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Do you REALLY need to get yet more things done?

Do you REALLY need to get yet more things done?

Maybe today’s fashion for increasing personal productivity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

    Increasing your personal productivity is the subject matter of a slew of books, magazine articles, and more than a few successful blogs. It’s fashionable, popular, and, most of all, highly profitable for the authors and writers of software. But does that make it right?

    I believe that more cookery books are published each year that any other genre, followed closely by diet books — surely one of the great symbiotic relationships of all time. You stuff yourself, then diet, then fall off the diet and stuff yourself because you feel guilty. Oh hell . . . back to the diet.

    Maybe it’s the same with recipes for getting yet more things done: you overload your time and brain with impossible expectations, hype yourself up on the latest fad for coping with the overload, then crash and burn — swearing that, next time, you really will to find a way to crack the whole, messy problem of doing more in your waking hours than those hours were ever designed to hold.

    From where I stand, this looks to be almost the ultimate in self-inflicted madness: people stuck in a have-it-all, instant-gratification society demanding techniques for organizing the lives they are systematically filling with the effort to have yet more, every minute of every day.

    Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against helping others to be more organized or better able to juggle life’s necessary demands. But I am starting to wonder how many of those demands are really necessary; and whether the cure isn’t in danger of becoming more onerous that the disease.

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    Our gas-guzzling lives

    Our addiction to getting things done is not unlike that other addiction: the one to huge SUVs and trucks. Both the trucks and the productivity software and ideas are undeniably flashy and pack a lot of horsepower under the hood, but neither are good for us in the long run, nor strictly necessary.

    Using an SUV, or a truck the size of a semi, to go to the mall, as many people seem to do where I live, must empty your pocket-book even more quickly than it sucks up gasoline. Filling your every moment with constant activity, however carefully and expensively organized, is going to suck you dry of energy just as quickly, then leave you as exhausted as a worked-out oilfield.

    And if huge, gas-guzzling autos threaten to destroy our physical environment through global warming, what are people’s huge, energy-guzzling lives doing to the mental and social fabric of our world? What are they doing to our organizations, where it’s become commonplace to expect highly-trained professionals to work harder, for longer hours, than we would judge humane for laboratory rats?

    Whatever happened to “working smart?”

    Why are we now so devoted to getting more and more things done in less and less time? Not so long ago, we were all urged to “work smarter, not harder.” Whatever happened to that idea?

    As a natural skeptic, I suspect part of the emphasis on constant busyness is simple: it makes some people a good deal of money. It’s just that those people aren’t often the ones doing all the extra work. They’re being smarter while you’re working harder.

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    I also suspect it’s far easier to write a book about how to aspire to a four-hour week than it is to do what the book recommends — once you’ve had the book idea, of course. That’s really smart. The rest is the age-old business of selling snake-oil.

    In America at least, my long-time bugbear, the Puritan Work Ethic, is a major contributor to today’s fashion for finding still better ways to work more.

    According to the work ethic mythology, work is a GOOD THING IN ITSELF. Hard work is what makes you into some kind of hero (most often an exhausted, burned-out one), so more of it is bound to be better than less. There’s a nasty suspicion in the Puritan mind that people who appear to do things easily are probably up to something immoral, because they AREN’T TRYING HARD ENOUGH; and their achievements, however impressive, are really NOT WORTH MUCH.

    If effort is what gives work its value, then whatever is gained with most effort will be most valuable.

    A sideways look at personal productivity

    This Calvinistic belief that effort is what gives value is, of course, total nonsense. If it were true, a crook who spent months of hard effort organizing a complex robbery would be commended; and a doctor who had a moment of insight that cured a sick child would be given a stiff dressing-down for laziness.

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    What gives value to anything, work or play, is the importance and worth of the outcome, not how much effort and organization went into it. In a world that was truly progressing towards a better state, there would only be one kind of productivity that was valued: the productivity that comes from finding ways to get worthwhile results with less effort than before.

    That, of course, is what productivity actually is. Doing more by working longer hours and focusing your efforts more closely isn’t increasing your productivity; it’s only the result of working harder. To be more productive means to do more with less effort, not more with more effort. And if the only way you get more done is by wasting less time in a muddle about what to do, that’s a trick you can only play a single time.

    NOT getting some things done is what we truly need

    What’s wrong with today’s fashion for a thousand ways to up your personal productivity? Too much of it is about filling every moment with activity. It’s about doing when you would be better employed thinking. It’s about focusing on getting results when you should be focused on whether you need those particular results at all.

    We’re creating a world of hard-driving ants, not a civilization where people find ways to increase their time enjoying life through becoming cleverer at doing only what has to be done — then doing it with the minimum effort.

