Since taking on a leadership role, I’ve had to get organised.
Being a developer for most of my career, I’ve been able to get my head down and attend minimal meetings. Those which I did attend were always organised for me.
Now I’m facilitating developers and QA getting their job done which means I’m running the meetings. I want these to be as meaningful and useful as possible so optimising planning is critical.
Here are a few tips I’ve developed over the last year to keep myself on top of things.
Live by the calendar
Having a good calendar app, and actually using it is very important.
I’ve trialled a few apps such as Spark’s built in calendar and iCal. I’ve settled on Google Calendar as it is web based and has decent cross platform apps for iPad and Android. It also works well with the GSuite of tools we use in work.
Why is this important?
Knowing what’s coming up next/today/tomorrow is the key to planning and participating in productive meetings. Having everything in one place means I can check in the morning what I have coming up. I can then plan my day so I have time to do any outstanding work or fact finding before I walk into a meeting.
Make obsessive notes in meetings
What did we talk about last week?
Sometimes I’d attend meetings where I swear we’d discussed the same topics before, but I had no notes to refer to. Things can move fast in a modern office so remembering what we talked about two weeks ago can often be a hard task. Now I summarise the discussion as its happening. If we have discussed something before I can find my notes on it and report back our talking points at the time.
Take notes instead of interrupting
I can get pretty excited about a topic mid-meeting. I used to blurt out what was in my head to get my point across before I’d forgotten about it. This is rude and cuts the speaker off before they finish their point. Sometimes they’d cover the point I wanted to bring up anyway. Sometimes they’d digress down a different path and the original point would get lost. By taking down a note on something I want to talk about, this allows me to listen to the speaker and wait for my turn to speak. If we’ve digressed from the point, I can then assess if we still need to talk about what I wanted to bring up. If its still relevant I’ll steer the conversation back by saying something like “Going back to the previous point on X…”
Write down action points
Whats the point in having a meeting if we’re not taking action points from it? I like to end meetings by clarifying the action points we’ve picked up throughout the meeting. Writing these down as the meeting progresses helps me circle back at the end. We may decide some tasks don’t need doing any more, I’ll stroke those out and leave the others in. I can then share these with the attendees after the meeting. I’ve got a record of what we agreed upon which I can refer to at the start of the next meeting.
I sometimes have busy days where feel like I’ve achieved nothing. This was starting to frustrate me, I wasn’t sure where my time was going. I had read about bullet journaling on the internet and I admit I liked the cute designs I saw on Pinterest. I had to start somewhere so I started writing down dot points every time I switched tasks during work. Making this a habit was hard. It felt like I was spending a lot of time writing things I was doing down instead of doing them. After a while, this became second nature. Sometimes I would batch up the tasks and write 4 dot points at a time. Sometimes I would plan my day in dot points and tick them off as I did them to save time on writing things I knew would come up. I’ve settled on a good system now and I find this the most valuable thing I do on a day to day basis.
How does it improve your day?
I can have a look at the end of my day when I think I have achieved nothing and realise I’ve helped 3 others do their jobs . I can reflect back on impromptu discussions and interruptions. If a lot of my time is being spent there, I can experiment with setting aside an hour or two in the day for helping people. I can also block out time on the calendar for deep thought work so I can get into a flow state without interruptions. I no longer arrive at morning standup with a puzzled look on my face about what I did yesterday. I can account for my time and it helps optimise for better time management.
Shared Trello boards
I do a lot of 1:1 meetings and host a few retrospectives which give teams a forum to discuss how they work together. It is unfair to ask everyone on the spot to come up with good talking points. It can be hard to remember to prepare yourself for these upcoming meetings.
I’ve found making a shared Trello board with the columns
Actions to be very useful. Everyone has access to the board and as things come up in the day-to-day, there is a shared space to jot them down. This becomes the agenda for the meetings which can be as infrequent as once a month. We can discuss them and add points to the actions column. Before the next meeting I’ll follow up with attendees to make sure the action points are being addressed.