Randy Dean's Timely Tips

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Timely Tips© Volume 2 Issue 6: June 2005 —Making the Most of Meeting "Dead Time"

Dear Friends,

Just recently, I had the opportunity to conduct a training session for a client on how to run better meetings. We covered several strategies for making the most of time spent in meetings, including effective planning for the meeting, as well as guaranteeing a positive outcome from the meeting. One interesting area that we discussed in this training program was how to actually take advantage of the “dead time” at the front end of most meetings. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about – the ten or 15 minutes at the beginning of most meetings where you are waiting for the meeting to actually get started because people are slowly getting into the room. If you have three to four meetings a day, this could potentially be 30 minutes to an hour of lost productivity, and if you are slammed, this is time you cannot afford to lose!

Of course, this time is usually occupied by light banter and chitchat. And, if things aren’t too crazy, sometimes, this is an OK use of time – it allows you to build relationships and get to know the people on your team and in your unit a little better. But if you are under the gun, or if you just really want to get ahead of your work, this ten or 15 minutes can be used in a more focused or productive manner. Here are three simple tips that can allow you to do just that:

    1. Use this time for planning and organizing. I ALWAYS bring my planner or PDA to any meeting I go to, not only so I can have it to refer to my calendar if needed, but also so I can go through my task (to do) list and get myself organized. Like I always do first thing in the morning, I also use these few minutes before a meeting to collect my thoughts, plan my actions, and get ready to be focused and productive as soon as the meeting ends. I look at my existing project and task list, and then circle or highlight those items that really need to be attended to following the meeting. I may also review my calendar, my “calls to make” list, my “waiting on” list, etc., so that I know coming out of the meeting that my actions following the meeting will create the most value for me and my unit (and possibly allow me to actually get out the door on time at the end of the day!)

    2. Take advantage of the people resources in the room. Think about who will be attending this meeting with you. Do you need to talk to any of these people about items that aren’t necessarily related to the meeting? Well, if you happen to get to the meeting on time or early, and so does one of the people that you need to talk to on one of these other topics, you could take advantage of this time to cover two or three items and keep them moving forward. Not only are you taking great advantage of the 10 minutes of meeting “dead time”, you are also helping the other person stay productive, since you will not have to come bother them again after the meeting! Personally, I always try to keep a running list of things I need to discuss for each and every person that I interact with regularly on my PDA. Then, whenever I have a chance meeting with that person, I can quickly access their list and knock out three or four items, allowing me to both stay productive and avoid bugging them at a later date.

    3. Keep up on your reading. Finally, I also recommend that you keep on your desk a stack of items that you would like to read (magazine articles, newsletters, trade journals, reports, etc.), but don’t necessarily HAVE TO read. Keep it ordered so that the most important or interesting articles are right on top. Then, whenever you are about to leave your office for the meeting (or doctor’s appointment, or oil change, or parent-teacher conference, or anyplace you might experience a wait), just grab the top two or three items on the stack. If you attend several meetings a week, just by taking a few items with you to each meeting, you might be able to keep up with your reading pile.

I’ve used these three simple tips for years, and have found that it is very rare that I am unprepared for “dead time”. I’m almost always ready to take advantage of this dead time and use it instead for something productive, which can really help with keeping up when things get crazy, and also getting home to the family on time at the end of the day. Of course, if you have other ideas on how to take advantage of “dead time”, please share them with me. Until next month, Stay Timely!


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