How do you manage your meetings so they begin and end on time?

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Do your meetings (or calls) run into overtime

I’m a start-up founder. I need to meet vendors, partners, clients, team members etc. I meet them over an online conferencing tool (my most preferred medium of conversation) but occasionally I would have to invite them over to my office or visit them in person.  Sometimes, we’re able to get by with just a phone conversation.

I’m polite by nature. This means, most of my meetings run into overtime unless I really have a hard-stop and another meeting is about to start right after the current one. Especially true, when I’m sitting face to face with other people.  Do you face similar issues?

Duh!, Like, almost always!

Great, let’s read on!

For about six months now, I’ve been working on deploying strict meeting rules and policies to set agendas, follow up items with dates/responsibilities etc.

However, every once in a while, I come across a meeting that just doesn’t seem to end, and I find myself getting carried away, while draining my mental energies at the same time. After the meeting has ended, I feel like I should end my day right there, for it has sapped me dry of my total energy for the remainder of the day.

My Own Experience

This happened with me this last week and then again 2 days ago. I was meeting this new potential partner for our email distribution product and we set up time to meet at a local coffee shop. It was a Friday afternoon and I thought this could possibly be last meeting for the day, before I start winding down the week.  In all good measure, we planned meeting for about 45 minutes and arrived at the spot.

The meeting lasted twice the amount of time, yes, 90 minutes, and that did two things to me:

  • Of course, this meeting drained me of all my mental energy (remember, I start my day at 4 am) by the time it ended (3 pm)
  • It wasted valuable time that I had planned in my calendar for some personal tasks to finish before the week ends.

Now, I did enjoy meeting and talking to this gentleman thoroughly, but eventually, I only have a very limited amount of time in my day to accomplish all that I set out to do (My to-do list runs in 20+ items, 10 out of which are sort of my habit forming items, so they remain their for good measure)

The Second Meeting

Then again, we decided to meet next week but this time, I thought it would be better to do this in my office as it helps me control the narrative, and the agenda.  Well, as it turns out, it was even worse. The meeting started on time, and instead of the usual 1 hour that we had planned, we lasted 2.5 hours, and continued on till about 12:30 for a meeting which was supposed to last until 11 AM.

This is early in the morning, on a Monday, that means there is a shit ton of pressure on all of us to do some serious shit through the week and this isn’t the best way to get started.  But that’s what we did, and eventually, once again, I felt like my day was getting out of hand from this point on.  I thought of doing some research in some spare time (phew, not this week, I guess) to find ways to manage my time and my meetings more effectively.

My Thoughts For Ending Meetings on Time

Starting next week, here are the rules I’m setting up for myself, and for everyone that agrees to meet with me.

Keep a Loud/ Visual Timer Handy

I use Pomodone App for most part of the day (okay okay, a few hours……………………………………………… hmm, alright, first hour at best!  I said “part” of the day, didn’t I?  Jeez!!)

So, Pomodone allows you to connect it to Trello and thence to your actual task, that you do during each Pomodoro. I’ve been thinking about ways to connect my meetings to Pomodone so that we can actually have a 30 minute meeting, which starts with a Pomodoro 25-minute event, and the 5 minute break could be used for notes etc. (I know, it’s not as prescribed as Pomodoro technique, but way better than running the meeting through next Pomodoro, right?)

My research led me to this website that allows you to run Pomodoro in your browser. The best part is that it is open source so the code repository is available on Github for you to customize.

We will create a side hackathon project in our team to build an integration of this code with a Google calendar. Each meeting can then include it’s own timer view, that should be in clear view of everyone in the meeting.

Circulate Agenda Prior to The Meeting

As a second step, I’ve created a  spreadsheet on google docs and we will replicate it for each meeting (or project), and it will serve dual purpose:

  1. For maintaining to the point agenda; and
  2. To add/share notes during or after the meeting.

In the google calendar invite for a meeting, you know you can attach the documents and we are going to attach this spareadsheet.

This file has “Questions to Answer BEFORE we are in this meeting” and here’s what the spreadsheet will contain:  (I’ll share a version of this spreadsheet shortly)

Question 1: What is this meeting about?  

Please layout in a brief 100-200 words on what we will talk about in this meeting.

Question 2: What are we going to talk and when?

Break the meeting down in 5-minute blocks (with columns in the spreadsheet divided in 5 minute gaps) and specify what we are going to talk about in each of these blocks.

Question 3: What will be the primary format of each block?

There can only be 2 formats of conversations in a meeting – It’s either one person downloading information or presenting their case to the others, or it’s a conversation where everyone participates.  If it is former, please define who will be speaking for that block of time.

Question 4: Who will be taking notes for this meeting

In case the note-taker is going to speak, who will be backing this person so that the meeting notes remain consistent.

Question 5 :Who is going to be responsible for follow-on action items?

Once we are done with the meeting, there are two additional tasks to be completed:

  • Circulate notes & follow on action items
  • Set up calendars/tracking for the next meetings to follow up on these action items

We also request the team member to complete these within 10-15 minutes of the conclusion of the meeting.

An Addendum for Daily Meetings

One other part of my business that I’ve streamlined in the last year is the concept of daily stand-in meetings.  While we’re still a start-up and therefore, have a lot more stuff to talk about (and by default these meetings become product discussions) we do follow a baseline structure for these meetings.

Every one brings 3 important pieces of information to the meetings

  1. Updates – What did you do yesterday (or today, if you’re based in a different time zone, which in our case is a reality of business)
  2. Action Items – What are you planning to do today (or tomorrow)?
  3. Impediments -What is it that you  need from everyone else on the team?

A lot has been said about these formats in lean/agile software methodologies. Each company is different and every individual’s experiences are different.  I have found that the 5-7 minute daily stand-in is usually never enough to get this mission of agile accomplished.  We always run longer, but still, this format has helped us in managing our time well.

As long as what everyone brings to the meeting ties in to your long term strategic goals for the year, we all go back to our working days happy.

What are your meeting hacks?  Let me know in the comments below!

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