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Don't be held hostage by bad meetings.

Time is the only non-renewable resource (and maybe helium). Here are 3 ways to reclaim your time and make meetings more productive.
Meetings should have purposes and outcomes.
Every meeting should include

  • Purpose: a brief 1 to 2 sentence statement about why this meeting is valuable enough to exist. Lead every meeting by reading the purpose statement. The goal is to provide scope and focuses for the meeting.
  • Background: is enough relevant information so that a new person with zero context could follow along. The goal is to reduce information asymmetry so that we can have an action oriented and efficient meeting. INCLUDING any links to documents or presentations – especially if you're asking for people to do work ahead of the meeting.
  • Agenda: is what will be discussed and the order of discussion. Ideally broken into Active and Passive topics. The goal is to ensure the most important topics can be discussed and give attendees time to prepare.
  • Desired outcome: is what we hope to walk away from this meeting with. The goal of this is to achieve something productive with our time together.
  • Decision maker (optional): ideally this should be one person and it doesn’t need to be the most senior. The goal of this is to create transparency, clarity in responsibilities and ensure an efficient decision can be made.
  • Clear meeting name (bonus): should be reasonably descriptive, pithy and accessible to all the attendees (e.g. Don't use acronyms or lingo that may not be understood by all of your attendees).

Consider rejecting meetings if you don't have the info you need to decide if it’s worth your time. Alternatively, you could send a friendly email to the meeting owner, asking them to update the meeting details with more information for everyone.
Meetings should be focused on active topics.

Break your agenda into on active and passive topics and prioritize your topics

  • Active topics should be what the live meeting is for: (1) making a decision, (2) taking an action or (3) gathering complex perspectives in service of 1 or 2. Everything else is a passive topic not necessary for live discussion.
  • Passive topics (esp. updates and FYIs) should be provided ahead of time in the agenda so that the attendees can read them on their own time and skip over topics that aren’t relevant to them – this saves valuable live meeting time. Attendees can highlight a passive topics if they’d like to discuss them live. The meeting runner decides if it should be a separate smaller meeting.

If you only have passive topics, cancel the meeting and send them out in the notes.
Meetings should have notes; they’re as easy as A, B, C, D.
Keep a canonical source for notes (wiki, Word doc) and share the notes via Replying All after the meeting

  • Attendees: who was there. This gives you visibility into who was represented and can follow up with.
  • Background: why we’re meeting; any relevant information/document links necessary to contextualize the purpose and the objective of the meeting.
  • Context: provide critical bullet point context for understanding what happened in the meeting – don't include everything – only things like key facts and perspectives: options discussed, positions taken, etc.
  • Decisions: record decisions and action items resulting from the meeting. Always assign a person and due date (even if just an update about their timing) for each action item.

Good notes help leaders/cross function teams stay up-to-date (without needing to be involved), give folks that couldn’t attend what they need to stay in sync (without asking someone to recap) and allow new hires to ramp up faster.