The modern office meeting is broken. We've known this for decades, which is why people say things like "death by meeting," "analysis paralysis," or Apple CEO Tim Cook's truism, "the longer the meeting, the less is accomplished."
And yet, in many organizations, meetings continue to drain energy, creativity, and time. In my own experience, it's become clear to me that the ordinary mindset in most meetings is best described as "not fully there" or, in the words of psychologist Linda Stone, a state of "continuous partial attention."
Just take a look around during your next meeting.
How many people are surreptitiously writing emails, checking Facebook, reading the news, or texting someone? How often is someone asked an important question only to reply, after a marathon-length pause, "Sorry, I was on mute," or "I had trouble hearing you, could you repeat the question?"
There are all sorts of ways to treat this modern meeting dysfunction. It's useful to explore short, 15-minute, daily standups. It's useful to audit and cull the list of regular meetings you attend. But sometimes, there's just no way around it. You need a meeting to talk about an important decision or an important upcoming event.
So how can we make the most of these "have to" meetings? How can we shift the experience from an hour of "checked out" multitasking to an hour of explosively creative work?
The 60-Second Arrival
At my company, we've developed a simple 60-second practice that has transformed our experience of meetings. We call it The Arrival.
Here's how it works: At the very beginning of each meeting, instead of diving into the topic at hand, the meeting leader inserts a short, intentional, 60-second pause by saying, "Take the next 60 seconds to do whatever you need to do to be fully present." Then, they set a timer for--you guessed it--60 seconds.
It sounds subtle and might strike you as inefficient. But this short pause gives everyone the chance to find their own way to a more present and engaged state. For some, The Arrival is a chance to take a few deep breaths or stretch. For others, The Arrival is an opportunity to send that last text or jot down that to-do they keep forgetting. For everyone, it's a way to clear away distractions and come into the meeting with a radically different, more focused, mindset.
Our company, as well as our client firms that have adopted this practice, have found a significant shift in the quality of our meetings. Our meetings aren't perfect. People still drift into the daze of multitasking from time to time. But we have found that this 60-second pause allows us to get more accomplished, more quickly.
Building the Habit
The 60-second arrival practice is like flossing or brushing your teeth. It's only useful if you can build it into a regular, almost automatic, organizational habit.
Use visual cues as reminders. For instance, we have a small laminated card in each of our conference rooms that says "The Arrival" and offers simple instructions on how to do the practice. We also have small, 60-second hourglasses in each conference room that the meeting leader can use to time The Arrival.
When it comes to curing the ills of the modern meeting, this practice can't do everything. It's still essential to explore the number, duration, and structure of the meetings in your workplace.
But by starting each meeting with this brief pause, we can begin to counter one of our most problematic meeting tendencies: the ordinary habit of being physically present but mentally lost in a state of distraction.