Tag Archives: tips

Productivity

Tame your recurring meetings

We all have them – recurring meetings. They are in your calendar. Someone invited you to these meetings a long time ago and they just repeat every day, week, or month. Very often they do not have any meaning, yet they are in your calendar so you attend them. And you usually waste your time. What can you do about it? You can tame such meetings! How? Start by reading this post.

There are a few things you can do to make the most of of such meetings. And it does not matter if you are the organizer of a meeting or an attendee. Stop wasting your time in meetings that have no added value for you. How can you do this? You can find a few tips below:

  • Challenge the agenda of the meeting – A day or two before the next recurrence of the meeting, check if there is an agenda defined for it. Send a short e-mail to the organizer with the question “What will the topic of the meeting be?” If you don’t receive an answer or the answer is “There is no agenda,” politely but firmly say that you won’t attend it. You can do the same as an organizer. Contact all invited people and ask if they have anything for a meeting. Unless you have an agenda prepared, tell them that if you don’t receive an answer by the given time you will cancel the meeting.
  • Challenge the frequency of the meeting – Do you have a meeting that recurs every week, but there are rarely enough topics to talk about, so you keep canceling the meeting? Change the frequency of the meeting. For example, do a biweekly one. Suggest this to the person that created that meeting.
  • Suggest a main topic for each meeting and a person responsible for preparing it – If the meeting ends up with just talking about random things and the group still insists on meeting regularly, you can propose to have a main focus for each gathering. That way, there will be at least one subject to talk about and your time won’t be wasted. Always ask to nominate one person to prepare the main topic. Then everyone will be engaged from time to time.
  • Challenge the length of a meeting – What you do usually takes as much time as you plan for it. That means that even if you have a defined agenda that could be done in 30 minutes and the meeting is scheduled for 60 minutes, you’ll fill the whole 60 minutes.. If your observation is that the meetings are planned for a longer time than you really need, ask to make them shorter. You will manage to finish everything you need to, and you won’t waste any extra time.

I did the above things and changed a few of the recurring meetings I usually organize. Now we spend less time stuck in meetings, and these meetings are more to the point. We know why we meet and what we want to discuss. And now I try to ask the same of organizers of other meetings.

Can you share how you deal with recurring meetings? Do you attend them?

 

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Productivity

Take better notes

I am constantly in search of the ultimate way of taking notes during meetings. I have tried a lot of different approaches. I used to take my laptop to every meeting and take notes directly in OneNote. I’ve tried using an iPad with a stylus. And of course I’ve tried taking notes in the traditional way countless times, with a notepad and a pen. Each time there were various obstacles and challenges. And today I am writing about why I’ve typically failed in the past and what I do today to take notes in a more efficient way.

For a long time I was taking notes on my laptop. I had it with me at all of my meetings. I would open it in the beginning and start to type. That approach had many advantages:

  • my notes were legible (I have terrible handwriting),
  • they were instantly digitized and available on any device (with OneNote),
  • notes were searchable (very handy),
  • it was easy to share notes just after the meeting,
  • I had a spell checker on hand (very useful),
  • I was able to take notes fast and still be able to read them afterwards.

You might ask “Why did you write that taking notes with a laptop this used to be your preferred way of taking notes?” You’re right – there are many advantages of note-taking on a laptop. Unfortunately, there are two big disadvantages. I will start with a minor one: if the meeting was boring, I had a tendency to read or write emails, browse the web, and so on. It was very easy to get distracted. But the major disadvantage of taking notes on a laptop is that it distracts other people in the meeting. The sound of keyboard strokes is distracting, as is using the laptop itself. I was perceived as a person who didn’t pay attention in meetings. Many people thought that I just did other things. So I stopped doing it. In the end, the disadvantages outweighed the advantages.

For awhile I gave the iPad and stylus a chance. But that was a failure too. It was nice to have notes available in an electronic version right away. Undo functionality was also very useful. The biggest pro was the ability to take a picture and write notes on it. Unfortunately, I had many problems with the stylus. I tried lots of different ones, but none were as precise as a classic pen. My notes were shaky, unreadable, and ugly (even uglier than my handwriting with a pen). So I stopped taking notes in that way too.

After trying what I described above, I went back to an old school notepad, a pen, and a little bit more.

First I want to share with you what my problems were with handwritten notes in the past. And there were (maybe even are) many:

  • As I wrote before, I have a terrible handwriting style. Sometimes I laugh at myself that my notes are self-encrypted so well that after some time even I can’t read them.
  • I had to take a picture of each note and send it to OneNote – it was and is a very cumbersome process.
  • I kept forgetting my notepad when going to meetings, and ended up writing on sticky notes and then losing them.
  • It was very hard to search for relevant information within notes.

All of those resulted in very poor notes and my eventual attempts to go digital. But after each try, I kept coming back to the old-fashioned way of taking notes. Why? A few reasons:

  • I am a person who remembers things in a very visual way. With handwriting it is very easy to make notes more visual. Adding small drawings, side notes, arrows, symbols, etc. is easy and fun.
  • Taking notes in a notepad is widely accepted and no one has any issues with me doing this. Everyone does it.
  • I learned how to make the most of my handwritten notes.

The last point is the most important one. I created my own style of taking notes, and I try to use it every time I am taking notes. There are only a few things I’ve changed:

  • I use “bigger font.” I just write with bigger letters. Even with my terrible handwriting, I am able to read my notes even a few months after taking them.
  • I have a new routine of adding a “process notes” task to my todo list after each meeting. I spend some time on all my notes to process them and:
    • move action points to my todo list;
    • digitize them if they are important.
  • I have my notebook everywhere I go.
  • And last but not least, I learned to use symbols in my notes which allow me to:
    • quickly scan my notes when I search for important content;
    • easily extract tasks, important remarks, information to share, and so on from all of my notes.

What symbols do I use? Only four:

  • Important – This is an indication for me that this is something worth highlighting and reviewing after the meeting.
  • Person – I mark information related to a given person in this way. I add a name to it so I can find a reference to that person just by looking for a person symbol.
  • Envelope – When there is anything in notes that I need to share with others it is marked with a small, blue envelope.
  • Checkbox – Every time I note an action to be done I add a green checkbox to it. When I review my notes and see this symbol I add it to my todo list.

I try to use these five principles with a limited number of symbols every time I take a notes. It took some time to get used to this way of taking notes, but it was worth it. I have the impression that I am better at taking notes and following up on them. They are relevant for me now; I use them often, come back to them, and review them. I feel that I am more efficient thanks to this and that my meetings are more productive now.

Now I am on a quest for the ultimate notebook… My current candidate is the Ecosystem notebook. I want to order one and try it. I just need to finish my current one first. So I am taking a lot of notes ;)

Do you have a special way of taking notes? What do you do to make the most of them?

 

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