Bring a timer to your next meeting

As a speaker I am aware, more than ever, of time. All of my talks are given in the context of a conference or convention. If I talk too long, somebody else’s speech, lunch or breakout session gets crimped. That is not good for public relations. So I bring a travel alarm clock (easy to see) and place it somewhere on the stage where I can see it.

I stole the idea from a Yahoo.

In 2002, having meetings at Yahoo were like outward bound therapy sessions. They were scheduled to start at 1pm and go for 30 minutes. They would start at 2pm and go until 5pm. That was the nature of Silicon Valley business life. That is still, to some degree, part of your business life to this day. Meetings have gotten out of control with their endless horizons and lack of respect for participant’s time. In the new world of matrix reporting, you are asked to “kindly attend” meetings every week that will not help you fulfill your primary job requirements.

Many of our business development meetings required precious time from executives and engineers. One engineer, Anil, grew tired of attending filibustering meetings with the sales team to build new products. So he begin to bring an egg timer to meetings. He’s wind it up at the start of the meeting and it ticked obnoxiously throughout the meeting, ringing loudly at the scheduled stop time. At first, people thought he was just being a typical engineer. In hindsight, I think he was being a leader.

Meetings should not be a waste of time. They should, like a good speech, seem shorter than they really were. Why? First of all, it is good for your sanity and overall productivity. Wasted time in meetings, combined with fierce task schedules, will make you crazy in life. Second, if it is your meeting, you need to manage clock time to manage your meeting-brand. Believe me, if your meeting-brand falls, no one will show show up for your meetings — unless they work for you. And even then, you may drive turnover by making people sit through endlessly long meetings.

Next meeting, use clock time to manage a meeting. Announce at the beginning that you will guarantee that the meeting will end on time and along the way, note how much time is left. At first, you may still go over, but pretty soon you’ll get the hang of it. Eventually, you may develop a great reputation for running on time meetings. You will also influence others to do the same.