"I don't want to spend any time on my business today," my friend said to me over the phone recently as we began our weekly 15-minute coaching session. "I just want to know the answer to one simple thing," he continued.

"How do you do it?" my friend asked me. "How do you go from meeting to meeting to call to meeting, all day, every day, and not lose any time to transitions?"

Time Saver

"I have a 15 minute call with you, and it takes me another 15 minutes just to catch my breath, while you've long since moved on!" he continued, exasperated.

My friend Ben, an excellent CFO who had been helping me with the financial model for my latest business in exchange for some coaching for his, sounded frustrated and desperate. He sounded a lot like I had, years ago, when I asked one of my mentors, Jim McCann, nearly the same thing.

"Well," I replied, "I have an amazing assistant. She helps keep me on task, that's for sure. And I ruthlessly prioritize my calendar each week as well."

"But I'll let you in on one more secret, Ben, that I learned from Jim McCann years ago."

I proceeded to tell Ben the secret that I'm going to share with you, a very simple trick that I estimate saves me about 900 hours a year in productivity time at work--and that saves my organizations thousands of hours a year in productivity:

During every call or meeting, no matter how short it is, I won't end the discussion until everyone clearly understands their next steps, and until I've actually begun any next steps of my own.

In other words:

Begin your next steps during a meeting, and you will never have to spend a minute reviewing notes or figuring out what's next.

Let me give you a few examples of this hack in action:

During a recent five-minute call, I agreed to make two email introductions for a friend. I started composing each one during the call, so I wouldn't forget, and sent the emails later that night.

During a recent 30-minute meeting with my executives, I agreed to personally review three competitors' websites, so I pulled up each one on my browser before the meeting ended.

During a recent call with an investor, I agreed to forward some documents to him, and they were in my draft email folder before we hung up the phone.

Of course, if you're a leader, you won't just be assigning yourself next steps, you will be asking others to follow up on things as well. That's where productivity can really increase exponentially, as you can help everyone in your organization to adopt this simple but powerful practice.

A good rule of thumb is to reserve 20% of every minute to review next steps. If it's a five-minute meeting, take one minute; a 30-minute meeting, take six minutes; or an hour-long meeting, 12 minutes. During that time, make sure everyone understands what they need to do next, and if there's time, begin the next steps in earnest.

While I think I learned this from Jim McCann, I'm not completely sure. Like many simple, powerful tools, I may have learned this in first grade, where Mrs. Flayton built in time at the end of each day for us all to write down our homework, ask questions if we had any, and begin our homework if we had time, all before dismissal.

I wrapped up that 15-minute coaching call with Ben. But before I did, we reviewed next steps: Ben would send me a recap email of what he had learned, and then he would put it into practice in his next three meetings that day.

I smiled as I hung up the phone and saw an email from Ben fly into my inbox.

How do you save time and productivity amid back-to-back meetings each day? Please let me know in the Comments section below, before you move on to your next meeting.