Avoid Meetings

Michael’s Note:
I’m working on a book about productivity for the solopreneur — the one-person band —  so am thrilled to share with you a few tips — he calls them hacks — from one of my favorite writers and thinkers, Leo Babauta.  He has allowed me (or, you, or anyone else on the planet) to republish some of his work under his insanely creative and interesting unCopyright process. So, thanks for all that Leo, and hoping this will help send a few fans your way. I do what I can, Leo.


Avoid meetings. When you must meet, keep it short and effective.

I hate meetings. I think most people do unless there are coffee and donuts in the meetings, and you really like coffee and donuts but, even then, the meeting itself is just something you have to put yourself through in order to get the good stuff. Point is, most of us hate meetings, and yet we have so darn many of them.

And if you really analyze most meetings, you’ll see that they are a huge waste of time. In the hour or more that you were sitting in that meeting, you could have gotten 10 times more accomplished if you were working alone. And so could each of the other meeting attendees, which means that the amount of lost productivity is huge. (When you’re about to zone out in your next meeting, do this test: Estimate the salary cost of everyone in the room, by the hour, then add another 30 minutes per person for pre- and post-meeting distractions.  I bet you’ll be very surprised.)

Are there meetings you go to regularly that you can avoid? If you think the answer is “no,” think about it a little more: perhaps you’ve been told it’s mandatory, but it’s still possible that if you make a good enough sales pitch to your boss, you could get out of the meeting — show her how much more you could accomplish by not being there, and how you could send a simple email to accomplish the input you would have given in the meeting, at 1/10th the time.

I find it best to say no to meetings up front. I just say, “Sorry, I can’t make it. I’m tied up with a project right now.” And that’s always true. I’ve always got projects I’m working on that are more important than a meeting.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

~ Thomas Edison

Now, you probably won’t be able to get out of many meetings, so here are some tips for making meetings more effective:

  1. Every meeting should have an agenda. People should know, beforehand, what will be discussed, so they can be prepared.
  2. The agenda should include the desired outcome. If it’s not on the agenda beforehand, it should be the first thing you bring up in the meeting, right when (or even just before) the meeting starts: what do you want to accomplish in the meeting?
  3. Take notes of important points, especially next actions. Mark the next actions with arrows or asterisks or something, so you can see them at a glance later.
  4. Review the next actions at the end of the meeting. Everyone should leave the meeting knowing what decisions were made, and what everyone needs to do next.
  5. Harvest all next-actions to your to-do lists immediately after the meeting, so you don’t forget.
  6. If you’re still stuck going to a completely useless meeting, take your read/review folder into the meeting. At least you can use that time productively by cranking through your stuff that you need to read or review. I also like to use this time to brainstorm ideas or plan projects.

The best long-range strategy is to convince the higher-ups that most meetings are a waste of time and that meetings that must take place should be short and effective. I know someone who installed a countertop, with no stools, as his office’s conference room. If people wanted to meet with him, they had to do so standing up. It made for fairly brief meetings.

We have tried stand-up meetings, and they are fairly effective. People don’t want to be standing, so they tend to get right to the point.

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