Time is extremely scarce. As an engineering manager, you constantly juggle meetings, one-on-ones, planning, reviews, communications, and a myriad of other things. Meetings end up being one of the biggest drains on your limited time.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could eliminate meetings altogether? If your team automatically knew what to work on, you could simply send messages and review reports. Unfortunately, things are never that clean-cut. The best you can do is streamline meetings and make them far more productive.
Keep Meetings Moving with Upfront Prep
We all get bogged down in back-to-back meetings. It feels like you’re talking all day instead of doing actual work. Here are a few ideas on how to survive and stay productive.
First, start putting together an agenda ahead of time — a day or two in advance. List out what progress has been made since you last met, along with any lingering questions or decisions that need to be made. And don’t invite anyone who doesn’t truly need to be there. Keep that attendee list tight.
Next, share that agenda with everyone participating before you meet up. Encourage them to review it and add their own commentary ahead of time — progress updates, questions, and concerns. Get some of that discussion flowing early.
Then, when meeting time rolls around, skip rehashing anything folks have already covered and jump right into the issues that need live debate. If everyone is prepped, you’ll be surprised how quickly you can blaze through the agenda.
I’d also suggest taking meticulous notes during the actual meeting. Jot down key discussion points, decisions, next steps — anything you might need to refer back to later. Memory isn’t a very reliable medium, but when you’re juggling too many things at a time, it starts to fail you more often than help.
And don’t let things run over time. Set a firm end time and stick to it. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish when everyone knows there’s a hard limit. Talk about important things first and discuss the rest async or postpone until the next meeting.
Keeping meetings tight and productive means you can get back to more meaningful work instead of just talking in circles.
Using Async Communication to Reduce Meetings
Let’s be honest — so many meetings just aren’t that useful. Most of them exist mostly for status checks or answering basic questions. Someone could have just Slacked me.
Relying more on asynchronous communication is a total game-changer for cutting unnecessary meetings out of your schedule. You know, handling those status updates, easy questions, lightweight discussions over email, Slack, docs — whatever async channel people prefer. Save the real-time meetings for meaningful conversations that require everyone’s active participation.
There’s a lot of upside here. Giving people flexibility to respond when it works for them improves everyone’s focus. No more interrupting flow when you ping people on Slack. They can get back to you when they reach a good stopping point. Async also makes it easier to accommodate different time zones, which is key for remote teams. Plus, giving introverts space to formulate thoughtful responses offline can lead to unexpectedly brilliant suggestions.
Having a written record transparently accessible to everyone reduces silos. New team members can easily get up to speed on past discussions and decisions. No more, “Wait, why did we decide that again?” or playing broken telephone through other people’s fuzzy recollections at the water cooler.
Long story short, be intentional about async-first culture on your team. Set the expectation for status updates and basic questions to happen primarily through Slack or docs. Then, meetings become focused conversations to debate complex issues or handle sensitive feedback requiring live interaction. Get that balance right between async efficiency and real-time collaboration, and you’ll get back hours lost in needless meetings every week. Hours you can actually spend building great products.
Staying Organized as an Engineering Manager
Between you and me, keeping all those plates spinning as an engineering leader can get overwhelming fast. There’s just so much going on and so little time! But you can build a few habits that help you stay on top of things.
First, capture every little thought that pops into your head using some simple app on your phone. It’s crazy how those stray ideas or questions will vanish if you don’t write them down immediately. And you can be sure you’ll get overwhelmed, anxious, and distracted if you don’t.
Jot it all down in your digital notepad. It only takes seconds, so there’s no excuse. Then, every week or so, Pour yourself a nice cup of coffee, put your feet up, and sort through all those scattered notes. Tag them, file them into your project notes app, and turn some into tasks — whatever makes sense.
This helps tremendously when you prepare for the meetings for the week ahead. Review those running notes docs for each person or the project itself, polish them up into agendas, and boom — you’re ready to have thoughtful, productive meetings each time without spending much time.
The key is staying disciplined about capturing those quick notes all throughout your days and weeks. It clears your head, keeps you present, and gives you tons of great material to draw from later. Your work life gets so much less frantic once you build these little habits. Your future self will thank you if you give it a try.
See the Perks of Prepping for Meetings
Preparing for meetings upfront and taking good notes sounds tedious, I know. But putting in that bit of work makes a huge difference and pays off tenfold.
For starters, your meetings get way more efficient. Those hour-long status updates? They’ll fit in 30 minutes. Without all the ramp-up time rehashing things, you can jump into meaningful discussion right off the bat.
And when everyone reviews the game plan first, you lift the level of conversation for the better. No nodding along politely during presentations that people could’ve just read themselves. You can dive right into the tricky stuff that requires all minds on deck.
On top of that, you free up schedule space. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got back-to-back meetings all day. A time saver is a lifesaver.
Plus, you won’t forget key calls with a solid paper trail. Seriously, between all the things you work on, how can you expect to remember it all? Detailed notes are a lifeline when you need to retrace steps.
Prepping takes some discipline and organizing on your end. But show me a productive meeting that doesn’t. A little diligence in the beggining pays out in time saved and saner discussions.
Originally published on Medium.com