I love New Year’s resolutions. I love hearing what “one thing” would change someone’s life enough that they elevate it to the supreme importance of a New Year’s resolution. I love supporting friends and colleagues in achieving their resolutions. I love sharing my resolutions with others so they can hold me accountable and support me. I know, I’m a dork.
So, here we go again. This year, I was hesitant to share my New Year’s resolution on the blogosphere because I feared I couldn’t accomplish it. Finally, 45 days in, it has changed my life enough that I’m compelled to share. Over the last 45 days, my energy has increased, my attitude is more positive and I’m having more fun at work.
And without further ado, my resolution this year is to be on time to meetings. Those of you who know me might find this resolution odd, since I’m probably not perceived as someone who is chronically late. That said, there’s being there and then there’s really being there. Towards the end of last year, I was packing so many meetings in that I wasn’t fully engaged in everything I was doing. I spent the first 5-10 minutes of many meetings either rushed and flustered or trying to prepare too late. Multi-tasking on conference calls was becoming more the norm than the exception. I knew I had a problem when I left a coffee meeting to “go to the bathroom” to catch up on urgent emails and texts that I couldn’t do while driving. Really? Who had I become?
Being on time to meetings doesn’t just mean being on time physically, it means getting there mentally and emotionally too. I’ve had to make some significant changes to “really get there”. Here’s what I’ve done so far and what I’m continuing to resolve to do. I share this knowing that some will consider me having gone off the meeting deep end, but also believing that it has made such a difference to me that I’m hoping it helps others too.
- Set Appropriate Meeting Lengths – With only about 50 hours a week of available meeting time, or significantly less if you factor in “real work”, travel time and necessary slush time, every hour in the week is hugely valuable. I’ll happily give an hour (or more) whenever an employee wants a career development discussion. Client problems often deserve multiple hours. We also need some fluid time to connect and catch up with colleagues and clients on what is going on throughout the week. In addition to those topics, I receive many hour long meeting requests that really only deserve 15 or 30 minutes. In the past, I’ve found myself in those meetings filling the hour and becoming increasingly frustrated and disconnected. This year, I’ve been looking ahead at what’s really important and have asked to shorten meetings. I was hesitant to do this at first, but I’ve gotten great reception from others.
- Opt Out – I find this discipline even harder than the previous one, because I fear it will be interpreted as “I’m not interested in your meeting at all” or worse, “I’m not interested in you at all”. The brutal reality is that the more senior our roles, the easier it is to spend all day in meetings that other people organize and the harder it becomes to achieve our objectives. I’ve decided it is better to opt out of meetings entirely than it is to be half focused, doing other work in the background. I just don’t multi-task well enough to do that! If I look ahead and see that I don’t have enough time to dedicate to a client project or other strategic priority, I’ll make adjustments, which could include delaying a meeting, asking someone else to cover, or offering to meet over the phone for a shorter time.
- Plan Realistic Travel Times – Many of my meetings are on the go, which requires me to be realistic about travel times between meetings. I’ve now started adding 50% to my estimates. My stress level has gone down since I’m not so rushed. I’m also adding travel times to my calendar, which helps others booking meetings on my calendar.
- Relish Being On Time – Being on time really means being early. I’m in an Entrepreneurs group that fines people $200 for being 1 minute late. What’s awesome is that everyone gets there early and when we start, we really start. I live in a world of back to back to back conference calls, so of course there’s a little bit of a grace period to find the next dial in number and get on the call. But, what I’m realizing is how much I enjoy getting there first and being able to say hello to everyone versus rushing in very last and feeling like people are waiting on me. This is a big reframe for me.
- Re-set End Time – I like to open the meeting with a confirmation of the end time, taking into account any changes in people’s schedule. If I say “I have as long as you need”, it opens up a very different conversation than “I have 7 minutes” or “I’d love to work through this quickly so I can get a deliverable to my client by 5”. It helps people get into the right frame of mind to know how long the group can focus.
- Turn off Distractions – Being present in the meeting means staying present. In person, this means putting away the phone. Virtually, this means turning off email and texts. I have found it helps me to know I’ll have a short break between meetings to respond to these urgent requests, which leads me to…
- Wrap Early! – We are so tempted to fill every minute of our meeting time. Instead, we should celebrate when we’ve worked through an agenda and can actually conclude the meeting early. Even better, we could set the end time of meetings to 5 or 10 minutes before the hour. One of my clients did this and it worked great. I’m going to see if my TE colleagues will go for this for any of our hour or longer meetings.
- Re-Plan Meetings – If a meeting isn’t working, change it. Change the time, the attendees, the agenda or all three. It is tempting to just look at recurring meetings as locked down and these are often the biggest areas of opportunity. Even if I’m not the moderator of the meeting, I’ll make recommendations to make the meetings more productive or opt-out.
- Block Follow-Up Time – This one is hard for me, because I am always living in the future planning the next thing versus wrapping up the last thing. I’ve found that the more targeted my meetings are, the more likely I am to have important follow-ups coming out of them. What I haven’t done yet is save time on the calendar for follow ups. I better wrap up this blog so I can do that now.
Great meetings are productive and fun. I’m having more of them now. Let the magic continue!