One of the things I see absolutely plague developers is time management. There is never enough time in the day to both do work, and communicate it. This counts extra in an increasingly distributed world where clear and accurate communication is more important than ever.
The other side of this desire for communication, is people clinging to filling diaries up with meetings as a way to "keep people connected", but if you're not careful, this can significantly backfire.
We've all been there, and we've all seen it:
- "too many meetings!"
- "I can't get my work done because of all these meetings!"
- "I don't feel like I have control over my time!"
Here are a few things I've done, to make sure I can get things actually done, over the years.
1. Diarise your own time.
Your calendar doesn't exist purely for other people to fill your time up. It is yours. You can use it.
During consulting gigs where people bombard you with requests, literally the moment someone asks me to do something, or look at something, I'll block out a slot in my calendar of at least one hour to actually do the work and think about the problem.
- Helps you remember to do the thing
- Organises your day
- Stops meetings preventing work
This is a great trick to help set expectations of when people will expect to see results from you and embraces the fact that doing any work takes time and space.
This is perhaps the easiest way to make sure meetings don't get in the way of doing.
2. Politely reject meetings that do not have agendas or stated outcomes.
Many meetings are formless & ineffective, becoming unstructured thought & conversation. All meetings requests should come with either an agenda or an explicit goal.
Help by making sure your own invites do.
3. Leave meetings where you are adding or gaining nothing.
I suspect the biggest cost-waste in most organisations are meetings with passive participants.
Respect your own time by observing the law of two feet and politely excusing yourself to get other things done.
4. Be present in the meetings you do attend.
No laptops unless you're taking notes or doing some meeting related activity. It's simple, it's respectful.
If you feel like you have to brain space to do other things, see point 3 - observe the law of two feet and get up and leave.
5. Get into the habit of circulating meeting outcomes
There is no need to minute or notate the vast majority of meetings - but any outcomes - decisions, should be circulated to the exact invite group of the meeting after the fact.
This gives people the confidence that if they cannot attend a meeting in real time because of time conflicts, that they will be able to understand the outcomes regardless.
This is part of the respectful contract that not everyone you wish to attend a meeting, will be able to.
6. Decline meeting invites if you cannot, or do not want to, attend.
To solidify the human contract that people will circulate conclusions and communicate effectively, you need to let people know if you're not coming.
You don't have to tell them why, but it'll help them plan.
7. Don't miss mandatory team communication meetings.
There's a pattern of fatigue that develops when meetings start to feel rote or useless. Don't respond by not attending, respond by "refactoring your meetings".
Discuss cancelling pointless recurring events to free up time.
8. Schedule formless catchup meetings
It's easy for meetings to devolve into chatter, especially in 2020, where we're all craving human contact. Set meetings up with this goal.
A social meeting is not a crime, it's optional, and people that are craving contact will thank you.
9. Consider doing work in meetings rather than talking about it.
Many meetings can be replaced with mob programming sessions, where you do the thing, instead of discussing it.
Doing the work is the best way to know if it's right & valuable.
Prefer this format where possible.
Changing a meeting culture
It's easy to think that you have no control over your time, or that the meeting culture of your organisation won't change - this is a real concern, but there are a few things you can do to counter it.
Regardless of the meeting culture of your organisation, you can make sure your own meeting requests follow these guidelines. Encourage your peers to follow suit. This goes doubley if you're in a position of power or responsibility, like a team lead, or a head of. You can normalise good meeting discipline.
You can also help nudge meeting culture out of the way by talking to meeting organisers about the above as meetings appear. Challenge the meeting requests with friendly questions, offer to help improve meeting invites so people can be more prepaired.
Effective meetings are wonderful, people are wonderful, and getting work done requires brain space and time.
Don't let meetings crush your work and motivation 🖤