The number one complaint I hear from my senior executive coaching clients is the number of meetings they find themselves in every day. Their calendars are so racked and stacked they feel like they’re stuck in a spin cycle of conversations which leaves little to no time for strategic thinking or action.
If this condition sounds familiar, here are seven simple steps you can take to get yourself out of the executive meeting spin cycle:
Demand Clear Objectives: When you’re asked to attend a meeting, make a clear objective for the meeting a condition of your attendance. If the organizer can’t finish this sentence, “We are holding this meeting so that…,” decline the invitation.
Get an Advance Agenda: Likewise, if the organizer can’t produce a coherent and focused agenda and related materials to review before the meeting, don’t go. Advance agendas and materials not only give you time to prepare, but they also force the organizer to think through their game plan for the meeting.
Keep the Table Small: Limit the number of participants in your meetings to primary principals only. No observers, no people who “need to know,” no back benchers. Keep things focused and efficient by keeping the table populated with key contributors and decision makers.
Know Who’s Got the “D”: Avoid endless loops of repetitive conversations by clearly establishing who’s got the decision-making authority and what kind of input and information they need and want before making the decision.
Drive Outcome Clarity: Ending meetings without outcome clarity is a surefire way to keep yourself in the spin cycle. Don’t end the meeting without everyone knowing what the next steps are, who owns them, and when they’re expected to take them.
Be a Ruthless Steward of Time: Start your meetings on time and end them ten minutes early. Until teleportation is invented, people (you included) still need time to go to the bathroom, check in with someone, or just breathe. Whatever you can get done in a 60-minute meeting, you can do in 50; whatever you can do in 30 minutes, you can do in 20.
Regularly Reassess: Get into the habit of taking 15 to 30 minutes a week to review your upcoming calendar and reassess what’s on it. Are there meetings you can cancel, skip, or delegate? Do those things. Are there recurring meetings that have lost their value? Cancel, redesign, or repurpose them.
Are you going to hurt some people’s feelings or make them angry by taking these steps? Probably. Are you going to improve the quality of your work and life (and theirs) by taking these steps? Most definitely. Getting yourself out of the executive meeting spin cycle requires some gumption and agency. Don’t hesitate to use yours.
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