Using Calendar Discipline to Improve Meetings

When Reshan Richards and I are working with leaders on a very pragmatic level, we often find ourselves thinking about meetings. That’s where leaders spend a lot of their time, advance a lot of their projects, and solve a lot of their problems.

Some meetings are set in advance and repeat. These are sometimes called “standing meetings.”

Other meetings are called to address a specific need / solve a problem / deal with an urgency. These are often referred to as “impromptu” or “just-in-time” meetings.

If you’re calling and leading one of the latter, the meeting can be greatly enhanced by adding some simple calendar discipline to your routine.

Here’s what we suggest:

First, find a time for the meeting in a way that doesn’t clutter up people’s inboxes. So, instead of emailing the group and asking each member to share his or her availability, precipitating a blizzard of REPLY ALLs, send a Doodle Poll or build a quick table in Google Docs to allow people to give their input once. Then, you can make a decision about the best possible date and time and invite the participants.

You can invite people in one of two ways. You can send them an email with the pertinent details, or you can skip that step — recommended — and send them a calendar invite that appears on their calendar and allows them to accept it.

Let’s drill down into the calendar invite process, because that’s where many leaders can still improve. Start with a good, general title that tells people the purpose of the meeting. Then, add as much contextual information as you can, including the time and the location of the meeting. Finally, and one layer deeper, add any relevant notes.

Purpose, context, and notes embedded in the calendar invite itself: these items allow the event marker to function as a form of “glance media” for the meeting participants. They can read it when they are preparing for the meeting, or if they are too rushed to prepare, the event marker can, at the very least, help them to attain a just-in-time understanding of the meeting on their way into the meeting.

Once the meeting is shared in that manner, you can feel that you’ve taken some important steps to help meeting participants take responsibility for their part of the meeting. You might share an agenda at some point or share one at the meeting.

At any rate, your next set of steps involve your own calendar, and your own level of responsibility for a meeting that you called. Go to your own calendar and schedule the BEFORE and the AFTER work that will make the meeting a success. We like to schedule our planning sessions two or more days out and our follow-up sessions immediately after the meeting. You’ll notice in the example below that the planning session and the follow-up session are as long as the actual meeting. That’s an ideal time distribution. Both can be condensed as needed, or to create found time in your schedule if you do what you need to do in 25 minutes.

This three part discipline — creating detail rich event markers and then scheduling your Pre and Post- meeting work — allows you to take seriously what it takes to plan, execute, and carry forward an effective meeting.

Saturday Summary

This past week I wrote posts about:

Now they’re all in one place for you, easily accessible as you sip your morning coffee and make your weekend plans. Hopefully, I’ll make this pleasant distraction / invitation to serendipity a regular thing each weekend.

Last week’s summary.

Football: A Meditation

In honor of Sunday’s Super Bowl, I’m going to jot down a list of things I’ve learned from watching football that seem broadly applicable to life and work, individual performance and team performance. Here goes . . .

To have a good day at work, you only need to average a few yards per carry.

Sometimes, you have to go for the big play. It’s helpful, in achieving the big play, if you’ve already done the work to give that big play a chance of succeeding.

The purpose of attempting a big play is not always what it seems. Yes, it’s great if it works; it’s great if your quarterback hits your lightning quick receiver with a 70-yard touchdown pass. But even if the big play doesn’t work, if you call the big play and try to execute it, it shows your team that you believe in them . . . and it shows the other team that you’re always capable of a break-out move.

With that said, desperation in the form a a “Hail Mary” is rarely rewarded. It’s fun to watch, but does it work?

It’s important to know whether you’re playing offense or defense. And, once you’ve sorted that out, it’s important to excel on both sides of the line.

Sometimes you have to punt.

A good coach or teammate can reset your attitude, helping you to do things that you don’t want to do but you know you need to do in order to win. (And, as a good coach or teammate, your job is to do the same resetting for others.)

In order to have a winning season, you have to stay healthy. You have to stay in the game, each game. And the same goes for your teammates.

Honor an honest competitor as fiercely as you abhor a cheat.

A trick play every now and again is a referendum on the deep and basic joy of the game itself. It’s important to keep that joy alive, for both the players and the fans.