Meeting advice from CEOs like Jeff Bezos, Sheryl Sandberg and Steve Jobs
Like you, Jeff Bezos hates meetings.
The Amazon CEO, who reportedly only meets with investors for six hours a year, made headlines recently for his “two pizza rule” that helps him slice unnecessary meeting time from his busy schedule.
According to Business Insider, Bezos won’t set a meeting with more people than two pizzas can feed. He believes the more bodies you cram into a room, the less productive the gathering will be. Great minds think alike — late Apple CEO Steve Jobs agreed that keeping meetings as small as possible is key to success, otherwise there are too many minds in one room.
Unlike the Amazon honcho, Americans who attend weekly meetings waste a collective 300,000 hours per year, according to the Harvard Business Review, and fewer meetings can actually boost employee productivity, research shows.
“I’m probably in meetings more than half of every day,” admits New York-based marketing director Sarah Burke, 25.
She typically takes notes on the important stuff, but says meetings that are brief are more beneficial.
“Sometimes they could be replaced with a quick email chain,” she adds.
That’s what productive “Slack-ing” off is for, according to millennial CEO Kate Levenstein, 30, who does event planning at her company Cannonball Productions. She mainly uses the office instant messaging tool Slack to get out quick messages to her team and assign and delegate projects. It’s also a great way to ask quick questions you might have missed during a scheduled conference.
“It’s been a game changer. It’s tough to run an event planning company without flooding our inboxes. Slack helps keep everyone looped in on what’s going on,” Levenstein says, noting she’s been “weaning” herself off meetings.
Once you schedule a meeting, the next order of business is running a productive one, if you’re really efficient, you’ll do it in 10 minutes like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. The “Lean In” author, who is in meetings all day, writes down discussion points in a notebook and literally crosses them off one by one, according to Fortune.
And if you’re sitting in one, time management expert Rashelle Isip says it’s important to be an active participant — so put down your phone and don’t try to multitask.
“Employees can make the most of their time in a mandatory meeting by being fully present. This means actively listening, participating, asking questions, taking notes, and so forth,” she says.
“Giving your undivided attention during the meeting means fewer distractions, fewer mixed messages and less chance of repeat questions or concerns that have already been asked or addressed so you won’t need to do time-consuming follow-up or research after the meeting is concluded,” Isip adds.
Most organizations devote 7 to 15% of their budgets to meetings — which can help boost engagement if you’re buying incentives like snacks to keep the room awake, Levenstein notes. She still keeps one weekly Monday morning meeting for around a half hour in place to reconnect with her employees who mostly work remotely, but she’ll provide coffee, green juices or bagels.
Other bosses, like Lief Larson, CEO of tech startup And Co, a lower Manhattan-based smart software company that runs invoices, expenses and paperwork for freelancers, holds Skype meetings with up to four employees max for 15 to 30 minutes and says he saves time waiting for employees to shuffle into the boardroom.
“We judge employees by the outcome of their work, it’s dependent on how productive they are. It’s important that they can actually get the work done,” he says, noting that the meetings usually consist of collective troubleshooting and taking action to address problems rather than meeting just for the sake of it.
But if you absolutely have to, you can always politely decline a meeting, depending on the climate of your office, by explaining to your boss other tasks and deadlines you have that may take priority.
“The busier you get the more you have to say no to meetings. In certain scenarios it may be okay to cancel and postpone,” says Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance.
Rigie says if you are emailing with someone you’ve never met before, it’s important to set up an in-person meeting, but after that unless it’s vital to a project, emailed or phone correspondence is more efficient.
And to eliminate the obnoxious back and forth emails sent deciding a date that works for everyone to meet, he suggests X.AI, an artificial intelligence scheduler he just started using that’s $39.99 a month.
“So far it’s amazing. It takes the headache and back and forth out of scheduling for the meeting so you can focus on preparing,” he says.
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