June 09, 2017
I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o clock sharp.
- W. Somerset Maugham
It’s not necessarily intuitive that the meeting, subject of much maligning and discontent in the corporate world, should make for a good addition in your personal life. But I’ve found that scheduling meetings with myself improves my productivity and sense of accomplishment toward my goals.
When I realized the disconnect between my experiences with meetings in a business setting and personal one, I wanted to understand why. What I found was that meetings are a underutilized and underappreciated opportunity. Most of the discontent around meetings is a result of a lack of planning and poor execution, but that they are not complex or complicated. Really, a good meeting requires only consistency and a bit of planning.
One of the hardest things about personal projects is starting - it’s easy to identify a potential project, but then never take any action, saying to yourself, “I’ll start tomorrow.”
Ben Franklin, a scion of industriousness if there ever was one, battled this tendency with one of my favorite aphorisms: “Never leave that til tomorrow which may done today.”
Never leave that til tomorrow which may done today.
- Ben Franklin
That’s all well and good for Ben, but for most of us, there’s still a question of how. I found the answer in not waiting to find the time, but making it.
The most effective way to make time for yourself is by making it count. That means, you don’t have a to do list with twenty items on it and set aside thirty minutes to do them. That’s a recipe for disaster and disappointment.
Which of course brings us to the point: Meetings, properly executed, have a few killer features that help avoid disaster and help you achieve your goals.
A well executed meeting will have an agenda. Not only what will be covered, but a rough sketch of how long you’ll spend on each and what the goal of the meeting will be.
“No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
- Helmuth von Moltkey
The important part here is not that you’re exactly right, but that you spend the time needed to plan your meetings. The act of planning, the time spent thinking about your time will still be helpful as it will inform priorities.
Speaking of priorities - it’s rare that a meeting doesn’t generate follow up work. Having a process in place to capture your next steps is critical. Even more critical is understanding that if something comes up while you’re working that isn’t on the agenda - spend the time necessary to determine it’s not critical to what you were trying to accomplish and put it in the next steps.
Perhaps most importantly, meetings should start and end on time. Arriving late is not acceptable, and ending late means that you’re running into whatever you should be doing next. If you run out of time before you were able to accomplish everything - that’s what next steps are for, and one of them will be making more time for what couldn’t get done the first time.
If you find yourself running late, follow AndreesonHorowitz’s lead and assign a value to your time. For every minute you’re late, put money aside for charity and donate that every month. Or, if you really want to break the cycle, earmark the money for an organization whose mission you disagree with. Then, when you write the check at the end of the month, you feel full cost of being late to meetings with yourself.
Just like you wouldn’t expect your job to accept chronic tardiness, don’t allow it of yourself.
Meetings can create unnecessary and unproductive obligations. This is the primary cause for most of the hand wringing about meetings and was the motivation behind new project methodologies like Scrum and books like Death by Meeting.
Though the obligations can often take on a negative connotation when you’d rather put your head down and work then listen to another status report meeting - personal meetings encourage a reassessment of the idea that obligations are barriers to productivity.
Most of the time when we say we are going to do something and then don’t, it’s not because we decided to do nothing at all, but something came up - the familiar refrain of a someone who’s balancing multiple life obligations - work, social, family, love, etc. It’s no wonder that personal can often fall to the bottom.
By scheduling a meeting, you give yourself an excuse to focus on yourself. Meetings are commitments that require attendance and attention. (The second half is often forgotten, which is why you get the guy in the corner surfing the web on his iPhone or the girl shooting off emails instead of paying attention to the conversation in front of them.)
As Julia Cameron writes in The Artist’s Way, there are folks in our lives she calls Crazymakers. Among other things, Crazymakers hate schedules… except their own. They will freely ask for your time and attention, but as soon as you start focusing on yourself, they’ll call you selfish.
The meeting gives you a socially accepted commitment to not bend over backwards to meet someone else’s schedule. When they ask if you can drop everything next time, you’ll be able to apologize, but say you’ve already got a meeting scheduled and you can’t get out of it.
Written by Stephen Weiss who lives in Chicago with his wife, Kate, and dog, Finn. Follow him on Twitter!