Despite how much I like to talk, I think most meetings are a waste of time and a drain on my life force. At least half of the meetings I attend, nothing is really happening other than the swapping of stories. One on hand, that’s okay because I’m the Pecos Bill of stories, but I simply don’t have the time for it anymore.
I wrote a post few months back that discussed the merits of an open plan in an architects office. At my last job, I had a sweet private office with plenty of room to spread my stuff out, listen to whatever music I wanted to without headphones … heck, I could even
lay down and take a nap survey the progress on 5 jobs at one time! Yes, that was a sweet office but as I wrote in the post, the thing I was missing out on was all the action. I wrote:
Not only is there a lot of collaboration and camaraderie taking place, but by listening in on the questions being asked, I am able to interject myself into the answer process and actually do the thing I am supposed to be doing – mentor these younger architects.
So it’s been a few months since I wrote that and I wonder “what the hell was I thinking?” … the shine of the the open office plan has worn off … I miss my private office. I got so much more work done when I was cordoned off in my ivory tower from the level of casual interaction I get minute to minute in my current working arrangement. Despite the fact that everyone LOVES hearing my stories over and over again (because they are hilarious AND educational), I get asked about a million questions a day and it’s hard to get any momentum on the tasks I am charged with completing. As a result, I am becoming more and more sensitive to sitting in meetings where I think:
What am I doing in this meeting?
You already said that, move on …
What does that have to do with what we are supposed to be talking about?
In fact, I’m pretty sure I have walked out of the room when the senior partner of my office was still talking as I muttered back over my shoulder: “Uh-huh, Yeah, I got it … I’ll take care of it.”
Probably not a strong career move but luckily for me, I’m not just some guy in the next cubicle.
The image above is a screen capture from my weekly calendar. Every colored entry is a meeting and every individual box is a specific task on a different project. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t look like architecture to me … I imagine this is why people start having two martini lunches. What isn’t shown on that calendar is the number of times that someone has a single “quick question” for me. My days are typically 10 hours long and I am trying desperately to keep them there. These are the steps I try and follow and I have varying degrees of success actually implementing them. I should also point out that none of these rules applies towards clients – they get a free pass.
So in an effort to reclaim some lost time, here are some tips I have collected and follow to help make sure that my days don’t get longer by sitting in unnecessary or gratuitous meetings:
- Start your meetings on time. if someone is late, that’s their problem. Don’t review information that’s already been covered. I make it an effort to be one time to meetings and it drives me insane when someone else is late and I have to just sit there waiting on them. Not only a waste of time, it’s disrespectful – it says “my time is more important than your’s”
- Set the meeting length to an hour and end the meeting on time. Unfortunately some meetings always seem to take longer than an hour but I’ve found that when I walk into a meeting and tell people they have an hour before I have to leave I am always amazed that we can almost always get everything done in that hour.
- End meetings early. People seem to respond more favorably to attending meetings when they actually end sooner than they are scheduled. I know that when I have resigned myself to sitting in an hour long meeting with the structural engineer and it ends early?! I’d better go buy a lottery ticket because it must be my lucky day.
- Limit the number of participants in a meeting to a few people as possible. In the case of meetings, the “more” is definitely not the “merrier”. Whenever you get a large group of people in a meeting, there will be items covered that pertain to everyone and that’s when things turn like a pork sandwich left out in the sun. Next thing you know, there are multiple meetings taking place and you’ve lost control.
- If this is your meeting, keep things on point. This is the one rule that can make you come across like an a-hole if your not careful. As soon as someone starts telling a tale “this one time, I was doing the air-conditioning…” you have to gauge the temperature of the conversation to determine how to cut that person off. Sometimes I have to let that first story go but as soon as the next person starts to tell their air-conditioning story I don’t let them get too far before interrupting. If someone tries to hijack the meeting with whoppers, it’s your job to get bring things back in focus.
- Do not let people work on other things during the meeting. If it isn’t important for them to be paying attention, they don’t need to be there in the first place.
- No cellphones. Don’t let people use their cell phones during a meeting – see note #6
- Have an agenda. For most of the semi-casual meetings that I have this is a bit overkill. What I do try and do is to outline via email what items are to be covered during the meeting and I make sure the primaries have that information prior to the meeting. I will print this list out and make sure that we stay on the list. If something else comes up, I will add it to the bottom of the list and if we can get to it in the allotted time we can discus it at the end. Since it’s normally other people who bring up new topics, this is an incentive to them to get through the things that formed the basis for out meeting in the first place.
- Control the dialog between participants. This means only have one conversation going at the table at a time. I have sat in meetings where a group of 10 people are having 4 mini-meetings and since I am generally the only one taking notes, I can’t cover what everyone is talking about and things get missed.
- Assign Responsibility and Action items. For the items reviewed, make sure that before you move on to the next item, that task is assigned to specific parties during the meeting.
- Eliminate “informational” meetings. These are meetings where everyone is collected into a room and talked at – mass information distribution. If no participation is required from the people in the room, issue a memo. When it was something so important that we wanted to make sure that we knew people had received the data, they were required to check off their initials to show they had received the information.
- Regularly scheduled status meetings are a complete time waste. Only call a meeting when there is something specific to be reviewed. There are people out there who will want regularly scheduled meetings in an effort to make sure that people are doing what they are supposed to be doing and the threat of being called out at a “regularly scheduled meeting” is the incentive to force people into action. That’s great for the one person who needs it but it’s a waste of every one else’s time.
Here’s to 10 hour days –