Archive for the ‘Meetings’ Category

The Won’t-Do List


No means no! (Photo taken on Vancouver's Canada Line by Margaret Lukens)


Productivity is as much about what we choose not to do as it is about what we do. (Remember the Evil Overlord List? 100 tongue-in-cheek won’t-do entries that begins, “Being an Evil Overlord seems to be a good career choice.”)

With this in mind, I’d like to supplement my list of committed tasks with a “won’t-do” list.

Below I’ve started with five things I’d like to eliminate from my life. I’ll be adding to my list whenever I think of something that is hindering my efforts to get where I want to go.

My Won’t-Do List

1. I won’t attend meetings with no agenda. And I encourage everyone else not to do it, either. Waste of everyone’s time. And in case it’s not clear, “so that everyone can catch up on what’s happening” is not an agenda. It’s a time sink.

2. I won’t balance my personal checkbook. For over 25 years I balanced my checkbook to the penny every month. In that time, the bank made two errors, one for a dollar and one for a dime, both in their favor. (Both came from misreading the numbers written on a check.) For the hours it takes to balance the checkbook every year, I can live with that error rate. I’m done.

3. I won’t get behind in my business bookkeeping. Given the won’t-do above, this one might seem surprising, but last year when my bookkeeper quit, I allowed my books to get months behind, which caused two problems. First, I had to catch up in order to do my taxes. But more important, I can’t manage my business if I’m not looking at the numbers in a timely way. I won’t “fly blind” again.

4. I won’t arrive on time. I’m already punctual; I believe that keeping people waiting often makes them feel disrespected, and I don’t want to do that. Now I want treat myself more generously. I won’t habitually cut my schedule so close that I feel anxious about arriving on time. Instead I will plan to arrive early. When I do, my reward will be time for a few games of ZenBound or Angry Birds.

5. I won’t agree to serve on committees or boards because I’m flattered to be asked. I love to feel needed and wanted, I do, which makes me something of a sucker for nominating committees and clever task force leaders. Plus, the work they offer me is really interesting stuff that I’d really like to do. But I won’t agree to serve just because I am flattered to be asked. If I don’t have room for it in my schedule as well as a genuine desire to participate, I won’t say yes.

Opinions change. Two years ago I would have said that I feel no need to jump out of a perfectly good airplane; now, thanks to the glowing reports of one adrenalin-amped nephew (who is not a daredevil but a well-balanced business owner, husband, and father of three) I have committed to a sky dive. And there was a time that I believed that, except for an omelet and salad, any meal that took  less than an hour to prepare couldn’t be very good; now I’m all about the 30-minute recipe.

On the other hand, when I look at my won’t-do’s, they look like they’re with me for the long haul. They represent real learning about what supports productivity and what diminishes it.  Last year’s “no way” may be next year’s “why not?” but my won’t-do list is here to stay.

What’s on your won’t-do list? Leave a comment here.

Humans are natural procrastinators

A wise person does at once, what a fool does at last. Both do the same thing; only at different times.
– Sir John Dalberg-Acton

Hold on, Sir John! Is it possible that delay serves a good purpose? And if, like our appendix, delay has outlived its usefulness, how can we work around it with as little discomfort as possible?

This Thursday I will be speaking to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) San Francisco chapter, and the topic will be “Mastering Follow-Through.” Join this opportunity to network with many of San Francisco’s most dynamic business women by registering at the NAWBO website, or just join us at the door.

Why is it so hard for us to follow through on our plans and make the change we really want to make? It turns out that humans, along with having big brains and the ability to sort lots of choices, have become “natural procrastinators.”

Want to know how to work with our natural tendencies rather than struggle against them? Join us this Thursday at the Omni Hotel, 500 California Street, San Francisco. We’ll share hors d’oeuvres, lots of networking, and some information you can use the very next day to get more done and feel better about it.

I’ll be making a very special offer just for NAWBO attendees for my “Plan to Thrive” coaching program, that will give you the support you need to go from overwhelmed to overjoyed in just six months, by helping you get control of  your time, paper, and projects.

Great networking with the wonderful women of NAWBO, useful information, special offers —  there are so many reasons to be there on Thursday! Hope to see you then!

