Cancel all your Meetings this Month (or do this if you can’t bear that)

Anyone enjoy that lull in the latter half of December?  That time when meetings start to drop off the calendar, when so many people are taking time off that meetings cease to exist because there’s literally no one to attend them (a bit of a tree falls in the woods scenario at this point)? 

You would think we’d learn, that we’d take a step back and do some philosophical soul searching at this point.  Do we really need all these meetings?  Where did all these meetings come from? 

But no, not only do we keep up the recurring calls of yesteryear, but we pile on top of that and add more meetings, meetings to achieve new objectives part of the new year corporate strategy.

So this January, cancel all your meetings.  As impediments are experienced, build back up the calendar with the mission critical calls needed to be successful. This is likely not feasible. What are we if not a string of back to back meetings to provide status updates on what we accomplish in the twenty minutes of downtime we have?

I imagine by end of Q1 chatter will start up about how there are too many calls on the calendar. Typically felt first by those doing the work, it’s then run up the ranks and layers of management, hoping for change. When this starts to pick up, I suggest managers (or really anyone) take an inventory on the state of the state for their group, long before putting an inevitable and dreaded “meeting on meetings” on the calendar.

“As a manager, one should understand the lay of the land and come to the table with an informed opinion on the state of the state when it comes to the meetings in their org”.

Hearing the feedback that there are too many calls on the calendar and then booking a meeting to discuss this is the lazy way out.  As a manager, one should understand the lay of the land and come to the table with an informed opinion on the state of the state when it comes to the meetings in their org. It takes some effort, but I’ve mapped out some basic assessment criteria that can provide insight into what’s really going on in your org.

This straight forward assessment can honestly be done by anyone. If you host several meetings yourself it can be helpful to understand the components of your meetings and do some analysis on the various elements of your calls.

The Meeting Assessment

Take a week’s worth of meetings you, your team, your org has on the calendar.  Take some time and attend as many as you can and map out the following details across them:

Meeting TitleWhat’s the meeting subject? Can you immediately tell what it’s about at glance?
FacilitatorWho owns the invite and who runs the call?
Who is invited?How many people are invited to this? What is their role? What group are they in?
Who attends?Who actually shows up? What is their role? What group are they in?
Who actively participates?Who is engaged and participating in conversation? Does this include the facilitator?
AgendaIs an agenda included in the invite? What is the format? Is it clear what will be discussed? Are links and files included?
One Off/Recurring?Is this part of a meeting series? How often is it?
What is being shared?Is anything being shared on the screen? What system or format is it in?
Start TimeDid the call start on time? How late was it to begin? Why?
End TimeDid this call end on time? Early? Late? By how much?
Meeting NotesAre there notes? Are they sent out and stored somewhere? Is it clear who has action to take?
Intended PurposeWhat is the intended purpose of this call? Beyond the agenda, what is the impact of this meeting?
Achieved PurposeDoes this meeting accomplish the intended purpose? If not, what are the gaps?

The Takeaways

Is every call starting late (probably)? Is every meeting then going over (possibly)? Are there resources needed for a discussion that fail to attend? Are facilitators inconsistently sending out meeting notes, documenting action items, and ensuring completion? What is being shared? Is one facilitator leveraging one system and another an Excel? Are there more than a dozen individuals sitting on these calls that never say a word? Do any meetings even have an agenda?

The key thing to remember is that there’s no right or wrong answers to the above. Every organization is different, with different needs, different structures, etc. Maybe it’s ok to not have structured agendas across the board, perhaps there’s a large group that needs to listen in but not participate. But you have to collect the data first and make an informed decision with it. Even taking the effort to attend as many as you can could be illuminating enough for you. Your team is in a lot of calls and at the end of the day that will take a hit to productivity.

Are you doing this exercise for your own meetings? This is a great exercise and can empower you to better yourself in an area that is highly visible by many in your company. Key takeaways to take from the above data revolve around consistency. Is there consistency as far as format goes for the calls you’re running? When you can apply the same standards on the fundamentals of your meetings (agenda, document sharing, meeting notes) you develop an auto-pilot like rhythm that allows you to focus on some of the more challenging elements, like driving a productive conversation.

