Making Meetings Work Again

Making Meetings Work Again

I hate meetings. There, I said it. It’s out there. Mostly I hate meetings because the vast majority are a simple and utter waste of everyone’s time. In companies across the country and around the world, employees attend 62 meetings per month and at least half of those meetings are considered “time wasted.” Employees spend hours and hours in meeting rooms talking and discussing without a clear objective. Nobody knows why they are there, what they are supposed to do and what should happen after the meeting – except to have yet another meeting.

Meetings are currently one of the most unproductive elements of our day but they don’t have to be. With some simple tweaks and some discipline, meetings can be quite efficient and effective and actually even quite satisfying.  Here’s how you can make your meetings work again:

  • Schedule meetings in advance and think critically about the amount of time that’s needed. All meetings do not need to be an hour. Most can be handled in 15-30 minutes.
  • Be thoughtful about who is invited to attend and what their specific role is in the meeting. Try hard to limit the number of attendees and remember you only need to invite one person to represent each department or group.
  • Set a clear objective for the meeting. Identify and communicate the specific goal and expected outcome of the meeting.
  • Outline an agenda including topics with time allocations and send it to meeting participants in advance so they are prepared.
  • Start meetings on time and end 5-10 minutes early to allow people to regroup and get to their next meeting on time.
  • Identify a record keeper to take notes, document decisions and record action items which should be assigned to specific people with deadlines.
  • Ask participants to put away their phones and laptops for the duration of the meeting or if they have something more pressing to take care of they should feel free to leave the meeting and catch up through the meeting notes.
  • Ensure the discussion and all comments are on topic and relevant. If other topics arise, suggest scheduling a separate time to discuss that and encourage everyone to get back to the topic at hand by reminding them of the objective.
  • As soon as the meeting ends, add any action items you may have been assigned to your to-do list so you don’t forget about them.
  • Send meeting notes to meeting participants within 24 hours of the meeting including key decisions, action items and next steps.

TRY THIS OUT: Before you schedule your next meeting, stop and review this list. Pick three of these things to implement and see how it works and what reaction you get. Keep what works and throw out what doesn’t. Then pick three more to test for your next meeting. You can be a leader in your organization by leading effective meetings.

Big Rocks and Little Rocks

Big Rocks and Little Rocks

We all struggle with prioritizing the big and important things in life and making time and finding the focus to tackle them. For several years, when I was working in the corporate world, I printed this out and hung it up in my office.

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It often caught people’s attention and got us started on substantive conversations about their work, identifying priorities, choosing how to manage time and about focusing on the big rocks versus the little rocks.

When faced with a big long list of tasks, most of us naturally gravitate to the quick and easy ones first. And, why not? Finishing off a few things quickly makes you feel good and accomplished in the short term, but is this the right approach for the long term?

You might recall Steven Covey’s story about life’s bucket and if you fill it first with sand, then gravel, you will run out of space for the bigger rocks. However, if you start with the big rocks first, followed by the gravel and finally the sand, there will be plenty of room for it all since the smaller items will fill in the gaps in between the bigger ones.

Seems to make sense in the physical world but how do we apply this to our real life tasks? How do we make sure we are putting the big rocks first when it’s so easy to get side-tracked by the gravel and sand? Nowadays it’s more difficult than ever with so many constant dings, pings, notifications and alerts all constantly clamoring for our attention.

Simply start by prioritizing your daily top three tasks, or BIG ROCKS, for each day. You don’t have to prioritize the little things; they will just naturally fall into place. You don’t need to put eat lunch or check email or go to the bathroom on your list of priorities because you will naturally make the time to take care of those things. It’s the big, important and hard things you need to identify and then find dedicated time to focus on getting done.

TRY THIS OUT: First, evaluate what you are spending your time on? What are the big rocks that you need to tackle? How much time are you currently dedicating to the big rocks versus the little rocks? How can you adjust your schedule or your priorities to make time for the big rocks?

The Rule of Three

The Rule of Three

Have you ever noticed that a lot of things in life come in threes? It’s not just a coincidence but there’s truly an art and science behind using the rule of three to improve effective communication. This principle suggests that things that come in threes are more interesting, enjoyable and memorable. There’s also a certain balance and rhythm when listing three items.

