Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Myah Shein.
When you work with a large team or a lot of clients, it’s easy to get caught up in an endless cycle of meetings during the week. We’ve all experienced the feeling when you leave work, you’ve been busy all day long, and still you think, “Did I even get anything done today?” And the busyness culprit is almost always too many unnecessary and inefficient meetings.
But with a little bit of planning, proper time management, and good follow up, you can take fewer meetings and get more shit done in 2017.
1. Block Out Quiet Times to Work
If you’re always in meetings, when exactly you are supposed to tackle your to-do list? With so many obligations, free blocks on your calendar may be few and far between. Balance out the ratio of meeting to work time by scheduling designated time to get work done. Carve out that time before scheduling other meetings and appointments.
You may find it useful to assign specific projects to each block, or to reserve the same times week to week for consistency. Finding it a struggle to keep that time clear? Think about it as a very important meeting with yourself—and keep it sacred!
2. Schedule Meetings in a Certain Block During the Week
When you have meetings scattered throughout the day and on into the week, you may find yourself feeling like a ping pong ball—bouncing around and getting nothing done. To counteract the back and forth, whenever possible only take meetings on certain days or at certain times.
For me, this means scheduling all my meetings for Monday, with some time on Thursday if necessary. Monday meetings are for reporting, checking in, and making plans for the coming week. Thursdays can be for providing progress reports or addressing anything unexpected. This schedule helped me structure my week. It was a relief knowing I wasn’t constantly waiting for a meeting to start, and as a result, it was easier to find those free blocks of time for big projects that I mentioned above.
A Monday/Thursday routine might not be the best fit for you or your clients, so find a schedule that makes sense for your workflow. Maybe it means you accept meetings any day of the week, but only before noon. Maybe it’s a Wednesday-only schedule. You’ll know what works for you and for your colleagues.
3. Make the Most of Meeting Times
Now that you have your meetings and your dedicated work times scheduled, be sure you maximize each session. When you’re in a meeting, it’s easy to get into a rut of spending too much time catching up on personal items and then simply touching base at the very end. It may be fun to chat, but it’s definitely not productive.
Schedule a few minutes the day before every meeting to prepare an agenda as well as any talking points you are personally responsible for. And if you need the other party to read or review documents beforehand, send them out well in advance. Use this prep time to prepare your reports, review pertinent materials, anticipate upcoming projects, and note questions you may have.
Create a check list of information, resources, and next steps you need to exchange in the meeting. There’s nothing worse than getting back to your desk and realizing you need to schedule another meeting with the same person because you don’t have everything you need!
4. Take Useful Notes
While you’re getting more disciplined with your schedule, take it to the next level and up your note-taking game. When you look back at your notes and either find a blank page or a bunch of indiscernible scribbles, it’s time to make a change. Try using the bullet journal model. You’ll walk away from every meeting with notes, tasks, deadlines and future meetings spelled out and ready to be processed.
Looking for more note-taking inspiration? Check out Kate Matsudaira’s Guide to Notetaking.
5. Schedule Time for Post-Meeting Planning and Email Follow Up
A signature element of GM CEO Alfred Sloan’s management method included sending a memo following each meeting. Be like Alfred.
On your calendar, add in additional 10-15 minutes for each meeting beyond what you think you’ll actually need. This isn’t buffer time in case things run over (with an agenda, it should be relatively easy to stay on task!); it’s time for you to process all the meeting’s information when you get back to your desk.
Get in the habit of organizing your notes following each meeting in order to save yourself time in the end. (If you have ever flipped back to a sheet of previously mentioned indiscernible scribbles a week later, you know what I’m talking about.) Dedicate your additional 15 minutes to putting deadlines in your calendar, drafting your action plan, and sending follow up e-mails while the conversation is still fresh in everyone’s mind.
The new year is a perfect time to break old habits and introduce new practices into your work routine. Take control of your schedule by changing the way you approach meetings. Plan ahead, take good notes, don’t forget the follow-up, and make this the year you get more done. Cheers to 2017!