This episode is going to be short and sweet and you’re going to find out why pretty quickly.
One of my favorite shows of all time is The West Wing. I loved the quick pace, the witty banter, the thoughtful approach to complex issues, and the relationships of the characters. They were good people doing their best and occasionally, with good intentions, messing up.
There are many things I like about The West Wing but what I want to talk to you about today is something I noticed in the episodes and became very intrigued by.
Most of the meetings happened in short bursts. Some as short as 1-2 minutes and even in The Situation Room where serious things were going down, people got right to the point so they could fulfill the purpose of the meeting which was to make decisions. Information was given clearly and concisely and if more information was needed the meeting was ended and everyone moved on to do what they needed to do.
Otherwise, they made their decisions, everyone had their marching orders and they moved on. Meeting over. On to the next important issue.
I was reminded of this recently when I was meeting with a woman who was the head of an organization who was in a tight situation. She needed to have contact or facetime with many different groups but her days were getting eaten with meetings and she had to work longer hours to stay caught up on emails and get her own project work done.
I told her about what I’ve labelled “The 5-Minute Meeting” from The West Wing. She was intrigued and we explored what this could look like day-to-day for her.
Now this is not to say that all meetings are 5-minutes. That number is as arbitrary and meaningless as a 30, 60, or 90-minute meeting.
However, only allowing a meeting to as long as it needs to be prevents “needless expansion” from happening.
“Needless expansion” includes, among other things, people starting to come late to meetings because the meeting never start on time anyway. Idle chit chat at the beginning of the meeting that serves no purpose other than put off actually starting the meeting, and people coming to the meeting unprepared because they know there is plenty of time to talk ideas through rather than flesh them out beforehand.
Also, included in this is when people feel the need to tell stories, gossip, or give irrelevant opinions to the matter at hand. Then there’s the time when two people have a conversation in the meeting that they could have by themselves after the meeting but choose to have everyone bear witness to it instead. I’ve been victim to this rude behavior and I’ve been the perpetrator as well.
There are so many ways a meeting can be hijacked by time wasters and if you’re a people pleaser you probably struggle with how to handle it. Rude behavior isn’t always conscious behavior and that’s why we need other people to kindly bring our attention to it.
Not all meetings are time wasters but it’s important to do something about the ones that are.
For meetings I know to be time wasters, I’m a big fan of cutting the time for the meeting in half. To make it work you need to let everyone know the timeframe in advance and set some ground rules.
The ground rules may include that the meeting will start promptly at the start time, all materials to be discussed need to submitted to all attendees, for example, 24-48 hours in advance of the meeting and everyone needs to be prepared to concisely give their report. Let everyone know how much time they will have to present and hold them to it. Time them if you have to. They’ll learn.
And how do you end a meeting that is starting to go overtime? If it’s in person you stand up and let everyone know that’s all the time you have. Give assignments, thank everyone for their time, and move toward the door. If it’s via video conference you call the meeting to a halt, give assignments, thank everyone for their time and end the call.
Soon enough people will come to realize that your time is valuable and when you say the meeting will be 18 minutes (or however long you set for it) that means it’s up to them to make sure they are prepared going into the meeting and get right to the point.
Even if it’s not your meeting you can make requests to have them run a bit differently or say you can only be there for part of the meeting.
If you’re someone who hates meetings because they eat up too much of your day start doing what you can to minimize your exposure to this time-waster.
Though it might be uncomfortable to do at first, the reward is that you will become more relaxed, more productive, and more effective. Isn’t that worth it?
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As always, I hope this was of value to you and here’s to your success!
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