Marathons are not for meetings

Recently, I traveled to Memphis to meet up with our Obsidian team and to see a few clients. But I made a huge mistake. Between traveling and scheduled meetings, I literally only had nine and a half hours of time in my week to actually get things done. Let’s just say there were a lot of late nights that week, followed by a few not-so-relaxing weekend days.

The example above is a pretty extreme case. I’m usually always stacking meetings when I travel because I want to maximize my face time with clients and with my account partners. But lately, it seems that I can’t get through my day without a meeting or five breaking it up. And, I’ve started to make a concerted effort to make the most of that meeting time while also keeping it efficient. Here are a few things I’ve learned to keep meetings on track instead of letting them turn into marathons.

1. Respect everyone’s schedules.
The shared calendar has worked wonders for me. As long as my calendar is updated and my account partners can see it, we can schedule meetings fairly easily without wasting 30 minutes trying to figure out who is available when.

When you’re working across various organizations, keep in mind that everyone has different pressures, so it’s important to schedule the meeting for as long as you expect it to last. Don’t put 30 minutes on everyone’s calendar knowing that you’d be hard-pressed to finish in less than an hour. If you can trust your calendar, it’s easier to plan your day and workload.

2. Make an agenda beforehand.
Without an agenda, your meeting may fall prey to chit-chat while you try to remember what you were supposed to talk about. And SHARE the agenda! Give everyone a chance to weigh in, at least by the day before. That way you don’t run into an unexpected topic that takes up all your meeting time.

Bonus tip: Arrange your agenda in order of importance. That way if someone has to leave the meeting early, they won’t miss the most important thing you’ll cover.

3. Stick to the agenda.
While unexpected discussion can produce wonderful things (it’s actually how Obsidian’s PR 180 Project was born) it can also waste a lot of time. By passing around the agenda beforehand (see tip No. 2), you should have a pretty complete idea of what you need to discuss.

4. Take notes.
Trust me. You won’t remember everything you talked about if you don’t jot it down while it’s happening. I like to take notes on my computer in my meeting agenda so I can refer back to them later.

5. Establish next steps for everyone. And assign deadlines to all tasks.
I work with five different people. And they work with others aside from me. It would be impossible for all of us to remember everything the other was supposed to do for our clients. So we keep to-do lists. They are wonderful for making sure we’re on time with everything.

When we have calls with our clients, I’ve found that the best way to make sure we stay on track is to send a follow-up email with next steps for everyone. That way, even if the person you met with wasn’t taking notes, he or she knows what needs to be done before you can accomplish your next steps.

6. Short regular meetings > long irregular meetings.
I’ve got six weekly meetings and even more bi-weekly or monthly meetings with my account partners, clients and managers. It might seem like a lot, but they are never long. My weekly meetings almost never last more than 30 minutes because we follow all of the above protocols when scheduling and executing them. And, there is nothing worse than letting things pile up until you really can’t do anything without talking to someone first.

7. Schedule time to work.
The calendar works both ways. Sometimes it’s important to schedule time to knock out a few projects and have no threat of being interrupted by a meeting. And there’s no shame in that!

Got any meeting efficiency tips I missed? Leave them in the comments! I’m always looking for better ways to streamline my meeting times.