    What rational being would devote one minute more to work than is essential — let alone find ways to pack more and more into every waking moment?

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    Look around you at the world of nature. Which animals spend most time at the “work” of finding food? The answer, of course, is those that eat the least nutritious things in terms of their bulk. Cows and other herbivores must spend hours grazing because they need prodigious amounts of grass, which has little energy value. Lions and tigers, in contrast, spend most of their time sleeping and lazing about, because their meat-based diet is extremely high in energy per pound of dead gazelle.

    Here’s the choice then: do you want to emulate a cow or a tiger?

    Is your life based on gathering lots of low-energy, readily available input of the kind that never runs away? If so, any help you can get with packing more activity into 24 hours is well worth it. Or are you aiming for the kind of life that feeds on highly energy-rich inputs — even if you have to devote a good deal of intelligence, skill, and speed to catch them — so you can spend the rest of the time enjoying yourself in the sun?

    The day that someone comes up with a good technique for getting much less done, with much less effort, while still meeting life’s needs, you can bet I’ll be there at the front of the line to get my copy.

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    Last Updated on September 30, 2019

    How To Write Effective Meeting Minutes (with Examples)

    How To Write Effective Meeting Minutes (with Examples)

    Minutes are a written record of a board, company, or organizational meeting. Meeting minutes are considered a legal document, so when writing them, strive for clarity and consistency of tone.

    Because minutes are a permanent record of the meeting, be sure to proofread them well before sending. It is a good idea to run them by a supervisor or seasoned attendee to make sure statements and information are accurately captured.

    The best meeting minutes takers are careful listeners, quick typists, and are adequately familiar with the meeting topics and attendees. The note taker must have a firm enough grasp of the subject matter to be able to separate the important points from the noise in what can be long, drawn-out discussions. And, importantly, the note taker should not simultaneously lead and take notes. (If you’re ever asked to do so, decline.)

    Following, are some step-by-step hints to effectively write meeting minutes:

    1. Develop an Agenda

    Work with the Chairperson or Board President to develop a detailed agenda.

    Meetings occur for a reason, and the issues to be addressed and decided upon need to be listed to alert attendees. Work with the convener to draft an agenda that assigns times to each topic to keep the meeting moving and to make sure the group has enough time to consider all items.

    The agenda will serve as your outline for the meeting minutes. Keep the minutes’ headings consistent with the agenda topics for continuity.

    2. Follow a Template from Former Minutes Taken

    If you are new to a Board or organization, and are writing minutes for the first time, ask to see the past meeting minutes so that you can maintain the same format.

    Generally, the organization name or the name of the group that is meeting goes at the top: “Meeting of the Board of Directors of XYZ,” with the date on the next line. After the date, include both the time the meeting came to order and the time the meeting ended.

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    Most groups who meet do so regularly, with set agenda items at each meeting. Some groups include a Next Steps heading at the end of the minutes that lists projects to follow up on and assigns responsibility.

    A template from a former meeting will also help determine whether or not the group records if a quorum was met, and other items specific to the organization’s meeting minutes.

    3. Record Attendance

    On most boards, the Board Secretary is the person responsible for taking the meeting minutes. In organizational meetings, the minutes taker may be a project coordinator or assistant to a manager or CEO. She or he should arrive a few minutes before the meeting begins and pass around an attendance sheet with all members’ names and contact information.

    Meeting attendees will need to check off their names and make edits to any changes in their information. This will help as both a back-up document of attendees and ensure that information goes out to the most up-to-date email addresses.

    All attendees’ names should be listed directly below the meeting name and date, under a subheading that says “Present.” List first and last names of all attendees, along with title or affiliation, separated by a comma or semi-colon.

    If a member of the Board could not attend the meeting, cite his or her name after the phrase: “Copied To:” There may be other designations in the participants’ list. For example, if several of the meeting attendees are members of the staff while everyone else is a volunteer, you may want to write (Staff) after each staff member.

    As a general rule, attendees are listed alphabetically by their last names. However, in some organizations, it’s a best practice to list the leadership of the Board first. In that case, the President or Co-Presidents would be listed first, followed by the Vice President, followed by the Secretary, and then by the Treasurer. Then all other names of attendees would be alphabetized by last name.

    It is also common practice to note if a participant joined the meeting via conference call. This can be indicated by writing: “By Phone” and listing the participants who called in.

    4. Naming Convention

    Generally, the first time someone speaks in the meeting will include his or her name and often the title.

