It is intensive days. For 99% of all the leaders I speak to. I hear about meetings going on and on. Of meetings being booked back-to-back. Of lost focus and multi-tasking (when we know there is no such a thing as multi-tasking). Many feel they have lost control. They turn off their camera and respond to emails or take another phone call while someone keeps talking at them from their screen. I even know of a friend who has started taking short naps during day long meetings. Do you recognize this?
We might feel that we have lost control. But we DO have control. Here are 7 simple tips that you can use to take back the control over your working day:
- Turn all 60 min meetings that you are hosting into 45 min, all 30 min meetings into 20 min. We used to have to travel (whether by car, plane or just with our own two feet to a new conference room) to our meetings. In the “olden times” some of us might have complained about all that time spent transporting ourselves to a new location. But that transportation time did have some benefits. It gave our brain a chance to relax, put our mind somewhere else, ideally created some movement and as a result getting some circulation going. Now that we are all just in front of our own computer, in our own home, our meetings are often booked back-to-back. If you are not the host? Kindly challenge invites from others to see if the meeting can be shortened by 10 minutes. Apart from generating a better focus during the meeting itself you get an opportunity for a quick breather. Use the 10 min for a stretch, a deep breath and getting back in focus. Or even just a “technical” break. See these 10 minutes as an investment in the next meeting, not as a “break” or a reward.
- Start all meetings that you are hosting by sharing “the end in mind” and how everyone is expected to contribute. Very often we think sharing the agenda is all it takes. Sharing the agenda is a good thing to do. But it is not the same thing and it’s not enough. Even asking yourself the question “what do I want us to know or do differently or having decided at the end of this meeting?” when planning the meeting will help you be focused. After you have answered that question, you design the agenda. As a participant you should ask this question to the host (of course in a friendly, non-hostile-I’m-fed-up-with-meetings-way). Ask how the host would like for you to contribute and what to prepare in advance. As a matter of fact, the question on its own might lead to a better and more productive meeting.
- For “information” meetings where you don’t require that much input from the participant: record a short message or put it into a few bullet points rather than have a meeting. Then your team can read or listen when it fits them best. Just like this very list.
- For interactive meetings: prepare questions, not answers. To get the best answers you first need to ask the best questions. And remember, what’s the point of having a meeting that is not interactive? Look at bullet 3. Use the technology to your advantage. For example, breakout rooms. This does not need to be a tool reserved for training sessions. Many find it intimidating to speak up on camera when there are many participants in the meeting. Why not put your team into smaller groups and let them discuss one of the key points? Each group comes back and share their findings. Here the online meetings have a clear advantage to “in person” meetings, it’s so much timelier. As the meeting host it’s also interesting to see what happens when the same topic is discussed in smaller groups, without one or two voices dominating the conversation in the main room.
- Do “walk-and-talk” meetings rather than sitting down meetings, especially when you are not required to look at detailed information. Checking in with a team member or a colleague? Put on your shoes, get moving and enjoy some fresh air.
- A lot has been written in the past few months of “zoom fatigue”. And it IS real. Constantly being “on camera”, seeing your own picture and having intense eye contact with clients, co-workers and others can be exhausting. At the same time, nothing beats seeing facial expressions and (partial) body language. Set a strategy together with your team for which meetings should be on camera, or not. Be clear about your intention ahead of the meeting so that everyone knows what to expect. Once you’ve checked in on your own picture (no kale between teeth or other mishaps) you can turn of the display of your own video (not the camera, only the display). Keeping it on is really like walking around with a big mirror just in front of our face, seeing our own facial expression at every moment…!
- Finally, take a moment and look back at last week’s calendar. How much of your working time did you spend in meetings and how much of the time did you spend, well, you know….working?! It’s easy to feel trapped in vicious circle of meetings. But at the end of the day most of us are evaluated against the results we produce, not the time we spent in meetings. All of us influence the culture of our team and organization in one way or the other. What can you do to create a healthier meeting culture for you and for others?