Lessons from the Kitchen: When is the Meeting Over?

In planning meetings, take some hints from how you plan a meal“When are you done eating dinner?” my smart friend asked. It was a trick question; the answer was “You are done eating dinner after you have washed and put away the dishes.”

With this simple philosophy, my son (eventually) learned to wash the dishes after finishing a meal.

In running meetings, it is best practice to circulate an agenda ahead of time, and send out a memo afterwards summarizing what was agreed to in the meeting, including any action items. Yet this is so rarely done . . . why?

Don’t the People at Microsoft Ever Pee?

I believe that part of the problem lies with group calendars and how we schedule meetings. When you are leading a meeting, do you book an extra fifteen minutes afterwards to allow yourself to “wash the dishes”? Or do you bounce from one meeting to another, barely allowing yourself time for a bathroom break, and end up with a page of scribbled notes that you probably won’t get to process before your series of meetings the next day?

Consider this: If you don’t spend the extra time to make sure the items you agreed upon in the meeting actually get done, why did you have the meeting in the first place?

Here are three important tips to make sure your kitchen is clean:

  • Be Realistic. I’m sure you know someone who crowds your schedule with 30-minute meetings that always go five or twenty minutes long – don’t be that person. When setting a meeting, be realistic about how much time will be needed to accomplish your meeting agenda. When leading a meeting, gracefully bring it to a close a few minutes before the scheduled end time.
  • Plan a Break. When booking a meeting, also schedule a separate 15-minute time slot for yourself right afterwards. After the meeting ends, use the next ten minutes to write and send the meeting notes to the participants, and take five to grab a glass of water. Because the business world’s most popular group meeting software defaults to 30-minute time slots, this will normally allow you an extra 15 minutes to catch up on urgent requests from co-workers and so on. If you can’t take this extra time between meetings, it is possible that you have a larger problem – you are going to too many meetings to be effective.
  • Plan your Homework. Also take the time to add the meeting action items to your personal task management system, so that you can honor the agreements you made in the meeting.

Just as it is a joy to begin cooking a meal when your kitchen is already clean, it’s a joy to arrive at work without a swarm of unknown action items.

Please comment!

Have you tried this method? Is fifteen minutes enough time to wrap up a meeting? Do you feel pressure from your colleagues to schedule more meetings than you can handle?


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