Meetings are very expensive. Time is precious, and having many people in a room is quite costly by any measurement. The cost of an interrupted workflow is even worse, especially for a small business.
You might be especially productive early in the morning, from the moment you start working. I might require an hour or so of build-up time before I'm ready to get cranking. But when a meeting starts, our preferences and differences are cast aside. Meetings strip us of the core tenet of the creative process: autonomy.
We can't rid the world of meetings. After all, the benefits of meeting do sometimes outweigh the costs. But we can meet more wisely.
Here are five tips for improving the experience and outcome of meetings:
1. Beware of "Posting Meetings."
Automatic, recurring meetings run the risk of becoming “posting” meetings. If you leave a meeting without any action steps, you should question the value of the meeting. A meeting to “share updates” should actually be a voicemail or an email. Gathering people for no other reason than "it’s Monday!" makes little to no sense, especially when trying to filter through the bloated post-weekend inbox.
2. Finish with a Review of Actions Captured.
At the end of every meeting, go around and review the action steps each person has captured. The exercise takes less than 30 seconds per person, and it almost always reveals a few action steps that were missed. The exercise also breeds a sense of accountability. If you state YOUR action steps in front of YOUR colleagues, then YOU are likely to follow through.
3. Make the Majority of Meetings "Standing" Meetings.
One best practice I’ve observed in the field is “standing meetings” – meetings in which people gather and remain standing. The tendency to sit back and reiterate points dwindles as people get weak in the knees. Standing meetings are, by nature, more actionable. Courtney Holt, the former head of Digital Media at MTV and now the Head of MySpace Music, insists on the value of standing meetings in his team, "I try to make every meeting – especially those that are called last minute – a standing meeting... ideally each meeting finishes as quickly as it can." Most impromptu meetings that are called to catch up on a project or discuss a problem can happen in 10 minutes or less.
4. Bring Back Transit Time!
Building in 10-15 minutes of travel time between meetings can significantly reduce stress. In an article for Harvard Business Review, entrepreneur and business writing teacher David Silverman makes the point that, in grade school, when the bell would ring, we knew we had 15 minutes to get to the next class. "Why is it?" he asks "that when we graduate, they take away our bells, replace them with an irritating "doink" sound signaling "5 minutes until your next meeting" and assume we can now teleport to the location of same? What could cause such madness? In two words: Microsoft Outlook." It seems that the default principles of corporate scheduling have stripped us of the precious transit time that keeps peace of mind between meetings. To bring it back, Silverman suggests that, when scheduling an hour-long meeting, put it in the calendar for 50-minutes.
5. If You Must Meet, Meet on Tuesday at 3 p.m.?
LifeHacker reported a retrospective study from the online meeting scheduling service "When is Good" where, after reviewing over 100,000 responses to 34,000 events on their platform, they realized that Tuesday at 3 p.m. was the most "available" spot for a meeting. Such a finding suggests that there may be certain times (and days) during the week that, despite varied workflows, work best for your team. Hey, it's not scientific, but it's worth keeping in mind!
Admired leaders recognize the need to measure the value of meetings. Among the most productive leaders and teams I observed throughout the research for my new book, I found that the vast majority of teams shared a healthy hesitation to call meetings. Consider the above tips as ammunition against wasting precious resources in your small business.
This article is based on research by Behance CEO Scott Belsky, whose new book, Making Ideas Happen, is a Wall Street Journal bestseller. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the 99% productivity think tank, the Action Method project management application, and the Creative Jobs List.