How to eliminate 90% of your meetings

By on April 2, 2013

There are those moments in meetings where a group of bright minds come together, find creative solutions beyond the ability of any one individual mind and develop the momentum that makes things happen. And then there are all the other meetings, where you feel your life being sucked away… Graham Allcott reports.

So, what can you do – individually and collectively – to avoid or eliminate pointless or unproductive meetings? Here are a few ideas:

Desk Hijacking

Next time you’re about to organise a meeting to ask permission or get ideas, try desk hijacking. Go to the desk of the person or the team and ask for five minutes of their attention, right here right now. Explain that this will avoid a 30 minute meeting. This cuts out the rituals of such meetings. And as you’re standing in the middle of the office, the person you’re “desk hijacking” will get straight to the important details because they want to get rid of you! It’s also a great way to avoid meetings and lots of emails, because on your walks around the office, you’re open and available for others.

Collaborative technologies

Tools like Basecamp, Sharepoint, Google+, wikis and even just plain old shared Word documents all provide the capability for people share and compare ideas around a topic and reach a consensus. In particular, such tools offer a great way to create momentum by “starting with something to disagree with”. However, it requires bravery to produce a flawed first draft – because no one likes criticism or to have imperfect work representing them. So as a leader, create for your team a safe space to make mistakes – if you eliminate that nervousness, everyone can crack on!

Huddles

Instead of long team meetings each week or month, try a “Daily Huddle” – no more than 15 minutes long, performed at the same time each day (e.g. 9.15-9.30am), same agenda each day. Focus your “Huddle” on measuring results, updating those around you on key activities and working together to unstick problems. “Growth guy” Verne Harnish says growing businesses is “1% vision, 99% alignment.” Huddles provide regular alignment, without the opportunity for irrelevant cul-de-sacs.

Dipping in

Perhaps there’s long meetings where you now have something important to contribute, yet there’s an expectancy that you’re required to sit through the preceding hour, waiting for your slot. Be bold about suggesting you “dip in” just for your slot. This has a double benefit: not only does it reduce the time you waste, but it also provides focus for whoever is chairing of the meeting to ensure things run to time. You may do this occasionally, but could you do it more often?

Stealth and camouflage

Your calendar is shared. You don’t have a choice about when someone “books you in” for the meeting. In this instance, stealth is one of the critical habits of the Productivity Ninja! There are a variety of ways of making yourself less available: booking time on your own in a meeting room, working from home, obscure diary entries that suggest out of town meetings but really mean planning sessions in the coffee shop round the corner from the office…

We live in the most information-stimulated age in human history, and managing your attention is not a luxury, it’s the necessity. If breaking the cycle of being booked back to back with meetings means getting clarity, control and momentum on the critical projects, your boss and staff will love you for it. I see two common themes in almost every company I work in. First, experience that being “offline” (physically and mentally) is important to reduce interruptions and increase productivity. Second, that despite this experience, everyone feels guilty or unethical about doing it. I think this is something that as leaders, organisations and as a culture we need to change. This leads us nicely to…

Culture-change

Finally, whilst many of the above are very powerful as individual survival tactics, it’s worth acknowledging the role of culture. Sometimes it’s easy to subvert a culture, sometimes it’s not. Yet – and this will come as a shock to the jaded – it’s actually possible to change the culture! Sure, it takes some leadership, but if your organisation is beset by meetings overload, then others will feel the same way and will thank you for starting a courageous conversation. There are worse things in the world than getting a reputation as the person whose innovations are transforming productivity – so what are you waiting for?

** Graham Allcott is the author of How to be a Productivity Ninja and founder of the productivity consultancy Think Productive.

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