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January 18, 2012

10 Ways to Have a Productive Meeting

“That’s my week,” one of my clients showed me his screen. It was a calendar completely filled with blocks. Meeting blocks.

“When do you do real work?” I asked him.

“Between 11pm and 1am,” he replied.

This is all to common in offices. People are working 40-60 hours a week—but they are really just attending meetings pretending to work. This client I speak of, he’s super talented, he has a lot of really awesome projects to be working on, but instead he’s chatting about the weather 5 times a day.

In a perfect world we’d all do the following things and consider meetings a “get in get out” kind of thing.

  1. Only invite people to meetings if they are going to contribute. If they aren’t presenting—send them a recap later.
  2. Start on time. End early. Why are we spending so much time talking about the weather? I can check it online.
  3. If you are presenting, you need to be early. Set up the room, have your agendas handy. Be ready to greet people and be the person that starts on time.
  4. Have an agenda – send it out before the meeting. Allow people the opportunity to be prepared.
  5. Send out a recap. We have a semi-weekly meeting with some clients. We set up a wiki where we post the agenda for each week’s meeting — then after the meeting we update the agenda with what we discussed and change the page name from “Agenda 1-18-12” to “Meeting 1-18-12”. Easy.
  6. Make sure meetings end with to-dos. That they are written down by someone and they are very clear. “A to do B; S to get info on D to A”.
  7. I don’t want to make this point, but I still have to. DO NOT pick the one girl in the room and say “Can you take notes?”. It has repeatedly happened to me, it’s repeatedly dumped on my copywriter friend. If you host the meeting, take the notes. Or round robin the notes, having someone do it each time. You are not Don Draper.
  8. Don’t derail status meetings. Status meetings are specifically to stand up together and say “this is where that is”. If you have a major project question (how something works, a change to a feature, etc) call a side meeting with the appropriate parties. I attend status meetings like I’m a horse in the Kentucky Derby.
  9. Don’t bookend your meetings. Please don’t look at your coworkers calendar and see their only free time is 2pm – 3pm and snap that up. Could you get it done from 2:15-2:45? How about even 2:05 – 2:50. Let people go to the bathroom. Allow them the opportunity to be on time to your meeting. In high school we had a few minutes to get between class.
  10. Take care of comfort and technology. If you are hosting the meeting, make sure the projector, etc are working and ready. Online meeting? Make sure your mic and earphones are working. A longer meeting? Bring some snacks, or bottles of water. Really long meeting? Offer a bathroom break.

One more note on successful team status meetings. When I held these at my last job we worked it so the directors would meet, each person had an order — first up: those we didn’t need to talk to very much—ending with those we needed to dig into things with. We’d have the first person (or small group if they were all giving short answers) come in, then they would go get the next person—in between people we’d sync up as directors. What was once a 2 hour meeting for all became a 2 hour meeting for three and a series of 5-30 minute meetings for others.

Try it sometime. It was a good social experiment.

This work includes the photo “,” available under a Creative Commons Attribution license, © Ursonate.


About the author

Amber Sawaya

Amber Sawaya is a creative director, best-selling author and business owner. She designs and oversees UI, UX, app, and website projects.