In fact, the Latin phrase, “omne trium perfectum” means that everything that comes in threes is perfect which reinforces this concept. Here are some of my favorite examples:

  • first, second, third
  • past, present, future
  • red, white and blue
  • hot, warm, cold
  • beginning, middle, end
  • small, medium, large
  • sun, sea and sand
  • ABC, 123
  • red, yellow, green
  • yesterday, today, tomorrow
  • stop, drop, roll
  • life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
  • big, bigger, biggest
  • high, medium, low
  • conceive, believe, achieve
  • stop, look, listen
  • gold, silver, bronze
  • earth, wind, fire
  • knife, fork, spoon
  • vanilla, chocolate, strawberry

When I started putting together my own prioritization system to improve my productivity, I came up with the concept of the Daily Top Three. Each day, before tackling anything, I think about my goals, review my task list and select my top three tasks for the day. Not one, not two or four or five – just THREE.

Just as the rule suggests having three tasks is easy to remember, seems manageable and just challenging enough. Now there are days that I get 5 or 6 tasks done and other days, I barely manage to get one done. But the end of the day, no matter how many tasks I complete, I still select three more tasks to focus on the next day. It just feels right.

TRY THIS OUT: Take a look at your to-do list. If you don’t have one, you may want to quickly create one. Think about your goals and pick out three tasks to focus on and get them done. Once those three are complete, then go back and pick three more.

What are some of your favorite lists of three that I might have missed?

Smarter Uses of Your Smartphone

Smarter Uses of Your Smartphone

We all carry around our smart phones as if they were a part of our body and check them an average of 85 times a day. Not only do they serve as phones, they have replaced calendars, cameras, alarm clocks and radios. For some they have even taken the place of our computers. Here are some additional features of your smart phone that you may not be taking advantage of that can help you increase your productivity.

DON’T ANSWER TO A NUMBER

This one is very basic but hard to do. With contacts, you can see who is calling you. If you don’t recognize the phone number of the person calling you, DO NOT answer it. Let them leave a message and then you can determine if and how to respond. Nine times out of ten, they won’t even leave a message. Also, if someone you know calls but you’re in the middle of something, stay focused and give them a call back later.

KEEP TRACK OF TASKS

You always have your phone with you so it’s the best place to keep track of your tasks. Whenever something pops into your mind to get done, enter it into an app on your phone and then you don’t have to remember to remember to do it later. Free your mind and use your phone store your tasks. Plus, when you have time, all of your tasks will be in one single place making it much easier to prioritize.

USE YOUR TIMER

Being productive requires focus which is becoming more and more challenging given the large number of distractions competing for our attention. Try using the timer on your phone to set aside 20-30 minute blocks of time for focused, uninterrupted deep work. You will be amazed at how much you can get done in that amount of time as well as how quickly time flies by. When the timer goes off, reward yourself with a quick 5-10 minute break and then repeat.

SET REMINDERS

If you have to do something at a particular time or by a specific time, set a reminder. Reminders will alert you with a buzz and a quick message so you don’t forget something critically important. In this case, this type of alert or notification can actually save you.

TRY THIS OUT: Think about how you currently use your phone. It is just for phone calls, emails and text messages? What other features can you utilize to help you stay focused and become more productive. Pick one of the suggestions from above and try it out for a week to see how it feels and if it is helpful or not.

The Power of a Shower

The Power of a Shower

At one point or another, we all struggle with writer’s block or we fixate on a problem without a solution. At times we can be obsessed with a disagreement with a friend or a comment we made that was taken the wrong way. We can also fill our brains with worry and anxiety about an upcoming event.

During these times, we naturally tend to focus more of our attention and energy on the issue or concern versus taking a step back. Recently, I have tried a different approach. Whenever I find myself fixated on an issue or stuck solving a problem, I take a shower.  Yes, a shower.  Sounds weird doesn’t it?

But, think about it for a second. When you’re taking a shower, you aren’t doing anything else with your mind. Cleaning your body is such a routine task that it frees your mind and allows it to wander and think openly and creatively.

I found research actually supports my findings. When you’re taking a shower, you are distracted thus allowing your subconscious mind to think creatively about the problem at hand and come up with some new ideas or solutions. Taking a shower is also relaxing which releases dopamine which in turn unleashes your creativity.

Those of us who are hyper-focused on getting things done might see taking a shower as a waste of time. I used to jump in and jump right out to get on with my day. I have since reframed my thinking to recognize that taking my time in shower actually increases my productivity by giving me the time to gather my thoughts and come up with new ideas or solutions. I now see this as a critical time for mentally planning and preparing for the rest of my day.

Of course, if you’re at the office, you can’t just jump in the shower but taking a short walk or taking a break to play a game can have similar effects. Whenever you are stuck on a problem or can’t seem to find the right words, find a different activity that is both distracting and relaxing.

TRY THIS OUT: Next time you find yourself obsessing over something, take a break. Stop and take a shower or take a walk. Let your mind wander and watch how the ideas and thoughts just start to flow.

