Let’s face it, sometimes we have days with too many meetings and we can start to lose focus as speakers drone on and on.  That sad kid above — that’s you after a day of useless meetings. Maybe you’re left wondering “what did we just discuss, and why was that important to me?”  Maybe you found yourself multitasking and now you don’t know what you just agreed to deliver. If you feel like you are driving blind, have little insight into you or your teams’ status, and see increasing confusion around prioritization of work, you may have just positioned yourself for what we call, death by meetings.

Although one might think that the remedy is fewer meetings, it’s actually the opposite. It’s more productive meetings that you need, otherwise you’ll end up with siloed teams rather than a holistically productive, well-oiled machine.  To regain focus, facilitate consistent, structured, and ultimately shorter meetings. So what are the rules for making your meetings more efficient and energetic?

Rule #1: Make sure you have a consistent, repeatable agenda for meetings that need to occur regularly – and stick to it. This is the single most effective technique for making meetings efficient. When you follow a consistent agenda, you are able to achieve efficiency from repetition, and eliminate the risk of going over your allotted time in order to cover all your bases.  In an active, ever-changing work environment, it can be difficult to dust off the cobwebs from the last inefficient meeting, and you’ll sometimes find yourself spending too much time “catching up”.  Consistent meetings keep you in the loop thus allowing you to spend time talking about what TO do instead of what DID we do.

Make a ListRule #2: Be structured A powerful tactic is to build an agenda based on a lightning round of input from each participant.  For Agile projects, this is typically accomplished by a daily or semi-weekly standup or scrum where each member comes to the meeting prepared to speak to items completed yesterday, what they are working on today, and raise any issues or risks impeding progress.

Rule #3: All things in moderation Choose a meeting moderator who is able to kindly and actively keep the meeting on track…and then DO IT! “Watercooler” talk is welcome at the end, once all agenda items have been discussed.

Don't sit downRule #4 – and maybe most important: Preparation is key Let me put this another way; would you ever “sit down” knowing there was no paper? Prepare for your weekly huddle by making sure you have clear vision into your work or questions for your Project Manager regarding what’s coming up.  On the flip side, as a PM, make sure you’ve reviewed all up to date info from your team before the meeting so you’re not asking questions about things you already have the answers to. This will ensure your meeting is spent discussing your upcoming work, making it clear, defined, actionable, and realistic.

Rule #5: To meet or not to meet? That is the question. Often times we find ourselves taking a meeting topic “offline” or scheduling a meeting to talk about a meeting.  In order to get your questions answered as efficiently as possible and in order to free up calendar space, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is my objective? What am I trying to solve?
  2. Could this be handled with an email? Can I get the details across and my questions answered thoroughly via email?
  3. Who does this impact? Are all invited TRULY contributing to the discussion?
  4. Am I looking for a discussion, or simply an update?

Finally, Rule #6: Sum it up Provide a wrap up at the end of each meeting where status, action items, owner, and any decisions are clearly written down for follow up. Although your team is hopefully taking good notes, a great PM takes great notes and the team should be reliant on your guidance and direction. Remember, all is well that ends well.

If you apply these 6 rules, we are certain you will notice the difference. We use this practice internally at Numeric Analytics and it has completely changed the way our calendars look. We have fewer meetings and we plan them for 25 or 55 minutes, to ensure we have 5 minutes to document and distill the actions from the meeting. All of our employees report feeling more fulfilled and in-charge and more able to plan their time accurately.