Do you spend an increased amount of your week on video and phone call meetings but still feel that you are not making as much progress as you should be? With the Zoom boom, and more of us working remotely, days can easily disappear with little sense of achievement and a growing to-do list. As a small business owner it is important to make best use of time.
According to research, you are not alone. What can you do now to claw back time?
A simple but successful time management tool – focusing on one task at a time—can increase your productivity by 80% as against splitting your attention across multiple tasks. Bulk or ‘stack’ telephone and video calls together in a block instead of littering your day with them. This limits the down time between calls being wasted with distractions – or simply waiting as there is limited time to get involved in other tasks. By creating blocks of time you will be able to assign these to important tasks; thinking time, emails, fitness, research etc. You are already beginning to take control of your day.
No-one wants a badge of honour for arranging the most meetings so next time you plan a meeting – stop! Is this really necessary or are other options available via an email, Slack chat or a call? This doesn’t mean that meetings are a bad thing but you need to master the art of managing a meeting efficiently.
12 Tips For Effective Meeting Management
- The meeting that never ended: start your meetings on time and end them promptly. People cannot remain focused for hours, maximise their input by keeping things moving. Respecting others’ time commitments and workload means watching the clock. If attendees are late – tough – there’s no backtracking.
Tip: if you are running a large or complicated meeting, consider nominating a time-keeper to help you manage the time.
- Dispense with pleasantries: it sounds draconian but to move a meeting along the host needs to cut to the chase. By all means welcome and thank people for their time, but then move on to the first item on the agenda.
- Always have an agenda: it prevents going off topic and shouldn’t be too long. If necessary include brief subject details or updates along with a time allocation. Agendas don’t have to be formally circulated documents. Create dynamic agendas in software like Asana, Trello or Google Docs. If a meeting has clear objectives and an agenda, clear results should not be hard to achieve.
Tip: for regular meetings such as a weekly status meeting on a project, a meeting template can be made to save time. Once created, preparing an agenda becomes a matter of filling in the blanks.
- Focus relentlessly on results: stick to the agenda and at the end of each item decide if there is an action. If so assign responsibility with a date. If using Asana or Trello or Google Docs assign the task right there and then.
- The ‘Parking-Lot’: if a subject crops up that’s out of scope, but is felt to be important, this can be put in the ‘Parking-Lot’. It is then included in the meeting notes to be explored at a later date. This keeps the meeting on track but it acknowledges important points raised by attendees.
Tip: the ‘Parking Lot ‘must include a follow up in the minutes otherwise it will become a dust-bin for tasks people can’t be bothered to complete.
- Progress update: 15 minutes before the end of the meeting take stock of progress. If there are agenda items which can’t be covered within the allotted time consider whether there should be another meeting, or a break-out group to discuss them. Alternatively they might be able to covered in an email or call.
- The long haul: sometimes a long meeting is unavoidable. It’s helpful if the host starts by asking everyone to make a note of anything that’s on their mind. A clear, uninterrupted head space will focus attention on the task in hand. Speedier progress is made. Attendees also leave with a items that they might otherwise have forgotten.
- Over-invite: only invite people who need to attend the meeting. Too many attendees can make it difficult for employees to contribute to the wider group. Fewer people will result in more discussion
Tip: use the break-out groups in Zoom to create focus groups if your meeting has a large number of attendees. Ensure key stakeholders are in attendance otherwise significant decisions cannot be made.
- Optimum times to host a meeting: it might be preferable to always schedule your meetings for first thing in the morning. Perhaps the back end of the day works better for you? A day broken up with meetings is inefficient. The idea is to establish a block of time to get your work done and a regular, scheduled time for your long-term, creative and strategic thinking.
- Rules of engagement: small numbers on a zoom call will likely manage themselves. Larger numbers will need direction for people to feel able to contribute effectively. Ask attendees to mute themselves and use the ‘push to talk’ feature – using the spacebar to be heard. Adopting a system to allow people to talk will eliminate people talking over one another.
Tip: the school fashioned ‘hand-up’ works but using the yellow thumbs-up on the corner of each person’s image will indicate to the host that a person would like to contribute. For larger groups consider using the Zoom advanced features to mange the meetings. Break-out rooms, assigning a co-host and the waiting room, for attendees joining part-way through, can all help drive the productivity of meeting for everyone.
- Don’t suffocate the life out of meetings: a productive meeting can produce many successful outcomes but you can stifle productivity with too many. Project Management Systems (PMS) can reduce the number of meetings required. On a weekly basis the project owner updates the status of a project. Everyone involved in the project receives a status update and so no meeting is necessary.
Tip: always evaluate before arranging a meeting whether there are better ways of managing the information updates. Sometimes a 5-minute call with people separately or using a PMS can prove more effective.
- The follow-up: following up in a timely basis is a great habit to get into. Distributing minutes and actions points via a project management system or email keeps the focus tight. ‘Parking-lot’ issues can be addressed via an email or phone call. A follow up note on a calendar or task management tool will keep this on the radar until you reach a resolution.
Own Your Calendar
Think about your time and how you use it. How you waste it, how you can make more of it and maximise it. Taking ownership of your calendar and planning your days will make you more productive. It will help you feel less overwhelmed and less stressed. Planning a productive and enjoyable meeting takes time and thought – knowing how to keep the quality of your meetings high is a principal skill to ace.
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