The last two rows in particular are where the honest conversation with yourself will happen. Do you understand the underlying purpose behind this meeting your running? Are you successful in achieving that purpose?

So, cancel those meetings. Or, make a concerted effort to understand what exactly is going on with everyone’s time all day.


How to Tame the “Sunday Scaries”

The “Sunday Scaries” has cemented its presence on social media, representing the existential dread of the impending work week.  While this dread has been around since we’ve had a five day work week, it has propelled itself into prominence in the last few years.

I waded through Urban Dictionary to understand it better.  The leading definition starts as, “The feeling you have after a long week of work followed by a Saturday of binge drinking, when Sunday hits you question your existence.  Typically characterized by laying in bed all day and both regretting your past decisions and questioning your non-existent future”.  Wow, a lot darker than what I remembered when I first envisioned writing this article, but ah well. My process should help out at least a portion of that dread.  Not the binge-drinking anxiety, but certainly any concerns about your job in the next week.

Friday Afternoon

My routine starts on Friday afternoon.  I know.  Everyone wants to shut down and get the hell out of dodge and start the above referenced binge drinking that will make you leave your debit card in the 3rd bar on your weekend route.  However, if you take 15 minutes before closing up for the day, I promise it can make all the difference.

For 15 minutes I review the next week and I map out the following “3 and 3”:

  • My top 3 priorities for the next week
  • My first 3 hours of work on Monday

For my top 3 priorities I think about what deadlines or big meetings I have coming up, along with their impacts. These could be specific artifacts I need to develop, or even a core responsibility in my job function (maintaining a request queue, etc). I list out whatever I decide requires my focus in the next week to ensure I’m staying on top of my workload. This could even be a deliverable that isn’t due that week, but I know it’s going to require a considerable amount of time to get done.

Here’s what an example of my top 3 priorities for the next week look like:

After drafting up my priorities I start to get a sense what I want to work on and frame up how my Monday morning will look. I’m realistic in the first 30 minutes, knowing that there could be some items that come up that I need to flag and address. I get a sense for any meetings I may need to prep for on Monday, as well as contemplating when I can fit in some work on some of my top priorities outlined above.

A sample of my mapping out my first 3 hours for this coming Monday:

Alright, Friday afternoon prep is done, go forth to the weekend!

Sunday Evening

Alright, Sunday rolls around, your nerves are slightly eased from your Friday planning but there is more to be done to put you at ease.  Yep, there you are, laying in your bed subsisting on Cheetos or that DoorDash delivery you army crawled to get from your front door earlier in the day.  This next part requires some form of effort. You can do it. You may even be able to do it from your bed, depending on what your Monday looks like.

Think about your Monday that you’ve mapped out already and the logistics around the day.  Are you commuting?  Are you working from home?  Visualize what your morning routine will look like surrounding those first three hours and build a quick game plan for yourself.  Are you in the office and need to bring a lunch?  Venture to r/MealPrepSunday and get some inspo and throw something together this evening.  That action could even quell some of that anxiety, plus future you will be forever grateful.  Or you short cut it and accept that you’ll be ordering out for your Monday lunch, you’ll get them next time…sure…

This visualizing your Monday morning step can be as simple or complicated as you need, but I do take a few minutes to pull a plan together to really visualize my actions Monday morning to be successful.

In my scenario I’m working from home on Monday, but I have a lot of meetings throughout the day and may not get too much time outside.

Sunday night, my only activity is to set my alarm for 7am. This is a realistic time that I won’t snooze but will still allow me time to transition into the work day and take some time on the supporting tasks I map out below:

The above exercises utilize the power of planning and visualization. The future doesn’t have to be an unknown abyss, an unknown that allows my mind to wander through various existential crises. I’ve established what my priorities are for the week, I’ve mapped out my first few hours on Monday, and I’ve even reviewed those first few hours and planned what I’m going to do to support myself in the morning.

The “Sunday Scaries” don’t have to be a part of your weekly routine. They can be reduced considerably through simple planning, by establishing a game plan of what your future will look like. Start small, start with just one of the above elements, anything will make a powerful difference not just on your Sunday evening, but throughout the week.