Managing To-Do's

5 tips for making your meetings better

April 2, 2021

I’m Kelly Nolan.
I'm an attorney who'd been decently organized through law school but got quickly overwhelmed as a actual attorney. After nothing else worked for me, I created this system – and kept on practicing law. Years later, I found out others were interested in learning it, so that's what I do now! Let's get this realistic system in your hands so you can start living a life that feels more calm, doable, and that lights you up.
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Ah, meetings. While they can be useful, they’re often overused, drag on too long, and prevent us from getting our real work done.

Here are a few tips to make them run more smoothly (and quickly!).

So, let’s kick this off with tip number one:

≫ Know what your successful meeting looks like & have an agenda to get there.≪

Let’s talk about what normally happens: most people understandably walk into a meeting with just a general idea of what it’s about. No real, specific clarity about what would really help them to figure out during the meeting / specific takeaways that they want. Often, this clarity strikes – if at all – toward the end of the meeting, making the beginning 50+% of the meeting a bit of a waste of time.

What ups the effectiveness of a meeting (which, in turns, makes you more efficient and clear on the work that flows from it) is getting really clear going into a meeting on these questions:

▻ What specific questions do I need answers to during this meeting?

▻ What would an ideal outcome of this meeting be?

Write these things down – even if in just a quick and dirty agenda that only you see – and bring them with you to the meeting. Keep an eye on the time and make sure you get these questions/topics addressed before the time is up.

Similarly, if a colleague asks you for a meeting, feel free to ask for an agenda beforehand.

One corporate executive client did this. As she received agendas, she discovered that many of the would-be meetings could be handled over email or a quick call (something you usually figure out once you’re already in the meeting and it’s too late!). Even when the meeting had to happen, it ran tighter and more efficiently because of the agenda.

So, try this: right now, look ahead at your next two weeks of meetings. For each, block about 5-20 minutes to prep, depending on the meeting (or ask for an agenda). During that time, write out answers to the above questions.

It’s incredible how much more prepared you’ll feel, how much more efficient the meetings will run, and, again, how much more effective and clear you’ll be at the work that flows out of the meeting.

Alright, making-your-meetings-better-tip two:

Always set an end time for your meetings and scheduled phone calls.

No more “let’s meet/talk at 10am.” Clearly state whether you’re asking for/booking a, e.g., 15-minute, 30-minute, 45-minute, or 60-minute meeting.

This is one of the reasons I love using Acuity, a meeting-booking software. You can send them a link to specifically set up just a, e.g., 30-minute meeting.

But even when I’m booking meetings outside of Acuity, I’m always clear by stating something like:

“I’d love to chat. Are you free for a 30-minute window on one of these dates:…?”

Being clear about how much time you’re devoting to a meeting helps everyone prepare and make the most of a meeting – and avoids it from dragging on too long.

Tip three for making your meetings better:

This one kind of combines tip 1 and tip 2:

At the beginning of each meeting (perhaps after some catching up), state how long you have and what the purpose of the meeting is.

For example, “Alright! We have 30 minutes to figure out what our response to Client ABC should be. To be mindful of everyone’s time, let’s dig right in.”

While you’ve hopefully set an agenda to guide you to holding successful meeting and set an end time, don’t expect everyone to remember either of those things by the time the meeting rolls around.

State them again to help everyone reorient and get themselves into the right headspace.

It’s simple, but simple can be deceptively effective.

Try it out! And if you do something like this already, feel free to share – including how you phrase it – in the comments!

Tip four for making your meetings better:

Schedule in cushion time between meetings!

I truly dislike back-to-back meetings.

I hate the stress of trying to wrap up a meeting while worrying about keeping the next person waiting.

I hate having no time to shift gears and get my head straight for my next meeting.

And I really hate not having time to refresh my water and swing by the loo before my next meeting.

If you can, stagger your meetings by 15 minutes at minimum.

Block that cushion time in your calendar to remind yourself and others not to book it. It’ll reduce your stress, not derail your day/make you flustered when a meeting inevitably runs over, and give you time to shift gears and get in the right headspace before your next meeting.

Our final tip for meeting your meetings run better:

The wrap-up.

One of my sisters shared this one with me years ago, and I thought it was simple and brilliant (and those are the best strategies!).

In the last 5-10 minutes of the meeting, get clear on what everyone’s next action steps are and what decisions were made.

For example, say something like, “Alright, we have 5 minutes left. Let’s use that time to get clear on what everyone’s next steps are and any big decisions we made that made affect that work.”

Not only does this help keep meetings running on time, but it also gives people clear direction for what they need to do next and makes sure everyone is on the same page about how the project will move forward.

If you can, tie each action step to a time frame (e.g., “Cici will do XYZ and update us via email/our project management tool within two weeks.”)

Now, I’m one of those people who gets thoroughly invested in conversations with people to the point I lose track of time. So, how do I know when the last 5-10 minutes are without driving myself bonkers checking the clock every 2 minutes?

I use a phone alarm.

I know from past experience that that strikes some of you as weird, and totally fine if you want to skip adopting this part of the strategy – but I LOVE them. Using an alarm lets me immerse myself in a meeting without having to constantly check the clock. And it helps me make sure to protect time to do the above.

When a client hears the alarm, I just say something like, “I get really into this stuff, so I use alarms to help me stay on track and stay respectful of your time.” It seems to go over fine, and the benefits are worth any “this lady is kinda weird” thoughts that the other person may have.

So, on that note, I’ll leave you to try any/all of this out! And if you found these tips useful, just know this is just a teeny tiny sliver of what we cover in my six-week program. If you’re interested in the one coming up (it kicks off 4/30), check it out here!

And, most importantly, have a terrific weekend!

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