"Why am I here?" and other meeting tales

Through my years as a Producer, I’ve learned some tools to support meetings that are purposeful and impactful.

4 years ago   •   4 min read

By Jessie Mizrahi

It’s 3:30pm. You’ve just wrapped your last conference call of the day.

“Finally…. I can start to actually get some work done.”

This is an all-too-familiar feeling.

Our calendars fill up, and before we know it, we’re saying “what did I even do today?”

Meetings are (of course) super crucial to any operation - they’re an opportunity to connect, distribute information, organize, and provide mindshare.

So why do they so often feel like a time-suck?

Through my years as a Producer, I’ve learned some tools to support meetings that are purposeful and impactful.

Spoiler: they’re super simple

“Why are you here?”

  • Every meeting attendee should be able to answer the simple question, “why are you here?”
  • Invitations should always be intentional and clear. Who is moderating/driving the conversation? Who is capturing action items? Who is a stakeholder? If someone is included as an FYI, can this be covered through a recap email or during a 1:1?
  • Even if the meeting is loose and informal, a shared understanding of roles will make the whole team happier. We have a tendency to want to keep others “in the know” in the spirit of transparency, but this can often have an adverse effect of diluting the process through some participants having a lack of full context or simply gobbling up time that can be summarized elsewhere.
  • There’s nothing wrong with receiving a meeting invite and (using your judgment) asking the organizer, “do I really need to be here?”

Honor your Agenda

  • I like to start each meeting with “The purpose of this meeting is….”
  • Similar to the above point, If you can’t succinctly answer why a meeting is needed, you probably don’t need a meeting after all. This may be obvious, but you might be surprised how often meetings are scheduled through force of habit or general uncertainty.
  • Once a meeting starts, our conversations are always in service of the goals of the meeting. If you observe a tangential conversation starting to shift our meeting’s direction, step in. Can this be covered separately? Should action items be taken from this?
  • Once a meeting wraps, ensure action items and takeaways are clearly communicated to the group (don’t assume everyone is on the same page).
  • Don’t be afraid to guide the conversation and set a framework. Your team will appreciate it (and chances are they’re thinking the same thing).

Protect your Time

  • Nothing is more valuable than our time.
  • A solid practice is to set up protected work blocks in your calendar at the start of each week. Some people like to be heads-down for 4-5 hours at a time, others prefer shorter sprints of an hour or so.
  • Based on your style, set your calendar up for success, protect those hours, and encourage others to do the same!
  • If / when a meeting is absolutely required in that window (which will happen), make sure a discussion (or at least a heads up) happens beforehand.
  • When looking at your teams’ calendar, try to schedule meetings back to back (or conversely, with ample space between) and avoid awkward 30 min gaps of “waiting” time.

Schedule Ahead

  • There will always be last-minute meetings - it’s the nature of a modern workplace.
  • As much as possible set the known long-term standing meetings well ahead of time and try to keep the time-of-day cadence and flow. We’re all creatures of habit, and disjointed or shifting meeting times (and rooms) can create a larger sense of disorganization.

Learn from your Team Dynamic

  • Always listen and observe, and never take other people's time for granted.
  • What’s working well? What can be improved? Are we more on-point in the mornings?
  • If meetings don’t feel productive or the group isn’t engaged, ask questions and talk to your team. Maybe a different framework or cadence works best? Maybe they’re more slack or email-oriented? Maybe we need to revisit our roles and allow space for some to contribute?
  • We’re all human, after all, and our time is our precious resource.

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