I am on a manager’s schedule as opposed to a maker’s schedule. Whether you think this is a bad or good thing, it certainly means that I have a lot of meetings each day. Given that I work in an international cooperation that has a complex, multi-dimensional and geographical distributed organisation, many of my meetings are either audio, web or video conferences. It comes as no surprise that many of these meetings are poorly prepared with no clear agenda or objective. If you have five of these on a day, you really look back and ask yourself what you have achieved other than burning valuable lifetime on the phone. But you either accept the status quo or the responsibility to change it. Changing it means you need to set an example, independent of where in the hierarchy you sit. For those meetings that I host or which I at least co-host or influence, I have changed my approach from the typical “let’s wing it” to more conscious preparation. It surprisingly doesn’t really take much more time, but delivers significantly improved results.
Spend a couple of minutes thinking about each meeting
As part of my morning routine (Daily Review) in OmniFocus I scan my calendar for meetings I host or co-host and spend about two minutes each thinking about the following questions:
- What can I realistically get out of this meeting?
- Which topics need to be discussed?
- What do people, including myself, need to prepare?
The way I reflect on these questions has a very practical application: I actually send out reminder emails to the meeting participants as a result of this process.
Simplify the process to make it happen
However, if I would have to craft each email from scratch, I would likely find myself procrastinating on the task one morning. Consequently I wanted to make it as easy as possible to get these emails out every morning - and consequently reflect on the related meetings. The way I went about it was to employ TextExpander and it’s fill-in functionality to help me out. Since I have basically two meeting types I can prepare this way, I created two fill-in snippets in TextExpander that I use.
One-to-Many& Many-to-Many meetings
These are meetings I either host or co-host and involve at least two other people, very often much more. The snippet I use looks as follows:
%fill:recepient%, We have a session planned for %fill:today-tomorrow% with regards to %fill:subject%. As part of the session, I'd like to discuss the following items: * %fill:agenda-items-1% * %fill:agenda-items-2% * %fill:agenda-items-3%%| I hope this helps you prepare for the meeting. Looking forward talking to you. Cheers, -Sven
Depending on the number of attendees I might use their names in the greeting, otherwise I use the universal “All”. I then remind people of when we have the meeting so they can make sure they still have it in their agenda and at the right time (you still see scheduling issues across multiple timezones, even though we live in the 21st century).
I then proceed to typically provide three agenda items, which also summarise objectives/desired outcomes and owners, if applicable. In the TextExpander snippet I position the cursor directly after the third agenda item in case I want to add more or reduce to two.
When I have one-to-one meetings, be it with one of my staff, a peer or my management, the snippet I use is slightly different. Mainly because you use slightly different language. However, the idea of reminding people of the meeting and set out a few topics to be discussed (and prepared) remains the same.
%fill:recepient%, We have a 1.1 session planned for %fill:today-tomorrow%. As part of the session, I'd like to discuss the following items: * %fill:agenda-items-1% * %fill:agenda-items-2% * %fill:agenda-items-3%%| I hope this helps you prepare for the meeting. Looking forward talking to you. Cheers, -Sven
My best practice again is to send the email in the morning, or the evening before, with a subject
[TODAY] Our 1.1.
Using universal language
The single aspect I thought most about when developing the above snippets was the language I use. These mails go to very diverse audiences, very often involving my management up to Vice President levels, and consequently need to effectively address the meeting contents and preparation in a language appropriate for everyone. Instead of using “Please come prepared.”, which I would use with my staff and peers, I choose “I hope this helps you to prepare.”, which should resonate with every level. Considering a universally applicable language is quite important in order to make any canned emails work.
Add it to your routine
So when I go through my morning routine, I will find the below entry in OmniFocus
Which causes me to fire up my calendar and go through all my meetings for the day or early the next day. I then open an email for each meeting I host or co-host, add all meeting attendees, chose a suitable subject (typically I use
[TODAY] Meeting subject), and invoke one of my TextExpander Snippets. I decided to label them ’smeeting’, for standard meetings, and ’11meeting’ for the one-to-ones. Fill the fields, which automatically forces me to think about the meeting and it’s best possible outcome, hit send and done. It takes two minutes per meeting and you will find people becoming more prepared, at least mentally, and with the agenda in mind. Makes all these conference call a bit more useful.