Today was a rough Monday. I'm not one of those people who instantly hates Mondays, but this particular one was far from great. It was full of meetings where a decision couldn't be reached, stalls and roadblocks surfaced for almost every project, and we left with more questions than answers.
For someone whose obsession is productivity and progress, today was not my day.
But as I performed a self-retrospective of what went wrong, I realized how few and far between these "hard" days are. And that's mainly because of the rules and practices I started implementing many years ago when I first began working from home.
Now that the world has been turned on its axis, I imagine many others have found themselves in the same place that I was back then asking, "How do I remain productive and manage my time in this new normal?"
If you are currently in this situation, I hope these five steps can help you as they did me.
We've all been there...
We’ve all been there— that dreaded conference call that drags on and on, and when it’s time to hang up, you have nothing to show for it. No issues were resolved, action plans created or decisions made. The only thing the call resulted in was an agreement that a follow-up meeting was required.
The good news is you don’t have to participate in this madness any longer. Take control of your calendar, your time and your sanity by running meetings in an effective and productive manner. Here are five steps you can take today to make it happen:
1. Prepare ahead of time
A way to prepare ahead of time is by using your calendar as a way to prioritize your work. If you find yourself unmotivated to work on a proposal, go ahead and schedule a review of it with your boss for a day or week out so you now have a deadline to work towards.
Once reviews and cadences are scheduled, I typically spend a couple of hours on Sundays looking at my week ahead and identifying if there is any preparation required for my meetings. I also make time at the end of each day to reflect and look forward to ensure that everyone is prepped and materials are ready for meetings on the following day's schedule.
For example, if you’ll be sharing your screen for a demo or presentation, be sure everyone has the right access and links to materials prior to the call. That way, you can get right into the agenda without any delays.
For brainstorming or working sessions, you should create a collaborative workspace ahead of your meeting. There are plenty of agile and social tools available to enable file- and screen-sharing, document collaboration and effective virtual brainstorming sessions. Making use of these resources will take your meeting’s productivity to a whole new level.
A few of my favorites are the collaborative tools like Mural and Trello, and file/notes sharing with Box.
While preparing for a meeting may require more time than the meeting itself, just think of the time and effort you’ll save when you’re able to accomplish in one meeting what usually takes four.
2. Determine a clear objective
If you’re not sure what you want to accomplish during a meeting, how will your audience know the objective?
Clearly stating the purpose of the call in the meeting invite, in an email or on a slide will set the tone for attendees. Consider providing more information in an email beforehand to give insight into what you will discuss. Doing so may even identify a need for additional people to be added to the discussion if the meeting subject is their area of expertise.
3. Set an agenda and stick to it
Keeping to a schedule may seem simple, but it can be hard to do. I use either a PowerPoint or an agenda posted in our collaborative space to keep attendees on track. If you know that certain individuals tend to overrun your meetings by going into too much detail, be sure to go over the agenda with them up front and assign time frames to each item.
If you've been clear about the meeting objective and prepared an agenda ahead of time, you should have no issues moving the discussion along to reach your desired outcome.
4. Document, document, document
Another common mistake people make is not capturing what was discussed during a call. Meeting notes are not optional. It’s critical to recap each working session by highlighting key discussion points and next steps.
Take your notes a step further by listing owners for each action and due dates as discussed during the meeting. As common courtesy, don’t assign an owner without confirming with them first. Summarize at the end with information on when the team will reconvene to continue the conversation or review progress.
5. Follow through
To build strong relationships with colleagues and customers, the most important thing we can do is what we said we would do. Be sure to fulfill the actions you own, and provide a heads-up if anything will be late or different from what was agreed to during discussions.
Continue to look for ways to go above and beyond. Maybe you can get something done in two days instead of four, or perhaps you can provide additional recommendations on how to resolve ongoing issues.
What really matters isn’t what you said during the conference call; It’s what you do afterwards that can make or break your reputation and business relationships.
There you have it — sounds easy, right? That’s because it is!
To run an efficient and productive meeting in any industry, and yes even from home, all you need to do is take control. By ensuring everyone understands the objective, what needs to be accomplished, and has access to the necessary materials, you will start to see progress and productivity across all of your projects immediately. It’s that simple.
What ways do you stay productive and manage your time? Share your experiences in the comments below!