Ever feel like you have too much to do and not enough time to do it in? You’re not alone. In an attempt to get your busy life under control, you may have experimented with the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule.

Advocates of the Pareto Principle explain how you can maximize your productivity by focusing on the most valuable 20% of tasks, products, services, and people. In order to do so, you’re instructed to minimize the remaining 80% as it only provides marginal benefits. Sounds straightforward enough, but is it really that simple?

Statistically speaking the distribution of your input and output may often fit the 80/20 rule, but when applied across the board, the practices around the Pareto Principle can go horribly wrong. Here are a few reasons why.

The Numbers Can Be Misleading

 
The 80/20 rule represents a key feature of statistics: generalization. This poses a problem if the rule is interpreted literally. In some cases 65% of output may come from 4% of input or 70% from 10% and so forth. The 80/20 ratio does not apply to all situations.

Imagine if the top 20% of performers in a company were given a promotion and everyone else was fired. The impact of this action would vary from case-to-case, but it’s likely the remaining 80%—while perhaps not directly responsible for most output—served as an essential support structure for the top 20%. Although firing the bottom 80% of performers may make sense mathematically, in real life, it would likely result in the company closing.

The perception that a large proportion of input is wasteful isn’t always applicable when the nature of the work is taken into account. Artistic work can require investing years of practice before it can ever be capitalized on. A creative worker may spend days gathering information and brainstorming before they put pen or paintbrush to paper. It wouldn’t be possible to produce and sell artistic pieces without first investing this time. The 80/20 rule can go wrong when such activities are removed from the agenda.

Have you tried to maximize #productivity with the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) only to have it fail? This might be why...Click To Tweet
 

You Might Be Setting the Bar Too Low

 
In a work environment where the Pareto Principle is emphasized, it can be easy to fall victim to the self-fulfilling prophecy. It may be that the more the 80/20 rule is looked for, the more it will be found. It’s a benchmark that can cloud our judgment, especially when it comes to maintaining high standards.

Let’s take the meeting room as an example. If only 20% of those present are contributing and everyone else is close to falling asleep, is that acceptable? Even if participation will never be perfectly equal, couldn’t this time be managed more efficiently? In this case, the 80/20 rule represents a status quo that needs to be challenged if performance standards are to be raised. Rather than automatically eliminate 80% of the meeting participants, perhaps the agenda needs to be refined.

You Can’t Always Predict Outcomes

 
You can’t always know whether you’ll reap what you’ve sown. We don’t live in a vacuum. External influences are constantly at play and what’s profitable today may change tomorrow.

Maybe it’s fair enough to predict that 80% of the output will come from 20% of the input. The tricky part is predicting in advance which input will result in that output. There are forecasting methods which have been developed to give us a shot at it, but the level of accuracy is not always reassuring.

Contrary to the 80/20 rule, it may not be the best idea to put all of our eggs in only 20% of our baskets. The Pareto Principle recommends “overinvesting” in the most profitable ventures, but if a business wouldn’t survive the loss of its biggest client, then it’s probably time for a change.

The Pareto Principle is based on the idea of exploitation—concentrating on doing what we already do in a more efficient way. On the other hand, exploration allows us to consider other possibilities for growth and improvement and is at the core of innovation. The 80/20 rule can be valid for exploitative strategies, but fails to take new opportunities into account.

So What Is the Key to Maximizing Productivity?

 
When it comes to the 80/20 rule, it’s important to acknowledge that there are times and places for its application. It’s not a bad idea to scrutinize where resources are being spent and how much bang you are actually getting for your buck. At the same time, you shouldn’t be too rigid when it comes to your analysis.

Keep in mind that value can be subjective. What keeps the most money coming in may not necessarily be what customers find the most appealing about you or your business. Maybe it’s how charming you are.

You can always adjust how time is spent. If meetings aren’t effective, put more thought into how you plan and execute them. Goals should be clear. When a decision is made, the right people should be notified and they should know exactly what they are expected to contribute.

