Productivity, here we come!

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Let’s face it: that meeting you just napped through was probably just for show.

I used to take pride in being the first person to arrive at a meeting to which I was invited. But to demonstrate how slow I can be, it occurred to me that there is little point in always being first at something when no one else is around to witness it.

If your office is like mine, you have attended far too many poorly planned meetings that didn’t appear to have any purpose or structure. It’s not long before you soon begin to question why you are there in the first place.

Recently, when I experienced one too many people strolling late into a poorly planned meeting and wanting to talk about their weekend, I lost it faster than Howard Beale from the movie Network. Now, when it comes to bad meetings, I am mad as hell and not going to take it anymore! Since then, when I call a meeting and people stroll in late, or arrive without the necessary preparation, I address their lack of meeting respect with the same level of subtlety that Wile E. Coyote brings to bird watching.

I can’t be the only one who feels this way. According to humorist Dave Barry, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’”

Your time is valuable, and just how much of it do you spend in meetings? The authors of a book called Decide and Deliver: 5 Steps to Breakthrough Performance in Your Organization estimate that managers spend about half their workdays in meetings. If this is true for you, then using every tool available to ensure that half your day is as productive as possible is likely critical to success in your position.  

Thus, I would like to share with you some commonsense and technical solutions to help you run and attend better meetings. Hopefully, these will prevent you from pulling a Howard Beale at any meetings you attend in the future.

On the non-technical side, the following should help you better organize meetings:

{advertisement} Microsoft Outlook is configured to book meetings in 30-minute increments. I am shocked at how almost every meeting runs to the length it is booked. You can get more value out of a properly moderated 20-minute meeting than a typical unorganized 30-minute one. Make use of this 30-minute default time by booking a 20- or 50-minute meeting for all attendees but yourself, and then use the remaining 10 minutes at the end to capture action items, send follow-up information as promised, and record minutes. If you don’t take the time to capture this information, you may find yourself running off to the next back-to-back meeting and important decisions or items out of your meeting may be forgotten or lost.

Specify beforehand for attendees what decision(s) must be made and ensure that the decision makers are at the meeting. If they can’t attend, make sure they are aware that decisions will be made in their absence. To do this properly, offer non-attending decision makers a chance to submit and share their opinions prior to the meeting.  

Beware of “Meeting Pirates.” These scurvy dogs storm agendas and pillage others’ credit. A tightly scheduled agenda and moderator control of the meeting usually helps keep these pirates in the brig.

Ensure that your meetings have a purpose and are not just for show. Some organizations have meetings on topics simply to make it appear that problems are being addressed. If you are having meetings at which no decisions, action items, or documentation is created, was there really a purpose or need for the meeting in the first place?

Without some of the commonsense solutions listed above, no application or technical tool can really help you, but if you have your ducks in a row, the items below can help make good meetings great:

If you are truly mobile with nothing other than your smartphone in hand, you can still be an effective meeting participant (or even organizer). Everything from creating presentations to booking facilities and catering can be done with the right application. Check out www.meetingapps.com for what are probably more applications for your smartphone than any meeting attendee or organizer would
ever need.  

If you have an iPad, you know they are almost built for meetings. These highly portable, user-friendly tools are a natural for presentations and interactive displays. They are a great way to view streaming video, and can easily be passed around the meeting table, saving paper usually created for handouts.

Online collaboration tools can be of huge benefit in meetings where a lot of shared work is taking place. A wiki that meeting participants can all connect and contribute to during the meeting creates some amazing results. But beware: collaboration tools can make things a bit chaotic if not managed effectively. Done properly, with all participants able to participate and build on top of each other’s work — face-to-face, in real time — is amazingly productive.

PowerPoint is a great tool for formal presentations. But it’s an unnecessary time-waster if you’re simply giving your colleagues a quick update on a project. For more productivity tips, see www.effectivemeetings.com

My last suggestion to you is a hybrid of a technical and commonsense solution, and I implore you to begin using it immediately. An hour-long, pointless meeting with 10 attendees is not a waste of your time; it is actually a waste of all 10 participants’ time. Add up the combined salaries, and you really need to ask yourself if that late-starting, aimless gossip session was an effective use of your organization’s money.

For a potentially shocking demonstration of such wastage, an app called Meeting Meter Pro, available from the iTunes Store, can add up the hourly salaries of everyone attending a meeting and show a second-by-second tally of what the meeting is costing. For those who don’t sit under the Apple tree, a less flashy but just as effective service is available at www.deepfun.com/meeter.html.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to attend a meeting to form an action committee to establish an advisory team that will create a review panel that will be tasked with beginning the process of creating a preliminary report on establishing meeting efficiencies

Doug Caton is a Victoria IT manager.