After years of working in big organizations (dare I say decades?), I dread seeing a full day of back-to-back meetings on my calendar. I know that by hour three, I will be wishing my soul could leave my body. I just don’t thrive without some time in the day to quietly reflect and work on my own projects.
Great meetings where genuine connection and knowledge sharing take place are energizing, but according to a 2019 study of 19 million meetings worldwide, those meetings are in the minority. On average, workers sit through two hours of poorly organized meetings every week, costing the U.S. $399 billion in 2019 alone. Sixty-eight percent of American workers say they lose time every week due to unnecessary or canceled meetings.
As a discussion organizer or meeting attendee, there is a lot you can do to make the engagement a success. So, here are seven survival tips and meeting best practices for those back-to-back days. Good luck and stay strong, my friends.
Ditch the old-school brainstorming
It’s easy to get into a brainstorming rut when the same team members are hacking away at the same problems hour after hour. Mix it up with different techniques for group engagement. HubSpot offers up 15 creative ways to brainstorm better, like S.C.A.M.P.E.R., Six Thinking Hats, Wishing, and Zero Draft. These methods help you approach tasks or problems with fresh thinking.
Start with the end in mind
To really tap into people’s creativity, you need a well-thought-out agenda—preferably shared with attendees ahead of time. According to Forbes, the act of mentally preparing ahead of time makes a big difference in the quality of discussions. It’s also critical to begin meetings by framing the outcomes you desire. But what if you’re not the meeting organizer? Ask to take a few moments to identify shared objectives for the group discussion.
Get moving—whenever you can
This tip comes from time management guru Laura Vanderkam. She wrote the book (literally) on how to take control of your time at work and at home.
If you’re meeting with just one or two people, opt for walking meetings. This can be as simple as walking around the building or across campus—but it’s a great way to stimulate creative thinking and refresh your brain. Walking meetings are best when it’s not necessary to review text or take a lot of notes.
If you’re meeting with larger groups, don’t be afraid to stand during discussions, and encourage others to do the same. With so many people opting for standing desk workstations, you might find that standing meetings would be appreciated.
Take time in between meetings to stretch, roll your shoulders, and breathe deeply. You’ll feel more refreshed as you head back in—sigh—for the next meeting.
Step away from the doughnuts
This Psychology Today article—Why a Sugar High Leads to a Brain Low—will seriously make you rethink an attachment to sodas and doughnuts. The long-story-told-short version is that sugar triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol—for as much as five hours. And, sugar affects your mood, short-term memory, and your waistline. If you’re organizing meetings, opt for healthy snacks and drinks. Need some ideas? Here are 28 healthy office food ideas from My Southern Health. As a meeting attendee, plan ahead and bring your own healthy options with you.
Have you ever noticed that people tend to sit in the same spot all the time? It’s a funny human tendency that reflects our need to feel comfortable. We are wired to be creatures of habit. But in a business setting, this habit can actually diminish the free exchange of ideas. Who sits where can be a social signal of power and authority and makes some people feel less “safe” to speak up. So if you’re in the same room meeting after meeting, switch seats each time. This will help you take a fresh approach to the topic of discussion and help others take a fresh look at you.
Actively practice equity
The best and most creative teams are ones where every person offers their perspective in a constructive way. One way to make this happen is a round-robin approach. Give each person the opportunity to give feedback on an idea. Set a time limit for the feedback to ensure no one takes over. Limiting response time encourages concise commentary but also keeps meetings on schedule. It’s perfectly fine for someone to pass on giving feedback, or to say their observations have already been covered by others. Once everyone has made comments, have a group discussion on what was learned.
End. on. time.
Have you ever had key people apologize and walk out of a meeting just when meaty discussions were evolving—because they had to go to the next meeting? This is a missed opportunity, and every person in the room knows it. Avoid this by ending meetings on time. What time adherence does is force meeting facilitators to hone or guide discussion so that the group meets their desired outcomes in the allotted meeting time. And, it allows the group to jointly identify next steps.