in Opinion

Meetings, there is a better way

This year I already have had over 170 meetings. Of course I have met a lot of interesting people thanks to these meetings and some meetings helped in getting things done. However in general it is a big time sink in my calendar and it is limiting me (and probably you) in getting real things done. Meetings are not something that get things done, in best case they prepare you for getting some things done.

That is my main reason to quit with most meetings. I want to get things done, I need to ship things (read this book about shipping things) as in creating things, publishing things, getting things done, my time is better spend then being unproductive in a room for most of my day.

There has to a better way

I have thought that numerous times after 10 hours of back to back meeting and telephone conferences. This many meetings makes me having a very inflexible schedule resulting in the simple fact that people sometimes have to wait for a few weeks before we can meet and it takes me days to finish up things since meetings get in between. During the many meetings I had, I have come up with some changes that makes meetings better, at least it makes meetings better for me. It will also be better for you, since you won’t have to be annoyed by completely overbooked calendar.

My way,the better way

First of all the number of pre booked meetings I had was ridiculous, sometimes the next week was already completely booked before the current week had to start. So therefore, I start with eliminating a big chunk of those pre booked meetings. Second of all, I will be more restrictive in accepting certain meeting invites in general. Not resulting in being unavailable for everybody who would like to meet, but make me more flexibility to have the opportunity to catch up with everybody while I still will be able to ship things.

As I said I will not eliminate all of those meetings. The meetings that still will be there are the obvious ones:

  1. Project work: If we collaborate together in a project and our meeting will help this project to become a success then there is no reason not to meet, unless it will become a time sink in which we never get things done.
  2. Absence and transfers: If you have to travel for a while we could agree on scheduling something upfront. Since I prefer to use my time useful by doing meetings in a different way, I assume you would like to not waste your time either by only traveling or waiting.
  3. Time and location: We could meet if there are any other dependencies on time and / or location.

Though there are also meeting types that are likely to be cancelled by default:

  1. Update meetings; these provide very little value and can be done as well via other, more efficient channels. If you have a hard time in transforming these kind of meetings, let me know, I will help you to get you your valuable time back by doing these meetings different.
  2. Meetings from people with who I spend some time on a regular basis in the same building / room (yes that includes colleagues). Feel free to walk by if you want to talk, though we are not likely to schedule something upfront. For the simple reason we probably see eachother anyway on a very regular basis.
  3. Meetings without any explanation upfront or where the explanation doesn’t provide me with enough information why I should attend to add any value. Rather obvious to cancel these ones, isn’t it.
  4. The ‘you have to help me’-meetings that are only benefiting you. Meetings should benefit all of those attending, not only you. I don’t mind to meetup to share my line of think or my knowledge on certain topics, however there has to be more than just one way traffic (in the end). I don’t mind bringing things at all, however there has to be some return some day.

The better way, so you will do conference calls?

No, conference calls aren’t a better way, same goes for meetings via office communicator, web meetings or whatever else tool you want to use to get people in a meeting while they are on different locations. These are just another way of doing meetings and I will treat them likewise. Especially the FYI conference calls(‘just dial in, it might be interesting’) are time wasters. If the added value is unclear, don’t expect me to dial in or to be present in any way.

The criteria I use to decide if the meeting is worth attending / accepting

Make sure there is some kind of agenda and a clear goal. If the goal and the way I could add value to the meeting (or how I could get value out of the meeting) is unclear, don’t expect me to attend.

Regarding conference calls, or any other meeting type that require me to be in a place with not so much background noise: I will schedule two blocks of 4 hours in my calendar which I will be spending in a quite silent place. If you want to have a call on a short notice try these blocks, otherwise it might take some time.

If you organise a meeting and for some reason you cancel the meeting, don’t expect me to follow up. Same goes if you say that you want to meet up, but don’t follow up, neither will I.

Meetings don’t have to be 1 hour, nor 15 or 30 minutes. If 10 minutes is what we need, we use 10 minutes, if 38 minutes is the time we need, that is fine. We don’t have to schedule 60 minutes if the meeting doesn’t take 60 minutes. Nor do we have to extend the meeting to 60 meetings if we are already finished after 24 minutes.

In case you decide to be late for our meeting, I might wait 10 minutes, however if you organized the meeting, I might not wait so long. If you think this meeting is important, then you are on time. If you are not on time, it isn’t important. If you just don’t show up, the chance on a second meeting is quite small unless there are good reasons.

It mights be obvious, but since meetings have a start and an end time it does mean it that it ends on the proposed time (or earlier as mentioned before).

If there is no direct urgency to schedule something upfront in our calendars: we just don’t.

If you see me sitting somewhere and want to get some tea or juice and catch up or ask a question: just do it, I don’t mind to catch on an ad hoc basis, the thing I do mind is scheduling these kind of things upfront and make my calendar feel like a straitjacket.

Shipping is what matters

Meetings are not important, shipping things is what matter to me (and should matter to you, unless your job is doing meetings…). If I need a meeting to ship things, I will not hesitate a moment to be there or even to schedule it, for all other things: meetings are overrated and often not needed. Too many people see meetings as work, while it isn’t.

Sitting in a tree with a group of people would not be considered as work, however when we are sitting in chairs around a table in an office, we suddenly think of it as work?