The Internet is full of “10 Rules For Effective Meetings” blog posts so why not create my own? Sure, why not?

These are the guidelines I try to follow when organizing meetings. They work fine for me in the context of the company I work for (flat structure, ~80 people, no managers, no corpo-bullshit). I have no idea what happens if you apply them to your workplace (but I bet, it would be something positive).

 

Meetings People Love

Meetings People Love

A Meeting? Seriously?

Sometimes it is enough to visit your colleague in the next room, sometimes all you need is a short discussion on group chat with few people, sometimes simply wait till certain people are having coffee break and join them for a five minutes discussion.

Meeting is a heavy, time-consuming, corpo-smelling, commonly disliked thing – look for a lighter solution.

Save People’s Time

As an organizer make sure you do everything possible to save people’s time. This means you make sure that:

  • all important people will show up,
  • the room is ready (see below),
  • all participants  know what they should prepare for the meeting (if anything), and that they really did,
  • lead the meeting so that it is worth being there

One minute of your preparations can result in few minutes saved for each participant. Do the math.

Organize the Room

Always be there at least 5 minutes before the meeting. This gives you time to reorganize tables and chairs, tweak the air conditioning, bring missing markers, clean the whiteboard, check the projector works etc. Make sure the flip chart, markers, magnets, pencils, cards, or whatever else you gonna use is there.

They way the tables and chairs are organized is important. Make sure you know what type of meeting you want (a lecture? an open discussion?) and put the chairs so that people have no choice but sit according to your plan. If it doesn’t work just like that, ask people to rearrange so they sit the way you intended. Really, do it. If not, you will end up with weak discussion only because people sit side by side and can’t really talk to each other. Or you will have two hostile tribes on two other sides of the table. And it will be your fault.

Action Points

A meeting without Action Points (AP) is a waste of time. Make sure everyone knows what was decided (remind them right before the end of the meeting). Every AP should have an owner. For every AP it should be clear what the next step is, and when this next step should be finished.

Meeting Notes

Keep them short – usually the APs is all that matters. Add pictures of whiteboards notes, sketches, diagrams etc. – a good reminder of what happened during the meeting.

Send the notes ASAP (to all interested parties) after the meeting is finished.

Make Fun of It

If possible make some fun around the meeting. Yes, do it. The invitation can be funny or you can put some funny accents into the meeting notes. I’m trying to do it for (some) meetings I run at Codewise and I think it works. From discussions with my colleagues I suspect some of them take look at the notes because they want to find out what kind of stupid stuff I put there among serious notes. Good! – at least they will scan through the notes looking for hidden gems and will inhale some of the essence (if they want it or not).

I will give you one example of what I’m talking about. This is an email invitation to developers to take part in our weekly “devs meeting” – which is a gathering of interested individuals from each development team to share business and technology news. So usually the invitation email is “standard”, but from time to time, I try to tweak it a little bit. For example, like this:

meeting_code_monkeys

Facts First

For problem-solving meetings always start with the facts. Even if you think people know the full picture. They usually don’t. It is your task to learn about it before the meeting, and then present it in a concise way. Or – even better – ask the participants to list them. If not, you risk all kind of misunderstandings (like people discussing different issues, while thinking they all talk about the same).

OK, here comes a story. So once upon a time we had this meeting. And I explicitly asked participants beforehand to prepare a list of facts so we start discussion with them. Once the meeting started one person gave like one fact and immediately followed with a general solution, which, in his opinion, solved all problems related to the discussed topic! I stopped him in the middle of a sentence and refused to discuss the solution until we learn about the whole picture. We continued with the facts and listed 12 of them on a whiteboard. After 30 minutes of a discussion we agreed on some action points. The solutions we discovered were completely different from what the first guy suggested. I would also say they were much better. Can you guess why?

Do Not Distract People

Do not turn on the projector too early, and make sure you switch it off when it is not needed anymore. For some reason, people will stare at the screen even if nothing happens there (instead taking part in the discussion).

Switch off all communicators/calendar reminders when presenting. First, it distracts people. Second, it can be pretty embarrassing. 🙂

Transparency

For problem-solving meetings always leave the door open. Invite crucial people and let other know that such and such meeting will be held. And don’t worry – only few (if any!) will come. But those who decide to join you will probably have something interesting to say. Good for you, right?

Similarly, publish the notes so that all employees can read them. You have nothing to hide, do you?

As Attendee

  • Come prepared. If asked to read something, read it. If asked to think about some idea beforehand, think about the idea. Simple, isn’t it?
  • Don’t attend a meeting if you do not feel like going there. Your absent-presence won’t help anyone.
  • Think about other people who could help and discuss inviting them with the meeting host.
  • Always inform the organizers if you attend or not. A simple click in the calendar is all they need – and it really helps them to prepare a meeting.

Tips & Tricks

  • If we chit-chat instead of discussing it means the meeting is over. Finish it.
  • For recurring meetings, change the meeting host once in a while. It helps to fight the boredom.
  • Throw away empty markers immediately. Have no mercy!

