Nothing is more annoying than unproductive meetings. Some things irritate me in particular: people answering phone calls, people working on their laptops, and off-topic discussions.
You would think it goes without saying that you don’t do these things in meetings. However, it doesn’t seem to be so natural. Hmm… Come to think of it, I might be guilty of the last one myself occasionally.
1. Don’t Answer the Phone
Once in a while (like, once a year or something) you receive a phone call that cannot wait. This type of calls fall under one of three categories: planned, predicted or emergencies.
You deal with planned and predicted phone calls by clearly stating that you expect a call you need to pick up - preferably also what it's about - and that you will step out of the meeting then. Perhaps your wife is pregnant and the child is expected any time now.
Other than for emergencies, you shouldn't answer unplanned phone calls. This is the key point, and where people fail the most. Whether it's because they don't understand the concept of an emergency or if they don't realize why interrupting meetings is bad, I don't know.
A family member in the hospital is an emergency, someone calling about lunch is not. Calls from customers are usually not emergencies. You will know if it’s urgent by repeated call-ups even as you reject them.
2. Don’t Use Your Laptop
There was a time when there weren’t any cell phones or laptops. No mobile nothing. Not even pagers. I imagine meetings must have been so much more efficient back then! Or, maybe they weren’t? Either way, it feels like people can’t handle the responsibility that comes with mobile tech. Like for example, bringing your laptop and using it in meetings.
Unless you're taking the minutes, or holding a presentation, put away the laptop. Not only is it rude and disrespectful. You will most likely miss important discussions, too.
If you feel you're better off working with other stuff. Do one of three things:
- If you’re only involved in a couple of items and actually have more important things to do: try to rearrange the agenda and move those items to the top. Alternatively leave and rejoin the meeting later.
- To resist the urge to work on other stuff during meetings: help ensure meetings are focused and effective. Don't make things worse by being part of the problem.
- Consider if you really have to attend the meeting.
3. Don’t Engage in Off-Topic Discussions
The number one reason why meetings drag on and fail to respect the schedule is off-topic discussions that don't drive the meeting towards the goal.
You know you do it! It can be tough to resist saying just one more thing. All of a sudden, you've spent 30 minutes talking about whether or not it’s a good idea to add comments at the end of code blocks. (Which, by the way, it isn't.)
Bring a notebook and write down whatever you feel the need to say. Talk to people about it during recess, or after the meeting. Maybe you realize that it wasn’t that important after all.
The more people realizing off-topic discussions is a meeting anti-pattern the more likely you are to have effective to-the-point meetings where scope and time are respected.