The Juggling Act

The Juggling Act

Inevitably no matter how much we try to manage our tasks and our time, we end up having more to do than is humanly possible. Many of us relate to this imbalance as performing a never-ending juggling act. The goal is to keep all of the balls moving in the air without letting any of them fall on the floor.

In real life, no matter how good we are at juggling the many tasks on our plate, sometimes balls will drop. We must accept that this is just part of the game and not see that as failure. More importantly, we should take inventory of the balls we are juggling, categorize them and then play the game accordingly.

There are three balls in the game of life: glass balls, plastic balls and rubber balls. The key to success is to understand which category the things that you are juggling fall into. Sometimes this can be more challenging than the juggling act itself.

GLASS BALLS

 Glass balls will break and shatter if they fall. These are the things that need your immediate and focused attention. They are the things that are most important, cannot be delayed or delegated and will have a negative impact if dropped.

PLASTIC BALLS

These balls will fall but will not break. They will lay on the ground and roll around until they can be picked back up again. These things can wait and be attended to at a more convenient time or date. These things don’t need immediate attention and can be picked back up later.

RUBBER BALLS

When dropped, rubber balls will continue to bounce around for some time by themselves. They have enough energy to keep going by themselves for a little while. There’s no immediate or negative impact from letting rubber balls drop every now and then. They can easily be picked back up when time permits.

So, the successful juggling act dictates that you never drop a glass ball. The glass balls should command all of your focus and attention. If you need to drop a ball, try to drop a rubber ball. It will keep going for some time allowing you to pick it back up later. And, if you drop a plastic ball, no permanent damage will be done.

TRY THIS OUT:  How many balls are you juggling right now? Can you categorize them into glass, plastic and rubber balls? What can you to do make sure you don’t drop any glass balls?  If necessary which rubber balls can you let drop?

Double or Nothing

Double or Nothing

I was trying to schedule a meeting with a very busy working mother who was very concerned about and reluctant to commit to a meeting time. After digging in further, I found out that her career often required last minute requests with quick turnarounds and as a result, she didn’t feel like she had control of her schedule. She shared that often she would avoid scheduling meetings or appointments for fear of letting someone down if she couldn’t make it or had to cancel at the last meeting. This extended into her social life as well.

More often than not for most of us, life happens and things get in the way of our plans and impact our scheduled plans. While it’s critical to plan and schedule your time to maximize productivity, the reality is that things change and schedules have to be adjusted. In fact, sometimes we need to plan for that.

One handy trick that I’ve used for years and has saved me many times is to “double book.” It’s so simple. If something needs to get done, schedule it into your day. And, if it’s really important, schedule it again at another time. Yes, just go ahead and book two times to ensure that if something comes up and disrupts the first window, you already have a backup plan in place.

This works for exercising as well. If you really want to make sure that you get out to the gym or for a run, schedule time to do it. And then find a second time to make sure if you miss the first window, you still have time to get it done.

It’s a bit more challenging but you can do this for meetings as well. First, set expectations with the meeting participant that your schedule often gets disrupted with urgent, last-minute requests but meeting with him/her is really important to you so you would like to book two meeting times in case the first one falls through. Nobody has ever turned this down or questioned it. In fact, most are pretty open to it and think it’s a pretty smart idea.

And there’s also an added bonus benefit. When you do get your task done or meeting in during the first scheduled spot, then your second one opens up some valuable time on your calendar to do something else or have some fun. It’s always nice to delete an appointment and see some unexpected time open up in my day.

TRY THIS OUT: Pick something that you really need to get done this week. Schedule time for it and then schedule another time later in the week to make sure it gets done. You win either by having a backup plan or by opening up extra time on your calendar.

The Daily Top Three

The Daily Top Three

So, you have a to-do list and things get added to your list but it feels like nothing ever comes off the list. Sound familiar? While most people know how to create and update their lists, they don’t really know how to manage it. How do you prioritize items? When should you delete a task? How do you decide which task to focus on first?

Most productivity gurus promote the concept of selecting a few tasks to focus on at a time instead of trying to do everything all at once. Leo Babauta, author Essential Zen Habits, popularized the term Most Important Thing (MIT) to promote the idea of identifying your top one to three tasks each day. In a recent Pinkcast, Daniel Pink asserts that using the MIT process is a simple trick to getting the right stuff done.

Here’s how it works for me. It’s a little like playing the lottery. Each day you simply pick your top three priorities for the day and focus your time and efforts on making sure they get done. You win when you complete all three of them before the end of the day. Sounds easy and fun, right?