Every person has a specific role to play, and they should be allowed to stick to that as much as possible. They should only be asked to participate in anything else when it’s absolutely necessary. Get to know the people you work with and build systems and processes to enable them to do their best work. And remember to only apply the 80/20 rule with caution.

Top tech companies like Evernote, Buffer etc are the masters of Scrum, of building fast and being willing to make mistakes along the way. In the quest for maximum productivity and results, they’ve eliminated time-wasters like ineffective meetings and with their insights, you can too.

Evernote: Andrew Malcolm, Chief Marketing Officer

 

One of the worst ways a company wastes time is by dragging thinkers into a meeting where their presence isn’t required. As Andrew Malcolm, Chief Marketing Officer at Evernote explains:

Research shows knowledge workers spend 80% of their day “collaborating” … which means we aren’t engaged in the deep work that is the real value add of someone who thinks for a living. So if I’m going to contribute to that 80% by asking you to be in a meeting, I better have a good reason for it.

Having said that, I think there are different types of meetings that warrant different attendees:

1) one way comms to create alignment – moments where an entire team needs to hear the exact same message can be larger but these should be infrequent – eg all hands for major announcements

2) decision making meetings – at Evernote we call these debate, decide, commit meetings should have as few people as possible to make a decision. The greater the trust in an org, the smaller this number can be as people expect one another to do the right things. Examples here would be cross-functional project teams or strategic decisions.

3) feedback meetings – ideally these are 1:1 but sometimes managers have to resolve tension so these could be a little larger

It’s also important to cultivate a culture of respect.

(despite being Evernote) we usually have no device meetings – not because it’s mandated but because people come with engaging agendas about interesting issues. I think that should be the standard too. If a meeting isn’t earning your attention, it’s probably not the most important thing to be doing then and you should go do the thing that’s most important.

The concept of a meeting having to earn your attention isn’t a typical one, but maybe it should be. If you’re bored in a meeting, perhaps it’s because the meeting isn’t relevant to what you actually do and your time would be better spent working.

If a meeting isn’t earning your attention, it’s probably not the most important thing to be doing then and you should go do the thing that’s most important.Click To Tweet

 

Kickstarter: Jon Chang, Digital Marketing Director

 

Jon Chang, Digital Marketing Director at Kickstarter knows how to avoid meeting derailment and to keep everyone on the same page and following the agenda.

Tangents often happen when meetings aren’t data-driven and data-focused. Getting people out of the mentality that large impact decisions can be purely anchored to “I feel” or “I think” statements requires a thorough understanding of the data. Instead, we try to focus those large impact decisions on “the data demonstrates” and “based on the data-driven insights” statements… stakeholders have specific windows of time to provide comments in documents before and after meetings. It really helps get everyone on the same page and agenda. Additionally, simply writing the agenda on the board or screen helps.

He also knows that trust and respect are critical components for a marketing team (or any team) to work together effectively and shares Kickstarter’s process for ensuring both.

We’re very thoughtful about our hiring process, making sure we’re hiring experts in their fields who we trust and respect.

We're very thoughtful about our hiring process, making sure we're hiring experts in their fields who we trust and respect.Click To Tweet

 

Doist (Todoist & Twist): Brenna Loury, Head of Marketing

 

Being a fully remote team doesn’t make running meetings easier. If anything, it’s harder to coordinate across time zones, but as Brenna Loury, Head of Marketing at Doist explains, respect—demonstrated through meeting time limits and a clear agenda—is what makes their meetings run smoothly.

As far as I know (and in my experience) there aren’t any meetings at Doist that last longer than an hour. We try and ensure this limit in order to respect all of our team members – with so many time zones, it’s common for meeting times to fall into some people’s evening/night time. We try our best to be as productive as possible in the meeting in order to respect each others’ personal lives.

In fact, our general rule of thumb is that there needs to be an explicit list of items to discuss prepared beforehand so that each party knows the agenda and can properly adhere to it. Each regularly scheduled meeting has its own Todoist project with two sections: Items to discuss and Actionables, so that there is clear follow-through after the meeting concludes.

Without respect for one another on every level, your company will not succeed, no matter where you’re all located.