The Jump-start Meeting

Recently I was seated next to Laura Van Galen, the dynamic head of Bleu Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm based in San Francisco. She described to me a practice she uses with her senior team, the daily jump-start meeting.


Are all the parts working together?

Here’s how the jump-start meeting works: every morning each manager has three minutes to describe the top three things they will be working on that day. The meeting lasts no more than 15 minutes.

Here’s why it works: it provides group accountability, it helps sharpen everyone’s focus, and it improves everyone’s clarity about what the group as a whole is working toward.

The entire leadership group stays focused and productive, all pulling in the same direction. The investment in meeting time pays back handsomely in improved coordination among all the managers.

Are your meetings short, targeted, and productive?

Meetings: stand up

As described in my organizing colleague John Trosko’s blog, one Los Angeles-area company found an effective way to keep its meetings “right sized” — they shed their chairs and held meetings standing up. Meetings that had been 30 to 60 minutes shrank to about half their former time. Think of the value to your business of all that productive time freed up!

Want to try it?

Meetings: a quote

A quote for the day:

But above all, meetings have to be the exception rather than the rule. An organization in which everybody meets all the time is an organization in which no one gets anything done. Wherever a time log shows the fatty degeneration of meeting — wherever for instance, people in an organization find themselves in meetings a quarter of their time or more — there is time-wasting malorganization.

Peter Drucker, from “Know Your Time” published in The Essential Drucker

2009 marks the Drucker Centennial at Claremont Graduate University, a celebration of his work in effective management and ethical leadership.

Meetings: what Warren Buffet found

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

The January 18 issue of USA Today included an interview with former Coca Cola president and Berkshire Hathaway board member Don Keogh, which contained this revealing item:

Out of Time

Out of Time

Speaking of Berkshire Hathaway chairman and America’s second richest man Warren Buffet, Keogh observed, “Buffet bought a company a couple of years ago. In three months, they eliminated 54 committees and 10,000 man hours of monthly meetings.”

Many of us who have worked in large corporations (and some small companies, too) have experienced the sinking feeling that results from viewing a calendar clogged with too many unproductive meetings.

Reid Hastie, Robert S. Hamada Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, sounded the same theme in the New York Times job section that same day, with an article entitled, “Meetings Are a Matter of Precious Time”.

Hastie points out that the main reason we don’t make meetings more productive is that we don’t value our time properly. The people who call meetings and those who attend them are not thinking about time as their most valuable resource.

When I ask clients to consider which of their tasks may not be as productive as they’d like, meetings usually surface as a prime time-stealing culprit.

Hastie offers specific suggestions for making meetings productive, two I endorse and one I emphatically do not:

1. Whoever calls a meeting should be explicit about its objectives.

The meeting’s leader should ensure that objectives are in writing well before the meeting. My clients who value their own time and their company’s resources learn to “push back” when summoned to a meeting that lacks a clear purpose. Either agree to a clear and worthwhile goal for your participation, or don’t go.

2. Those who call a meeting and those who attend should think carefully about the opportunity costs of a meeting.

Too many meetings are called without a firm agenda in place, allowing the conversation to swell to fill whatever time is available. And many (most?) meetings include too many participants.

3. After productive or unproductive meetings, assign credit or blame to the person in charge. Then, if people have track records of leading ineffective meetings, don’t let them lead future sessions.

I strongly disagree with Hastie in this instance. There is no special skill involved in leading a productive meeting that cannot be coached and learned. Establishing a clear objective and keeping to the declared task are two organizing skills that everyone needs to practice to be effective in their work. Assigning blame is largely counterproductive.

I would add a fourth productivity practice:

4. Develop a practice for recording all decisions to be made, so that notes can be easily shared with those who didn’t attend. This makes it easier to keep the “guest list” down, too. Those involved in the project or whose work will feel the impact of any decisions can get the critical information they need without spending an hour sharing the whole process.

Learning to make the best use of your time is one of the foundational productivity practices I cover in my GO System workshops. To learn more, contact me by phone or email here.

Do you have a meeting triumph or tragedy to share? Let’s hear it. Leave a comment here.

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