So you’ve just sat down from your most recent meeting, only to have a notification pop up on your computer telling you you have another in 20 minutes. You don’t even bother to put down your notebook and water bottle because then you’ll have to spend time just gathering it up again anyway. You make a quick bathroom run, refill your bottle, and off you go to your next meeting. Rinse, repeat.
I had a teacher in college who told my classmates about how she had meetings all day on Mondays. Like all day. If you had a class-related question, too bad. She was literally out of her office all day.
Other clients of mine have the slow drip of meetings. One at 10a, one at 2p, one at 4p. It’s death by 1000 meetings. It leaves little time to actually get into a zone and work on the things that came out of the meetings you had, so you’re constantly behind and show up to the next meeting simply reporting that you’ve made little progress on what you were supposed to do.
So, what do you do when you’re meeting’d out?
Meetings are really effective ways to communicate. Most humans prefer in-person communication because they can read facial and body cues, ask questions, take in others’ responses, and get the all important dopamine hit from having a chance to be social.
But meetings can quickly go off the rails when their intention and structure aren’t clear. Most people walk into meetings with roughly the same people addressing roughly the same problems with a vague understanding of what makes this one different from the one they just had or the one they had last week.
Here’s a quick way to get meetings on track.
First, set an agenda. This is not just a meeting-by-meeting agenda, but an overarching goal for this particular gathering. If it’s “to give each other information,” nope, not good enough. That’s an email or a progress report. If you have a weekly team meeting, the agenda should encompass something like “Making progress on X project” or “Getting on the same page about the next deadline” or “How to all survive during the upcoming push.” This overarching agenda is set by the most senior person at the table, so the manager of a group or a team leader should be the one saying “here’s what we’re focusing on this week.” Are you a group of people all on the same level? Then a manager above you should make it clear what the purpose of your meeting is and who is leading it.
Second, set an agenda. This is the micro level agenda. Literally the items you have to discuss in order to achieve your higher level goal established by the person in charge. This should be given to everyone in advance, ideally a day before, but at least enough time for people to come prepared. Which brings me to…
Third, come prepared. Be sure to show up at the meeting ready to report out and ask questions. Your info should be easy to say, all in one place in whatever format you need to make a presentation in a quick, effective way.
Fourth, take notes. Meetings should have agendas before and notes afterward. This is to keep track of what is said and for distribution to people who need some of the pertinent information, but don’t necessarily need to be in the meeting.
Fifth, assess whether the meeting is necessary. As I said above, if it’s a simple exchange of information, this should be in an email or a written report that people can read when they have the time. Meetings should be places to take things to a higher level than simple input. This is where feedback happens, problem solving, or addressing issues that are best addressed in person. Some people are duplicating efforts in meetings, literally reporting or rehashing the same information from one group to another. This is where notes can come in handy to save some precious work time in duplicating efforts.
What to do when it’s not changing
Finally, if it seems like you have to be in all these meetings, but aren’t making any progress on getting work done, three things might be going on.
First, you may have a job that is more a meeting job than a task job. People in executive leadership positions are meeting people. Their job is to clarify and communicate over and over again. They rarely have opportunities for actual tasks, so their to-do list should actually be pretty short. You may be an executive leadership person who needs to delegate some stuff.
Second, if that doesn’t seem to fit, then you may be doing a job that actually requires more people. This may require pitching to your supervisor that you need an assistant, a second person in your position, or a way to offload some of your tasks. This is not the place to be a martyr and stay late and come in early to show how dedicated you are. Your work will suffer if you don’t have space to recharge and poor work is just as bad as no work.
The final thing that may be happening is that you may not be qualified to do your job. This is actually most unlikely, but if you have a relatively low number of meetings in a day and can’t seem to execute the tasks you have been given, it may be time to ask for more training, a reassessment of your job, or to find a position that suits your skills. It’s most likely that your boss will grant you extra training to meet the skills your job needs (particularly if your focus has shifted), so check in around what would be most helpful and present it to your boss.
Meetings have become a panacea for miscommunication. Orgs assume that a lack of communication means you should make more opportunities for communicating rather than getting really effective in their communication.
If you’ve set up the structure I’ve mentioned above, I can bet that most of your problems will be alleviated when it comes to meetings. Now you can watch more cat videos!