If there’s not a culture of respect in your meetings, is there a culture of respect in your company as a whole? I’d venture to say that if the answer is no to the first question, it is no to the second as well.

Disrespecting your team’s time and attention with unproductive meetings is, I believe, an easy way to sow resentment. Everyone’s time is extremely limited and when it becomes hijacked by inefficient and irrelevant meetings, bitterness and annoyance ensues.

Disrespecting your team's time and attention with unproductive meetings is, I believe, an easy way to sow resentment.Click To Tweet

 

Drift: Matt Vazquez, Conversational Marketing Manager

 

To avoid wasting time at meetings, Matt Vazquez, Conversational Marketing Manager at Drift, ends them as soon as the goal is reached.

We try to end meetings as soon as the purpose of the meeting has been accomplished, the upper limit being 30 minutes. The only exception to this rule is the company-wide meeting that wraps up the week on Fridays. That one runs a bit longer because it is more informal and acts as a mini celebration of what was accomplished that week.

30 minutes might not seem like enough time to accomplish big goals in a meeting, but if no one is distracted, it’s amazing what can be done in 30 minutes or less.

Leaders at Drift have established a set of standards around meetings. For example, no laptop and cellphone usage is tolerated during meetings. Leaders demonstrate this in front of new hires on their first day, which helps the culture stick.

We try to end meetings as soon as the purpose of the meeting has been accomplished, the upper limit being 30 minutes.Click To Tweet

 

MindMeister (& MeisterTask): Raphaela Brandner, Marketing Manager

 

What do you do if you’re not sure if that a person can contribute to the meeting? In that case, use Rafaela Bradner, Marketing Manager at MindMeister and MeisterTask’s strategy:

At MeisterLabs we’re always mindful about other people’s time, so I generally don’t invite people to meetings unless I’m sure they have something valuable to contribute. If I’m unsure, I send them the meeting agenda and simply ask whether or not they think they have something important to add. Inviting people just do keep them in the loop is not necessary as we can easily share the meeting minutes with them afterwards.

Taking great meeting minutes (the record of actions and decisions) and having a clear agenda are the keys to MeisterLab’s effective meeting strategy.

The bigger the proposed change or project, the harder it is generally to keep people on track. I always prepare a meeting agenda which is projected onto the big screen during the meeting, and this visual reminder definitely helps. If we do get too far off topic, I will often put an end to the discussion by saying that we can schedule a separate meeting to talk about these issues, and that it’s time to move on to the next item.

Inviting people just do keep them in the loop is not necessary as we can easily share the meeting minutes with them afterwards.Click To Tweet

 

HelloSign: Tiffaney Fox Quintana, VP, Marketing

 

In a culture of “let’s just call a meeting”, Tiffany Fox Quintana, VP of Marketing at HelloSign’s stands apart. As she explains of her meeting strategy:

before scheduling a meeting, I think it is also important to ask whether or not this task can be accomplished through an email.  If the information being share or the actions that need to take place don’t require debate, discussion, or active decision-making during the meeting, the meeting could potentially be condensed to an email and save everyone time.

When a meeting is the best way to make progress on a marketing project, she’s careful to keep the meeting on track.

Tangents can take off from just about anything and we can start going down a rabbit hole fast depending on what is top of mind.  As a company, we have a focus on keeping things on schedule, so to pull things back we generally do a time check and relate that back to what we still need to accomplish in the meeting.  If the debate is important, we can suggest finding another time to discuss it further.

Before scheduling a meeting, I think it is also important to ask whether or not this task can be accomplished through an email.Click To Tweet

 

Buffer: Kevan Lee, Director of Marketing

 

Meetings are like gases, expanding to fill their containers. So goes the thinking of Kevan Lee, Director of Marketing at Buffer when he explains how he times his meetings.

I believe that a meeting expands to fill the time you have, so I try to keep things purposefully brief, no more than 30 minutes. If the agenda feels like it’s bigger than 30 minutes, then we try to break it into smaller pieces or multiple chats. Often times, we’ll find that not everyone needs to be present for all the topics, and then those specific topics are addressed in breakout chats with a smaller group.