While there are many task management tools and apps available to track tasks, none help you actually manage your list and get stuff done. A new task management app called priorigami: the art of productivity has this concept baked into the app.

Each day the app sends you a reminder to select your Daily Top Three. You can choose to get the reminder at any time you choose such as the night before or at the beginning of your day. Click on the reminder to review your list of tasks and then drag and drop your priority tasks into the Daily Top Three section. The app tracks your progress and sends you a progress update towards the end of the day giving you just enough time and a little nudge to finish up any remaining tasks.

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Sometimes things come up and priorities change during the day so you can always go into the app and shuffle your tasks and reset your Daily Top Three tasks for the day. In fact, this is a good habit to adopt even without any unexpected disruptions. The app will send you a reminder to review and shuffle your tasks during the day as well.

TRY THIS OUT: Download priorigami for FREE from the iTunes App Store. Try it out for a week and commit to selecting your Daily Top Three each day. What were the results? Did you feel more focused on your priorities? Did you get more done? Do you feel better knowing you are working on the most important things?

Get More From Your Calendar

Get More From Your Calendar

Last month, my daughter I went on a college tour in New England. In six days, we visited five different schools in seven states. We stayed in four different hotels and attended schedule college information sessions, campus tours and met with coaches. And, I used my calendar to keep track of it all.

Most of us consistently use Outlook, Google or iCal to schedule and keep track of our business meetings. These tools are great for checking schedules, finding meeting rooms and getting group meetings on calendars. But, they can also be very effective in helping you manage your own time and if used properly can actually help you be more efficient and productive.

Here are some ways you can get more value out of your calendaring tool:

INCLUDE THE WHERE

Most calendaring tools have a field for “Where.” Most often this is the conference room. However, for off-site meetings or conference calls, use this field to include the full address of the meeting location for quick access to driving directions or conference call dial-in information so you don’t have to hunt for it.

ENTER CONTACT INFORMATION

Take an extra minute to add in phone numbers and email addresses of meeting attendees in the notes section in case you are running late and need to inform someone. This is especially helpful when you’re stuck in traffic and are unable to dig to find contact information. This also comes in handy if you are waiting for someone and want to find out where they are.

ACCOUNT FOR TRAVEL TIME

If the meeting is off-site at another location, block time before and after the meeting for travel. This will ensure that you or someone else doesn’t book something else at the same time you need to get to the meeting. Allow for more time than you think you need. If you get there early, you can use the extra time to reply to a text, quickly check emails, or browse your social networks.

ATTACH AN AGENDA

Most tools allow you to include attachments. Use this feature to attach the agenda so you’ll know what will be discussed. You can also attach any related notes or a list of questions so you can easily access them during the meeting and make the most of the meeting time.

TRY THIS OUT: Take a look at your calendar for the week ahead. What additional information can be added to your meeting appointments now to make your life easier later? Have you accounted for travel times? Check to see what might be missing from your calendar that you can go ahead and schedule in to make sure it gets done.

Less is More

Less is More

Often when considering productivity, we think about how much we have to do and how to get it all done. The volume of how much we have to do seems overwhelming. So, what if we limited the number of tasks on our to-do list? Sounds a little backwards but one easy and smart way to become more productive is to reduce the number of things we are trying to do.

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In his book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” Greg Mckeown explains “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.” He continues, “Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.”

This concept is not just limited to tasks. Think about how many things you have as well. We all have way too much stuff. I was fascinated by the story of Rob Greenfield, a 29 year old entrepreneur, environmental activist and minimalist who has limited his possessions to just 111 items that fit in his backpack. He shares, “Through my years of downsizing, I’ve found that material possessions don’t create long term happiness or fulfillment for me. I’ve found that an overabundance of possessions hinders my purpose and passion rather than facilitates it.”

Recent research and experiments have proven that working fewer hours results in increased productivity as well. In fact, in 2000 the French government mandated a 35-hour work week and has also since eliminated checking email after hours. Several companies in Sweden have experimented with a 6-hour work day and found that they were doing just as much if not more than they accomplished in 8 hours just by working more efficiently.

So, which of your tasks are hindering your purpose and which ones are helping you reach your goals. Think critically and deliberately about focusing on the Most Important Things from your long list of tasks and you’ll begin to see your productivity increase. The old adage, “Less is More” supposes that by doing fewer things, you are directing more time, energy and attention to the things that really matter thus resulting in a better end product.

TRY THIS OUT: You, too, can become an essentialist: simply ask yourself, “Is this the most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?” Challenge yourself to focus on the few versus the many by eliminating distractions and time wasters.