Ending Quote

For all programmers out there, who love all kind of meetings 🙂

delete_emails_and_avoid_meetings

I was addicted to email checking. Or maybe I should say that I still am the same way an alcoholic doesn’t stop being alcoholic, he merely doesn’t drink anymore. So let me say I’m still emailoholic who checks email in controlled manner. Or at least, one who tries to achieve the inbox zero.

Checking email often was exhausting, pointless and stupid. I didn’t like it, so I decided to put an end to this bad habit. In fact, there were two goals I wanted to achieve:

  1. stop checking my email account too often,
  2. don’t let the unanswered emails pile up in my Inbox.

Interestingly these 2 things come together – at least for me. The thing is, that I used to check my email when I had no time to handle it. This had two very negative effects. The first, and an obvious one is, that I was thinking about answering my emails right after I checked my mail account. This disrupted my work, family life or whatever else I was doing at the moment. The second, less obvious effect is, that sometimes I hadn’t answered to emails at all (or I did this after very long time). This one is harder to explain, but my theory (uh-oh, big word!) is the following. There seems to be a certain good time for some things. A book should be read right after you buy it. If you don’t start reading it immediately, you probably won’t read it at all. Similarly, an email should be answered right after you see it.

So, in order to improve the situation I took one resolution: I will check my email only if I have time to process it right away. This means saying no to:

  • email checking while my code compiles,
  • grabbing tablet on my way from dining room to the kitchen only to check my email and put down the tablet on the table,
  • no quick checks in between other activities.

I started with the cleaning of my inbox. This wasn’t very hard, I had like ~40 emails there. Then I removed pinned tabs from my browsers. And hid the email icon from the front page of my tablet and phone.

Since 2 weeks I check email rarely (compared to what I used to do) – sometimes only once a day, sometimes few times a day, but the important thing is, that every time I do this, I make sure my inbox is empty before I switch to other tasks.

meme_email_inbox_zero

There are some issues, though. First of all, my email is also my personal database of various things. Sometimes I need to look there searching for something. To do it, I need to break my promise and take a look at email, even if I do not have time to clean it. Secondly, sometimes I have time to process email, but for some reasons I can’t – e.g. I need to consult something with my wife before answering, or I need to check something at home before I answer. Fortunately, neither of these happen often. Another issue, is that sometimes I wait for an email answer which I need ASAP – e.g. will I meet with X today or not? Then it is hard not to check my email every 30 minutes or so.

But all in all, it works pretty good for me. I’m not so obsessed with my email anymore. People who contact me by email should be also happier as they receive answers much faster than previously. I enjoy email-free evenings, and email-free-thoughts. My inbox is often at zero, and I hope to keep it this way.

Some time later

After 2 weeks – To get rid of unwanted emails I spent some time signing off from all kind of customer survey etc. This takes time (usually you need to log in to change your notification preferences) but I believe it is worth the trouble when thinking in the long term.

After 2 months – It is much easier (at least for me) to keep inbox at zero than to restrain myself from constant email checking!

After 2,5 months – I have never checked my email using phone or tablet. Yes!

After 3,5 months – Block site helps to fight the urge to check my email often. Not ideal, but helps.

It is almost the end of January, but I believe it is still a good time to make some New Year’s resolutions. Today I want to describe one of mine, which I believe could be a good fit for many of us.

As you know, it is very simple to make resolutions but much harder to fulfill them. So before I reveal it, let me tell you why I believe I will keep it:

  • it is not hard to do,
  • no special equipment/weather/mood required,
  • doesn’t take much time
  • requires only a little bit of preparation
  • I have heard many people saying it is a very valuable habit
and last but not least:
  • I have first started doing it and I already like it (and only later decided to make it my resolution – usually first you take a resolution and then you start).

And the resolution itself is very, very simple: I decided to perform a short (5-10 minutes) retrospective of my work achievements each week. Have I done what I promised (to myself or to others)? Have I worked on really important stuff or maybe I spent my time doing 2nd rate stuff? Have I started new tasks without closing the older ones? And so on.

In order to be able to do that, I take notes every day before leaving the office: few bullet points with major things I have been busy with. Then, on Fridays (I set up a reminder so I don’t forget it) I go through the notes from the last wee and ask myself questions. And then I write down some TODOs – like “do X – don’t wait any longer” – but also I praise myself – e.g. “good job with Y!”.

After three weeks I already have few observations and ideas:
  • Maybe Monday would be better, so my TODO list was kind of fresh and I would be able to jump into the action without waiting for the weekend to pass.
  • Why only work achievements? Why not introduce the same idea to my family life?
  • A week is kind of long, at least in some cases. Wouldn’t it be better to have it twice a week or daily to shorten the feedback loop? I’m not sure.
  • I do not have a good way of reminding me about the TODOs I created during the review. A sticker on the monitor doesn’t work for me – somehow after an hour it is like I don’t notice it anymore. Maybe I should set up a reminder for this as well so e.g. every day I got reminded about things I decided to do?
  • I have already been able to achieve some small victories (e.g. doing some stuff I have been putting off for weeks…) so I can say it works for me. So I plan to continue.
There is still time to change this year into something more valuable. Why don’t you give a try to this self-retro idea? I hope it helps you.

Cheers!