Meetings are a necessary evil. While they can and do accomplish plenty, meetings aren’t always productive. And they’re costly too: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that unnecessary meetings cost $37 billion every year. But by defining the type of meeting you’re having, establishing ground rules, and inviting only who you need to, meetings can accomplish what they’re intended to. Don’t assume all is said and done when the team leaves the conference room either. Following up and analyzing results will help save time, too.


By Rick Peterson

If you think most of your meetings are a waste of time and sap your productivity—and you’re hardly alone if you do—then maybe you need to get back to basics and create a more mindful experience.

The truth is, on average a person spends around 30 percent of working time—about 11.8 hours per week—preparing for and attending meetings, per a recent study by Clarizen. It’s little wonder that they’re not fully attentive and productive during that time—they’re as likely to be checking emails or trading texts as they are being active participants. And that lack of productivity can be costly—it’s estimated that $37 billion a year is wasted on unnecessary or ineffective meetings.

That’s why mindful meetings are an effective alternative. In a mindful meeting, goals and intentions are clearly set, open-mindedness is encouraged and participants engage in distraction-free note-taking. The result is more participation, better insights, shorter durations and—wait for it—fewer meetings. There are ways to make your next meetings more mindful.

Show leadership. Effective meetings require a clear agenda and a leader who leads. Attendees need to know what should be accomplished and by when. And with that in mind, they need a leader who involves others and keeps people on track. For example, the leader needs to share expectations for the meeting (is it for brainstorming or problem solving?), and return to the goals to make sure the group keeps its intended focus. There should also be clear rules that discourage off-topic discussions or critical comments. This creates a space where people are encouraged to share and aren’t afraid of putting forth ideas that may be controversial or unconventional, an integral part of fostering innovative thinking.

Be timely. Start on time and finish on time…or sooner. No one ever complained about a meeting ending early. According to a profile in Fortune, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg—whose days can be made up of back-to-back-to-back meetings—attends with a spiral-bound notebook where she keeps lists of discussion points and action items. She crosses them off once they’re done and rips out the page when its complete. If everything in a one-hour meeting is covered in 10 minutes, it’s over and time to move on.

Eliminate the laptop wall; turn off phones. With open laptops lined up on either side of the conference room table, some meetings start to resemble a game of Battleship. Computers may be productivity tools, but they can cause the death of effective brainstorms—once people hide behind their screens, their ideas disappear and their minds head to other subjects. Turn meetings into no-smartphone zones so participants are forced to focus on the task at hand and net a more productive outcome. The bottom line: eliminate distractions and you eliminate attendees being distracted.

Return to pen on paper. Banning laptops and smartphones doesn’t mean no note-taking. Instead, return to the tools that are flexible, focused and effective. Studies show that that putting pen to paper (instead of typing or tapping) enhances comprehension and memory retention. It also allows for a seamless transition between different types of ideation: words, drawing or even mind mapping. Technology can still play a role: using a tool like a Bamboo smartpad—that lets users write notes normally with pen on paper and digitally save and sync them to a smartphone or tablet —can turn written notes into powerful, sharable files.

Continue outside the conference room. Mindful meetings encourage collaboration and aim to maximize participation so that everyone has a role in brainstorming or problem-solving. Make sure that collaborative mindset continues after the meeting concludes. Circulate notes with specific tasks assigned. Share notes or ideas jotted down with a Bamboo smartpad for further review so ideas aren’t just limited to those in the meeting room.

By following these guidelines, you’ll be on the way to having more mindful meetings. Remember that this transition won’t happen overnight, but if you make the commitment to change, you can weather the setbacks that occur along the way. In the end, you’ll find your meetings will do what they’re supposed to do: bring great ideas forward.

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