Help I’m in Meeting Hell!

Recently I looked at my calendar and caught myself saying “Sweeeet only 4 hours of meetings today”.  That’s when I realized “I’m in meeting hell”. I had always suspected this, so I decided to look at my calendar to see what a typical week looked like.  These days I’m running on the lite side with about 20 hours of meetings per week.  Looking at some of my busier periods I realized that I was in over 30 hours of meetings per week for extended periods of time.  When are you supposed to get your day job done if you are in meetings all day long?  Now I know why I have given into doing email during meetings that I am not chairing; there simply isn’t time to get it done otherwise. 

How do you know if you are stuck in meeting hell?  Here are a few things that tipped me off:

4) The meetings were ineffective and yielded either no decision, or worse yet, ended with the need for another meeting (talk about the snowball effect).

3) You often have 2 or 3 meetings scheduled at the same time (people just assume you have either blocked your calendar or they figure their meeting is more important).

2) You find yourself asking “Why am I in this meeting?”

1) You should never be excited to realize that only half your working day is sitting in meetings.

What am I going to do about it?  My CEO is always talking about “Focus”.  As a company we have to be focused on an area of the business that we can win at and then we need a plan to get us there.  Focus is exactly what I think we need to get ourselves out of the meeting trap.  So here is my plan of attack:

  1. Evaluate all meeting requests and determine if I really need to attend:  Ask: is this an area of focus for me or do I simply need to be informed of the outcome?  If I only need to be informed, then I really don’t need to be there.
  2. Demand good meeting practices from myself and the meeting coordinators: 
    • Ask what the purpose of the meeting is; no purpose, no meeting (this should free up a lot of time);
    • Is there an agenda?  If not, demand one (maybe I’ll skip meetings that don’t have one in favor of the ones that do);
    • Are owners of each topic identified?  If not request them to be so they can come prepared;
    • Review outstanding actions prior to the meeting. 
  3. Assess if my meetings can be shorter (maybe we’ll get so bold as to hold standing meetings so no one gets the urge to ramble).  If they can be shorter, cut them short; no need to keep everyone for an hour if you only need 45 minutes.
  4. Meeting minutes:  Log the minutes and actions as we go so I can send the minutes out right after the meeting rather than planning to do them the next day only to be stuck in another meeting and never get them out.
  5. Meeting Evaluations:  dedicate a few minutes at the end of most meetings to let everyone weigh in on the meeting effectiveness, whether or not they got what they needed, what can be done to improve the meetings, etc.  I probably won’t do this at every meeting but frequently enough to get a large enough sample set to start making changes.

I know this isn’t rocket science so why haven’t I done this before?  Like most people I’m over booked and it’s easy to say I don’t have time to do that or that’s not going to yield as big a bang for the buck as this other task.  The reality is that there is no good reason so it’s time to stop the madness and do it right.  In return I’m betting that I will get back more time than I expend on doing it right. 

So, that’s my plan for now and as with every good plan I’m sure it will evolve as time passes.  I’ll let you know how my little experiment goes some time down the road.  In the mean time, get yourself out of meeting hell and if you have any pertinent recommendations, feel free to let me know. 

Ed Gaeta

egaeta@pacbell.net

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1 thought on “Help I’m in Meeting Hell!”

  1. I couldn’t agree more with you. I wrote similar sentiments before. I like the following analogy I’ve used as a guideline when communicating in any way, whether it be meetings or anything else:

    “Communication should be like a laser; focused, efficient, and consisting of only necessary wavelengths (people and content). Instead, it usually turns out to be more like a floodlight; scattered, wasteful (of time), and involving many unnecessary parties.”

    PMStudent.com Links:
    Communication on Small Projects
    Communication Failure and Project Management Human Resources

    Josh Nankivel
    http://www.PMStudent.com

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