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Meeting Pre-Work (and Why I’m Bad at It)

Last week I linked to and wrote about an article that gave some tips on running effective meetings.

In addition to posting it here I also posted it, in advance, to my workplace’s internal social media platform to share it with my team and get their thoughts on meeting best practices.

My boss Matt commented that one of his tips was to highlight any meeting pre-work that may exist: information that participants need to bring with them to the meeting, or documents they should review in advance, for example. Matt suggested that it may sometimes even be worthwhile to go so far as to include these expectations in big bold text within the invite so they jump out.

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This was an interesting topic to me, because I am certainly an occasional offender in this regard.

Basically, if you send me an email that includes a call to action then I will notice it and deal with it appropriately. I may not take the requested action immediately, of course, but I’ll flag the email for follow-up when I know I’ll have time to get it done, or maybe even schedule some time in my calendar if the situation warrants it.

A calendar invite is different, though. No matter how hard you try and how good your writing skills are, the instruction in the body of the invite is not the primary call to action when I receive it: instead, that’s something that’s defined for me by Outlook (or your client of choice) which is demanding that I choose to accept, tentatively accept or decline the invite itself. Once I’ve done one of those things the invite is forever gone from my inbox, and the meeting (along with whatever instruction you provided) is now on my calendar.

I’ll get to your email on whatever schedule my workload allows for, but my calendar by its very nature is a schedule, and it tells me when I should get to something. The next time I’ll look at your meeting invite is probably going to be two minutes before it starts, when I’m looking for conference line details or checking which room it’s in. By then of course it’s too late.

Recently I’ve started employing a new trick to deal with this kind of thing for meetings that I host. First I send an email to the group explaining what needs to be done (pre-work), suggesting that we collectively discuss to share our thoughts, and mentioning that I will set up some time to achieve this. Then I immediately follow-up with a meeting invite, into which I embed that first email.

I haven’t heard any comments, good or bad, but it seems to be working.

What does everyone think, though? Am I spamming people and over-contributing to their already burgeoning inboxes? Am I solving a problem that people don’t actually have and unfairly assuming that everyone shares the same lack of organizational skills that I possess?

Let me know in the comments below, or contact me!

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