Rethinking Meetings: Spend Less Time Getting More Out of Them

By David Hassell

Human beings are social creatures. We yearn for meaningful connections to the people around us. So why, then, do we settle for the boring and tired ways of interacting at work?

From meetings that span hours to continuous conference calls, we are discouraging creativity and hampering productivity. The best part is that it doesn’t have to be this way. By listening to our bodies, becoming more aware, and getting out of our chairs, we can facilitate the productive, creative environments that drive happiness and success.

Rinse & Repeat

We spend so much time and energy fighting our bodies in the attempt to eke out an extra ounce of energy and productivity, but the reality is that these measures (ie. coffee, powering through a natural lull) are counter-productive.

The reason that we begin to get restless in overly long meetings isn’t boredom or cabin fever, it’s our bodies telling us what they need. Our bodies are designed to expand and recover energy in 90-120 minute cycles called an ultradian rhythm. By working with this instead of against it, we can actually supercharge our productivity and focus and get more done — weekly reports can take care of a huge portion of this.

However, for longer meetings schedule 1.5 hr of highly focused work. Then take a 30 min break. This ‘rinse and repeat’ philosophy will allow you to maximize your spends of time and energy.

It seems counter-intuitive but just like taking time out of our day to exercise and go to the gym, this actually increases our capacity to be fully engaged, focused and productive. Furthermore, by picking just one thing to focus on at a time and using a timer we can actually train ourselves to enter the flow state almost at will during which times we can be hyper-productive and generate amazing work.

Commit to Being Present

The purpose of meetings is to engage with those around us in a spirit of collaboration to achieve shared goals. In order to make the most of this sharing of ideas, it’s important to consider the ways in which we can change our listening and speaking patterns to be more open, more creative in these group sessions.

How do you sit? What causes your attention to drift? Do you interrupt your colleagues? Do you ever find yourself on auto-response, especially when it comes to discussing new ideas?

As Anthony Tyan writes in the Harvard Business Review, “Self-reflection and its reward of self-awareness cannot be thought of as passive exercises, new era meditation, or soft science. They’re absolutely essential. There is a reason why in rehabilitation programs the starting point is being aware enough to admit you have a problem. So, too, is the case in business leadership and personal development.” Being aware of the ways in which we communicate –both verbal and non– in these group sessions is the first step to breaking down barriers of communication that prevent us from holding creative, productive and inspiring group discussions.

Get Physical

If Steve Jobs asked you to go for a walk, you didn’t say no. And not just because he was the CEO of Apple, but because it was a well-known fact in the Valley that Jobs’ best and most important conversations happened on the move — and it’s really no wonder why.

Not only does a quick walk reinvigorate our minds, it also provides some major health benefits. As Nilofer Merchant writes in the Harvard Business Review, “health studies conclude that people should sit less, and get up and move around. After 1 hour of sitting, the production of enzymes that burn fat declines by as much as 90%. Extended sitting slows the body’s metabolism affecting things like (good cholesterol) HDL levels in our bodies.”

It’s no surprise then that innovative companies like Udemy and Shopify make active meetings an integral part of their culture. From Udemy’s daily team standups, to Shopify’s curling and foosball, these companies understand that to get thinking, sometimes you need to start by getting physical.

Make a Great Escape

David Barrett, CEO and cofounder of Expensify, took the term ‘team offsite’ to new levels in 2012 when he flew the 20-person Expensify team to the sunny shores of Thailand for a month of hustle on the beach. While it was business as usual (plus a few strategic planning meetings), Barrett explains that the time away does wonders for the team, and for the business. “We think this is the most productive month of the year,” Barrett told Business Insider. “You take them out of their time zone. They don’t speak the language. It’s this very inclusive environment. You have time for the conversations you never have otherwise. Our best ideas for the company come out of these trips.” While the trip may seem lavish, it only set the company back $30,000, partly because employees covered their own accommodations, but mainly because Expensify makes sure to choose affordable locales.

While you don’t have to shell out $30,000 or a spend a month away from the office to reap the benefits of a team offsite, investing a little time and money into a group ‘workation’ is a great way to boost morale and encourage team bonding. As David explains, taking a break from the office environment can also improve creativity and can be the birthplace of some great, disruptive ideas that will transform your business.

Whether you’re planning a major excursion like Expensify, or simply trying to find your rhythm, investing time and thought into improving the way in which we work together as teams can have a lasting impact on the health, happiness and, ultimately — the productivity in your office.

Do you have a unique approach to meetings? Share it with the 15Five community in the comments below.

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