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    For example, “President of the XYZ Board, Roger McGowan, called the meeting to order.” The next time Roger McGowan speaks, though, you can simply refer to him as “Roger.” If there are two Rogers in the meeting, use an initial for their last names to separate the two. “Roger M. called for a vote. Roger T. abstained.”

    5. What, and What Not, to Include

    Depending on the nature of the meeting, it could last from one to several hours. The attendees will be asked to review and then approve the meeting minutes. Therefore, you don’t want the minutes to extend into a lengthy document.

    Capturing everything that people say verbatim is not only unnecessary, but annoying to reviewers.

    For each agenda item, you ultimately want to summarize only the relevant points of the discussion along with any decisions made. After the meeting, cull through your notes, making sure to edit out any circular or repetitive arguments and only leave in the relevant points made.

    6. Maintain a Neutral Tone

    Minutes are a legal document. They are used to establish an organization’s historical record of activity. It is essential to maintain an even, professional tone. Never put inflammatory language in the minutes, even if the language of the meeting becomes heated.

    You want to record the gist of the discussion objectively, which means mentioning the key points covered without assigning blame. For example, “The staff addressed board members’ questions regarding the vendor’s professionalism.”

    Picture a lawyer ten years down the road reading the minutes to find evidence of potential wrongdoing. You wouldn’t want an embellishment in the form of a colorful adverb or a quip to cloud any account of what took place. Here’s a list of neutral sounding words to get started with.

    7. Record Votes

    The primary purpose of minutes is to record any votes a board or organization takes. Solid record-keeping requires mentioning which participant makes a motion — and what the motion states verbatim — and which participant seconds the motion.

    For example, “Vice President Cindy Jacobsen made a motion to dedicate 50 percent, or $50,000, of the proceeds from the ZZZ Foundation gift to the CCC scholarship fund. President Roger McGowan seconded the motion.”

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    This vote tabulation should be expressed in neutral language as well. “The Board voted unanimously to amend the charter in the following way,” or “The decision to provide $1,000 to the tree-planting effort passed 4 to 1, with Board President McGowan opposing.”

    Most Boards try to get a vote passed unanimously. Sometimes in order to help the Board attain a more cohesive outcome, a Board member may abstain from voting. “The motion passed 17 to 1 with one absension.”

    8. Pare down Notes Post-Meeting

    Following the meeting, read through your notes while all the discussions remain fresh in your mind, and make any needed revisions. Then, pare the meeting minutes down to their essentials, providing a brief account of the discussion that summarizes arguments made for and against a decision.

    People often speak colloquially or in idioms, as in: “This isn’t even in the ballpark” or “You’re beginning to sound like a broken record.” While you may be tempted to keep the exact language in the minutes to add color, resist.

    Additionally, if any presentations are part of the meeting, do not include information from the Powerpoint in the minutes. However, you will want to record the key points from the post-presentation discussion.

    9. Proofread with Care

    Make sure that you spelled all names correctly, inserted the correct date of the meeting, and that your minutes read clearly.

    Spell out acronyms the first time they’re used. Remember that the notes may be reviewed by others for whom the acronyms are unfamiliar. Stay consistent in headings, punctuation, and formatting. The minutes should be polished and professional.

    10. Distribute Broadly

    Once approved, email minutes to the full board — not just the attendees — for review. Your minutes will help keep those who were absent apprised of important actions and decisions.

    At the start of the next meeting, call for the approval of the minutes. Note any revisions. Try to work out the agreed-upon changes in the meeting, so that you don’t spend a huge amount of time on revisions.

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    Ask for a motion to approve the minutes with the agreed-upon changes. Once an attendee offers a motion, ask for another person in the meeting to “second” the motion. They say, “All approved.” Always ask if there is anyone who does not approve. Assuming not, then say: “The minutes from our last meeting are approved once the agreed-upon changes have been made.”

    11. File Meticulously

    Since minutes are a legal document, take care when filing them. Make sure the file name of the document is consistent with the file names of previously filed minutes.

    Occasionally, members of the organization may want to review past minutes. Know where the minutes are filed!

    One Caveat

    In this day and age of high technology, you may ask yourself: Wouldn’t it be simpler to record the meeting? This depends on the protocols of the organization, but probably not.

    Be sure to ask what the rules are at the organization where you are taking minutes. Remember that the minutes are a record of what was done at the meeting, not what was said at the meeting.

    The minutes reflect decisions not discussions. In spite of their name, “minutes,” the minutes are not a minute-by-minute transcript.

    Bottom Line

    Becoming an expert minutes-taker requires a keen ear, a willingness to learn, and some practice, but by following these tips you will soon become proficient.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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