Arriving at a meeting out of breath and painfully aware that you have not had the time to read the material you were supposed to have gone through previous to the meeting, isn’t that great.
We might try to briefly skim through the material as everyone is getting seated, but we are not really absorbing all the information we need to. We try to keep up the appearance of having prepared throughout the meeting and silently hope that we are not asked something that might expose our lack of preparation.
For you who prefer listening to reading, this post is also available as an episode of the “Done!” podcast:
I think most people would agree that arriving to a meeting fully prepared is definitely preferable, but how do you make time for proper preparation? How are we supposed to set aside time when we have little time to spare, considering all the other things we have to do right now?
And not to mention the great number of meetings we need to prepare for…
A little less conversation, a little more action
Concluding that ”we all need to prepare better until the next meeting” as the gathering comes to a close is rarely enough, even though we all agree that we need to ”get our act together”. The solution is to create a new habit, one that creates the right prerequisites and circumstances allowing for us to read the material well ahead of the meeting.
Three habits worth establishing
Here are three practical and simple habits you can begin to establish, if you have not already done so:
- Make note of to-do-tasks as soon as possible — At the end of every meeting, make note of what your next steps will be. Formulate them just as clearly and distinctly as you usually formulate your to-do-tasks. As quickly as possible, preferably before heading off to the next meeting, write these tasks on your to-do-list so that they are included in your daily prioritization process, and you hence avoid arriving to the meeting next time realizing that you should have done something important which you accidentally neglected.
Make particular note of if a next step implies that you have to read something, even if you have not received the material in question yet, but will receive it from the person in charge of the upcoming meeting as it is approaching. Add these reading-tasks to your to-do-list as well since ”read” is a verb just as ”write”, ”call” and ”e‑mail”, and hence reading material should also be converted into a to-do-task.
- Schedule time to prepare — When you receive a request to attend a meeting and it is clear that there are things you need to prepare or read prior to it, schedule time in your calendar for the time required for preparation. What you agree to when accepting to attend the meeting is actually not only the meeting itself, but also the time required for preparation, which makes it no more than fair that the time for the entire engagement is accounted for in your calendar. If you have not done this before, then schedule more time than you estimate you might need to prepare in so that you rather have time to spare than feel crunched for time if you should have misjudged the amount of time needed.
When you are choosing and scheduling the time and place for reading or preparing, consider if you some time soon will be in a situation or context when there is not much else to do but sit and wait. Will you be in transit? On a train? On a flight without WiFi? If so, choose this as your prep-time since the reading and preparing then will not have to compete for your attention with as many tasks on your to-do-list as it otherwise normally does. Many people I meet tend to not regard reading as a proper task, and hence do not prioritize it enough.
- Make it a habit to once a week skim through the calendar to get an overview of the month ahead — Make mental note of what meetings are approaching. If you realize that you have to prepare something special for any of the meetings, formulate the necessary preparations as a to-do task and put it on your to-do list. If you want to make sure that the task is completed in time, schedule doing it in your calendar or formulate clearly to yourself exactly when and in what situation you intend to do the preparations (a so called implementation intention).
Prepared rather than postponed
If you determine to change something concrete in your daily routines (such as for instance implementing and establishing the three habits mentioned above) instead of just promising that you will be better prepared next time, you will to a greater extent successfully prepare yourself for meetings in the future.
Your meetings will be slightly more efficient as a result of you improving your preparation-strategies, and if you are lucky, other participants of meetings you regularly attend will follow your good example. Less stress, more productive meetings and faster results ought to be the results of these changes.
What is your method?
These were just three simple things you can do to improve your situation and working methods. Do you have another way of ensuring that you arrive at every meeting prepared? Tell me!
(Do you know that there are things you can do to get less tired during digital meetings?)