The absolute minimum prep to do for meetings (my “10 to 1 time saving”)

29th November 2016

Very few people love meetings.

And even fewer love preparing for them.

So what’s the minimum prep you should do?

The answer’s simple:


And that’s it.

Do more than none, and you’ll get more out of your meetings than if you do no prep whatsoever. Surprising, that.

Now, whenever I give this advice, people tend to say one of two things:

  • “I don’t have time”; or
  • “I don’t know how to prep”

So let’s explore these…

“I don’t have time”. Well, yes you do. In fact, I find that for every one minute I spend on my prep, I save ten in the meeting – my “10 to 1 time saving”.

For example, three minutes prep saves me around half an hour. And five minutes saves me fifty – turning a one hour meeting into a 10 minute one.

So, you do have time to prep.

Which brings me to the second question – “I don’t know how to prep”.

Well, here’s the best, quickest way to do it…

Step #1: know your purpose

If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.

So the first prep step is to identify what you want to happen after the meeting.

This will probably be one of the 2Ds – DO and/or DECISION. So, what you want people to DO after the meeting and/or the DECISIONS you want to be made during it.

Step #2: find the easiest, quickest way to achieve your purpose

Now, work backwards from step #1’s purpose, by asking “what’s the easiest, quickest way to achieve this purpose?” For example, identify:

  • The fewest possible agenda items
  • The shortest possible time needed for the meeting (trust me: it doesn’t need to last an hour because that’s how your calendar is divided up)
  • The fewest possible people – the longer the list of attendees, the longer it takes to agree anything
  • The fastest possible mechanism – can you all jump on the phone for five minutes, rather than having everyone rock-up for a one-hour face-to-face?
  • The minimum possible pre-reads

A simple way to remember steps #1-#2 is PALM:

  • Purpose – the 2Ds
  • Agenda – fewest items possible
  • Limit time – shortest time possible
  • Minimise attendees – fewest people possible

Step #3: excite them with an engaging invitation

Sending someone a meeting invitation called “update” with no agenda, no reason they should attend and no notes whatsoever is not a good way to ensure people arrive, on time, with the right attitude.

So, make sure your invitation engages. Something like…

Calendar invite subject line: A quick meeting to agree the way forward with X

We need a swift decision on X. This will help us prioritise workloads, removing needless work from our/our team’s calendars.

I’ve invited the three of us only, since it’s our project. And, because we need to move quickly, I’ve scheduled a maximum of ten minutes.

Beforehand, please can you do two quick things:

  • Speak to your main stakeholders, gauging their views about X; and
  • Be clear how you think we should progress. Last time, we agreed Y. Do you still think this is right? Or have you tweaks to suggest?

So, for your next meeting, how much prep should you do?

As a minimum: MORE THAN NONE.

I’d certainly do PALM.

Or if you think you don’t have time to do that (you have, by the way), at least do the P – Purpose…

…and remember the “10 to 1 time saving”. If you currently spend ten hours every week in meetings, you might be about to remove nine of them.

Action point

Review this week’s diary. For every meeting, invest a few minutes now doing steps #1-#3. You’ll be amazed – and delighted – how much time you and your colleagues will save.

Then, to see how to use similar techniques to reduce the time you waste with emails, conference calls, presentations and so on, have a look at month two’s videos

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