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PRODUCTIVITY

Google Ventures' $25 Secret for Better Meetings

Google Ventures may be cutting-edge but, to keep meetings on track, it relies on a tool popularized by first-grade teachers.
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Sometimes the best solution is the simplest. Tips to keep meetings from gobbling up your team's days are all over the map, including forcing employees to pay for the time they use out of a set budget of "credits"--or just making everyone stand up.

But Google Ventures, the in-house VC firm of the search giant, has found perhaps the world's least sophisticated fix for the eternal office productivity issue of meeting creep--a big, plastic alarm clock.

The idea came from a visit design partner Jake Knapp paid to his son's first grade class, BusinessWeek recently reported. There he witnessed the $25 low-tech gizmo known colloquially as the "magic clock" in action (officially it's known as a Time Timer).

"Oh, my God, this changes everything," Knapp thought upon seeing the easily read clock. "I figured what worked for small children would probably work well for CEOs, too."

He took the idea of setting the clock for 20 or 30 minutes in the midst of a meeting, applied it to the workplace, and used it to design bootcamps Google Ventures runs with the startups it has invested in. Simply having the minute hand ticking away in plain sight changed those get-togethers for the better, Knapp found. "It makes time visible and tangible," Knapp told BusinessWeek, "so it changes the way people think about time passing."

Despite some initial giggles, several of the startups that have attended these bootcamps have adopted the idea as well, and some even found further uses for their one magic clocks. Though even the biggest fans of the hard-to-ignore 8-inch timer admit it has some limitations. True, the time pressure often makes for more-efficient brainstorming, but follow-up meetings are frequently needed to flesh out ideas, and there are some types of meetings in which the added pressure of an in-your-face countdown is clearly counterproductive.

"I wouldn't want to conduct a job interview with a Time Timer," Knapp offered as an example. "But anytime people are working together and they know each other, it's helpful."

If you're sold on the idea and ready to shell out $25 for this device, be aware there are plenty of other ways to get your money's worth out of the purchase. Other productivity experts recommend timers to beat procrastination, get started on big intimidating ideas, avoid that annoying office gossip, and clear your head.

Last updated: Jul 11, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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