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5 Alternatives to Time-Wasting Meetings

5 Alternatives to Time-Wasting Meetings

5 Alternatives to Time-Wasting Meetings

    Nobody likes meetings. Well, not “nobody” – that older guy with the beard that nobody seems to know personally that comes to every meeting? He likes meetings, because he gets a free donut and a nap. But other than him, most people see meetings as way too unproductive and time-consuming to be likable. Necessary, sometimes, but not likable.

    There are a lot of reasons why meetings can waste more time than they’re worth. Of course, meetings can be ill-planned, without an agenda (or worse, with an unclear agenda) and no real goal in mind. Meetings can often become the battleground for intra-office politics as well, with everyone’s time wasted while the office Alpha and Beta chest-thump at each other.

    Other ways meetings waste time have to do with factors external to the meeting. They interrupt whatever you were working on at the time, regardless of whatever kind of flow state you might have been in. There’s always someone essential who runs late, forcing everyone to cool their heels waiting, or to start and then waste time when they finally show up and need to be filled in.

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    And, finally, there’s the structure of the meeting itself. Brainstorming meetings stall as people on whom the concept of brainstorming is lost run feasibility checks on each idea thrown out. Informative meetings stall when leadership encounters resistances they hadn’t foreseen and fumble, unprepared, for responses. And meetings overall fall down as voices and egos raise in a clamor for everyone to be heard – and to be right.

    Five Alternatives to Meetings

    Like I said, sometimes meetings are necessary, but rather than a first-response, meetings should be reserved for special occasions, when only a face-to-face meeting will do the job. In other times, try one of these five alternatives and see if they don’t save some time and some hassle.

    Instant Messaging

    While Instant Messaging (IM) is likely to be viewed more as a time-waster for teenagers and lonely geeks, a lot can get done via IM. IM allows you and your partners to maintain a long-term virtual “presence” as you work, posting questions, updates, and ideas as they strike you or as you come across problems in your work. Since IM programs maintain a full record of the chat session, there’s no danger of missing anything or losing it – just scroll up.

    There are a couple of rules to follow for productive IM’ing.

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    1. Cut the chatter. To keep things focused, each person should speak only a) when they have something important to add, or b) in response to a question.
    2. No frills. Today’s IM software comes with voice and video capabilities, avatars, face-morphing functions, multi-colored fonts, and more. Leave those for your twelve-year old daughter – you’re working, not playing IM.

    Alternatives to IM include private chatrooms like Campfire or even Twitter if you can resist the siren call of your friends’ tweets.

    Teleconferencing

    If more personal contact and real-time sharing is needed, try a teleconferencing system like Adobe’s Acrobat.com or GoToMeeting. Most services allow screen sharing, collaborative whiteboarding, and other substitutes for same-room presence – without the commute to the meeting (even if it’s just down three floors), the incessant interruptions for coffee and bathroom breaks, the face-to-face socializing, or the forced absence from your desktop while you wait for that crucial email. Since most also create a transcript, you don’t need someone taking minutes, either.

    Wikis

    Wikis provide a collaborative environment that is ideal for the development of working documents and statements, as well as material that will need to be referred to again and again. For one-off projects, an online wiki like WetPaint or PBWiki are ideal: free, easy to set up, and easy to use. For more mission-critical material, especially when you plan to use it repeatedly, and where security is a major concern, your organization can fairly easily set up an internal wiki on your intranet, using advanced software like MediaWiki, the software that runs Wikipedia.

    Wikis are self-organizing and easy to create and edit, and they keep track of changes made along with a record of who is responsible for each edit (no more dickering over credit!). Where real-time interaction isn’t a necessity, building a wiki over a long period of time can be far more productive than a chain of meetings – but make sure to assign responsibilities and allow time for wiki work.

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    Email Lists/Groups

    Another solution where real-time interaction is not a factor is the old-fashioned email list. Somewhat out of fashion these days, email lists can still be quite productive ways to get things done as a group – and both Yahoo and Google offer services that are free and easy to set up.

    An effective email list should probably have a moderator – not to approve messages, but to remind people when they’re going off track. Good etiquette is essential in this environment; something about the medium encourages flame wars. But with a few precautions, email lists can still be quite effective tools, allowing for thoughtful, considered exchanges and automatically maintaining a searchable archive of past discussions.

    Collaboration Apps

    Finally, effective use of a project management application can forestall the need for most meetings. Systems like Wrike and Basecamp allow notes to be exchanged, tasks to be assigned, and files to be shared. They also offer a number of ways for users to interact: SMS, email, online, RSS, or using a third-party application through Basecamp’s API.

    If full-fledged project management is too much, consider using online services like Google Docs (which can be installed to your own domain via Google Apps) alongside Google Talk or another IM – you can share documents, add to and edit each others work, and create a repository of materials at the same time.

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    Let’s Adjourn

    I am not trying to claim that all meetings can be replaced through online services or desktop applications. Sometimes an in-person meeting is the best and most eficient way to get things done.

    But don;t let meetings become the default mode of itneraction. All too often, meetings represent a failure of communication, not the advancement of it – they’re called when nobody’s on the same page anymore, or worse, when the [stuff] is about to hit the fan. More effective planning and use of resources can often prevent the need for meetings, and let everyone involved spend more of their time doing work rather than talking about it.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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