed work, when my phone rang. I'd forgotten about that meeting you called yesterday afternoon to talk about sales projections for this quarter.
Reluctantly, I rose from my desk and joined you and rest of the team at the conference table. I tried to sit patiently as you went around the table asking each person to update the rest of the team on what they're doing. It was clear you'd lost control of the meeting when one person had been talking for twenty-five minutes about an issue he's been having with his email program.
Soon, my mind was wandering, and I noticed an ant crawling up one of the table legs. I heard phones ringing and keyboards clacking. The heat was turned up too high, as usual, and I found myself beginning to nod off. All I wanted to do was get back to my work.
After what seemed like forever, you finally decided to focus on the topic at hand: this quarter's sales projections. Your assistant came in to help you open up your PowerPoint -- a fifty-slide deck, each slide filled with so much information it was impossible to both read them and listen to what you were saying. Then, I realized it didn't matter, because you were actually reading directly from the slides, verbatim.
After two hours, in a near catatonic state but for my stomach, which was roaring, you finally called the meeting to an end. Unfortunately, notwithstanding the two-hour barrage of "information," no one left the meeting with clear action steps on which they could execute. In fact, I'm not even sure most of the attendees could tell you what the meeting was about.
I returned to my desk wanting nothing more than to go home. I ended up spending an hour reading my accumulated email and returning calls, because by this point, I just wasn't up to focusing on my report.
I really do like my job, but we have so many meetings that I feel like I rarely have time to do it, and when I finally do get some free time, I rarely have much energy left. Isn't there a better way?
Your frustrated employee
If this is the sort of letter you wish you could send to your boss -- or if you're someone who holds meetings like these -- here are some potential solutions for a problem that's drowning so many of us. They are ideas that you might want share with your boss, or if you are the boss, try implementing them with your team members and see if you can keep them more engaged with quicker, more efficient meetings.
1) Try not to schedule meetings first thing in the morning. The early morning is when our energy is highest and our distractions are lowest, so it is a great time to focus on the most challenging work with the highest potential value.
2) Create a very specific agenda for your meeting, including exact start and stop times. Then stick to it. If people know exactly what they should expect from a meeting, they are more likely to stay focused and engaged. One strategy some of our clients have tried is to schedule meetings on the quarter-hour instead of the hour or half hour, because it sends a signal that they will start and end on time.
3) Never schedule a meeting for more than 90 minutes, and ideally keep them considerably shorter. We're designed to focus for relatively short periods, and then we need renewal. When we push against our natural rhythms, we lose the ability to be fully engaged.
4) Only schedule meetings that are truly necessary. If it's information that can be easily communicated by email, do that.
5) Ban non-essential attention-taking devices such as Blackberries and, if possible, laptops. Many of us are under the false assumption that we can pay attention in a meeting while answering email or surfing the web. If a meeting is worth holding, then it's worth having those present give it their full attention.
6) Leave your team with clear action steps at the end of the meeting. If people don't leave with a set of tasks to execute on, then the meeting wasn't necessary or productive.
Reprinted from TheEnergyProject.com
Emily Pines is the Director of Web Marketing of The Energy Project, a company that helps individuals and organizations fuel energy, engagement, focus, and productivity by harnessing the science of high performance. Follow Emily on Twitter @emilyjanepines.