As someone who has quite literally built a career out of efficiency, I have no patience for unproductive meetings. When meetings go off the rails, people show up unprepared, or something gets canceled at the last minute, I get frustrated. Time is valuable, and these situations are easily preventable.
Over the years, I've learned a few tricks to help keep these situations from occurring in the first place. And more recently, I've encouraged my executive assistant to think in the same way, so she can take steps to ensure that each meeting I attend will be a good use of my time.
If you have an executive assistant, I'd highly recommend teaching them these four methods. If not, you can do them on your own or even set up some automations that will handle some of the work for you.
1. No agenda, no meeting
I have a simple rule with my team: No agenda, no meeting. These agendas should ideally be made in advance of the meeting, and shared with attendees so everyone can add their thoughts as needed. And while my team knows this, I meet with a lot of people who don't.
The hack is to have my assistant look for agendas in all of my upcoming meetings. If she sees a meeting without one, she'll reach out to whoever created it and ask them for a link to the agenda or offer to create one. She'll also send these to me so I can add my thoughts in advance.
With this, I can walk into each meeting knowing that we'll be efficient with our time.
Just as every meeting needs an agenda, many meetings need clear "prework" assigned in advance. I'm sure you can relate to waiting around as someone scrambles to find a document during a meeting or having to recap information from a report that could have been circulated in advance. When prework isn't done, it wastes everyone's time and costs the company money.
Prework can be as simple as reviewing a scorecard to update yourself on some metrics or as in-depth as creating a presentation. The important thing is that that everyone is clear on what they're responsible for well in advance of the meeting. Ideally, the results of their prework should also be shared in advance so everyone has time to review it.
This is another thing my assistant now handles for me. If she doesn't see any prework for a meeting, she'll ask the group if there is anything that should be done in advance or even go ahead and assign prework based on what she knows is going to happen in the meeting.
Oh, and to be clear, I'm not exempt from this--she's not afraid to assign me my fair share of prework, and I'm thankful as it ensures I have my ducks in a row for important meetings.
3. Confirm attendance
This one is almost laughably simple, but it's absolutely worth doing.
I don't know about you, but I'm way too busy to keep track of everyone's attendance for my upcoming meetings. But this can cause problems, like when I realize five minutes prior that half the group isn't going to make it.
This is a huge waste of my time. Not only are we no longer accomplishing what we set out to do, but I could have put a different meeting into that time slot if I had known ahead of time. Plus, we now have to go through the hassle of rescheduling.
So, just like agendas and prework, I also have my assistant keep an eye out for attendance in my upcoming meetings. If someone hasn't confirmed whether they'll be there, she reaches out. If a majority of attendees can't make it, she'll then work with them to reschedule. It's simple, but incredibly useful.
4. Eliminate dead times
You know those annoying 15-minute time slots between meetings where you can't get any meaningful work done so you end up sitting around waiting for the next call? I call them dead times. And I hate them.
My assistant now schedules meetings in batches to eliminate this. That way, instead of having four 15-minute time slots throughout the day I can have one hour of uninterrupted time to get in flow and get some real work done.
This often involves what I call "Calendar Tetris." The goal is to move things around and limit gaps as much as possible, just like a game of Tetris. My assistant is constantly looking for opportunities where a meeting can be bumped up or moved to a different time slot in order to eliminate dead times.
Pro tip: There's a tool called Clockwise that will automatically do this for team meetings.