Tuesday, 07 January 2020 08:18

How to Keep Meetings Focused, Efficient, and Productive

Getting back into “work mode” after a break isn’t always easy, but with a few creative strategies, you can optimize the use of your team’s time.


By Marina Khidekel, Editorial Director at Thrive Global
Getty Images
Getty Images
After a long stretch of holiday celebrations and vacation time, it’s not always easy to get back into “work mode.” When you haven’t sat in a meeting for a week or two, regaining focus and getting back in the groove can feel like a challenge. That’s why it’s important to start with small, realistic Microsteps to protect and prioritize your time.

We asked our Thrive community for the innovative strategies they use to keep their own meetings productive and efficient — and their suggestions are inspiring. Which of these tips will you implement?

Establish a 30-minute cap

“We have a few guidelines that help optimize our time together as a team. We try to keep meetings to 30 minutes or less. It helps regulate debates, and challenges the group to end early. We also find that meetings are most effective when everyone is standing, and team members high five or clap to celebrate decisions made. It’s an instant motivator!”

—Kareen Walsh, CEO and managing consultant, Greenwich, CT

Designate one day for internal meetings

“We have a slightly different approach than most companies when it comes to meetings and it’s called: less meetings. You gain productivity by cutting away the time you and your team spend on unnecessary meetings. If your entire team is in a meeting, then no one is being productive. We have set up our internal business meetings to Tuesdays only, and every meeting have a short agenda with at least two to three action points per attendee, which we follow up on during the week by email, and finally at next week’s meeting on Tuesday.”

—Brian Snedvig, CEO at Jofibo.com, Aalborg, Denmark

Use a “minutes remaining” reminder

“We use ‘minutes remaining’ reminders in our meetings. It helps us ensure that topics being discussed are aligned with what we’d like to spend our time on, so that we can end meetings on time with clear next steps.”

—Alyssa Swantkoski, executive assistant, Denver, CO

Send out the agenda in advance

“I provide all the relevant content for the meeting a few days in advance. I also provide the reason for the meeting, and state what needs to be accomplished beforehand, so everyone can come prepared before we start.”

—Valerie Nifora, Global 500 marketing and communications leader, West Sayville, NY

Turn lunch meetings into walking meetings

“I’m constantly asked to sit down for a quick lunch or coffee meeting, but I travel a lot, so my time in the office is something I need to protect. I try to keep the ‘meet and eats’ to a ‘meet and move’ instead. For me, it allows me to get a workout in, and for the person who wants my time, moving and meeting means they’ll get to see me sooner than if they waited for a spot on my workday calendar. There are even studies that show that moving while meeting allows the brain to solve problems more creatively!”

—Laura Gassner Otting, author, Boston, MA

Send out pre-meeting thought starters

“The best action I take to maintain maximum productivity is putting aside a few minutes to send out a pre-meeting note of what we’re going to review during the session. This way, everyone shows up knowing what we’re going to cover, along with the estimated time it’s going to take. The idea is to have everyone show up ready to go with their thoughts and suggestions.”

—Brandon Schaefer, big data specialist, Philadelphia, PA

End with three takeaway questions

“I find the most frustrating part of meetings is the feeling that everyone is wasting their time. To keep things moving forward and increase productivity, I find it helpful to ask three specific questions at the end of each meeting: ‘What did we just agree to?’ ‘Who is going to do it?’ And ‘When will it be done by?’ This way, everyone can leave with a sense of accomplishment and direction.”

—Al Roehl, executive leadership consultant, Lexington, KY

Start with a “mindful minute” exercise

“I spent many years of my military career feeling that certain meetings were a waste of time, and I vowed I’d flip the dialogue when I led my own team. As a commander, I introduced the ‘Mindful Minute.’ It’s a way to cognitively prepare and strengthen the attention systems of everyone in the room during the first 60 seconds of the meeting. We start with six deep breaths to improve focus and clarity, and they act as an anchor for mental push-ups. The whole meeting afterward becomes more calm and action-oriented.”

—Jannell MacAulay, Ph.D., keynote speaker and consultant, Salt Lake City, UT

Review last week’s action items

“We begin each meeting by reviewing action items that were assigned last week for a progress check. This strategy sets the tone for the meeting by allowing us to dive in right away, and celebrate any achievements that have been made in the last week.”

—Alyssa Swantkoski, executive assistant, Denver, CO

Try emailing first

“Before I set an agenda for a meeting, I check to see what can be accomplished with email first, and then what still needs to be discussed in person. This ensures I’m not wasting anyone’s time. It also helps to have someone in the meeting keep track of time so I can be diligent about getting through each item.”

—Marla A. Parker, Ph.D., educator and consultant, Los Angeles, CA

Break down tasks into actionable goals

“A good exercise to cut away any unnecessary and boring meeting content is to ask yourself, ‘Can we break down a complex task into one actionable goal, and then follow up on it at the next meeting, next week?’ Asking this question helps keep the meeting concise and actionable.”

—Brian Snedvig, CEO at Jofibo.com, Aalborg, Denmark

Open with gratitude

“Starting a meeting with a pause for gratitude keeps meetings human-centered, and demonstrates to attendees that leaders see more than to-do lists and agenda items. Gratitude is shown to reduce unproductive, unpleasant, or toxic emotions. Therefore, by starting with gratitude, we are creating the conditions that allow our meetings to be more conducive to learning, growth, productivity, efficiency, and focus.”

—Marissa Badgley, M.S.W., founder, trainer, and consultant, New York, NY

Try a breakfast meeting

“Getting back into the routine of working can be a monotonous task, which is why it’s important for companies to ease employees in. I find that holding breakfast meetings, or offering any form of beverage and delicious little bites can help, even if it is simply having lunch together to make individuals feel a part of a team and the organization. Food is a good way of socializing, and it allows team members to ease back in, and improve focus.”

—Belynder Walia, psychotherapist, RTT™ practitioner and mindfulness coach, London, UK

Keep the room tech-free

“To keep meetings focused, ban phones, iPads, and laptops. Also, state the duration of the meeting beforehand and stick to it. As the chairperson, keep to time; ideally, you should have a timetable and stick to it!”

—Susan Heaton-Wright, impact presence and speaking trainer, Hertfordshire, UK

Select attendees mindfully

“To ensure a great meeting, it’s important to have the right people in the room. As Jim Collins wrote in his seminal book on Leadership, From Good To Great, it’s all about getting the right people on the bus. So whoever is calling the meeting needs to ensure that the right people are at the meeting. Talk with them beforehand to make sure they can attend, and state the agenda beforehand.”

—Paul Adam Mudd, executive director and company secretary, UK

(Thrive Global)

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