And that preparation for a meeting doesn’t need to be done weeks in advance in order to get everyone on the same page.

If it’s a new topic, I’ll write up some notes 24 hours beforehand and share with all involved. Typically those notes will include an objective for the meeting so that everyone is clear.

Ideally there won’t be any background needed in the meeting itself and we can get right into it. I’ve found that the team is pretty well-versed on marketing topics (we’re a smaller team of 70), so I’m lucky that I don’t end up prepping too often.

I believe that a meeting expands to fill the time you have, so I try to keep things purposefully brief, no more than 30 minutes.Click To Tweet

PowerPoint is a great app and makes beautiful presentations which are ideal for when you’re speaking at a conference or trying to showcase your offerings to a potential client.  But is it amazing for your meetings? No, and using it could be adding extra work for both you and your meeting participants. Despite being the most commonly used meeting presentation software, there are 5 significant flaws in the way PowerPoint functions in a meeting.

1. Agenda on First or Second Page

While it’s great that PowerPoint allows you to put your meeting agenda up on the screen for everyone to see, it’s stuck on the first or second page of your slides and everyone has forgotten what’s on it just a few minutes later. It’s too hard to go back to reference during the meeting and you can bet that someone, at some point during your meeting, is sitting there wondering how many more agenda items are left before the meeting ends.

2. No Making On-The-Fly Notes of Actions and Decisions

PowerPoint simply doesn’t have the capability to easily record actions and decisions during your meeting. In order to record anything during a meeting you have two options: to exit the PowerPoint presentation and type them somewhere or to write them out by hand. Typing them elsewhere can leave you looking less prepared and professional than you would like. Taking them by hand forces you to type them up later. Both options entail emailing them to your meeting participants, along with notes regarding the context, which hopefully you remember correctly, despite juggling several things at the same time in the meeting. That is a lot of extra work just to record the actions and decisions from the meeting in a way that makes them easy to reference.

3. Flexibility

PowerPoint was built for presentations, which are usually one way communication and follow a set flow going from slide to slide. This is fine in a presentation, but in a meeting, this set flow doesn’t leave much flexibility. You have little to no flexibility in terms of skipping around or having things prepared which you may or may not need to share, depending on how the meeting is going. Even in a meeting with an agenda you might need some flexibility. For example, team meetings and project meetings are generally not as rigid and predictable as the format of a PowerPoint dictates.

4. It’s Time-Consuming to Prepare

PowerPoint presentations can be beautiful but they can also take a lot of time to prepare. If you want content from files or links, you have to spend the time to get it all converted and cropped and aligned into a PowerPoint. The process is very time-intensive but you can’t just add the file or show an image. You have to think about using the right fonts, colors, etc and ensuring your images and text look just right.  Every step of this process takes time if you want it to look good, and if you don’t, you probably aren’t bothering with a PowerPoint.

PowerPoint is great for presentations, but not for conversations which is what a meeting should be. Click To Tweet

5. Sharing Afterwards Is All or Nothing

With PowerPoint, you have the option of sharing the whole presentation or nothing at all. You can’t selectively send out the information most relevant to the point you’re referencing without deleting slides and saving this as a new file to send out. Instead, you get to send out a note along the lines of “As you can see from the notes on Slide 5…” which forces anyone you’re emailing to download the entire presentation, open up slide 5 and look at your notes. What a waste of time. And it’s worse if there was a decision reached in the meeting which is counter to part of your presentation. There is very little as awkward as several slides with notes of “ignore this” or “decided against this due to…” Sometimes you can take those slides out but sometimes doing so will mean revamping the whole slide deck, which is neither enjoyable nor a good use of your time.

PowerPoint is great for presentations, but are not quite perfect for conversations, which is what most meetings are. If you’ve prepared for and attended a number of meetings, you’ve likely struggled with some of the limitations of using PowerPoint to run a  meeting. Maybe it’s time to keep it just for presentations.

 

Think back to when you signed your employment contract with your current company. It listed out the things you needed to do in order to fulfill your role with the company and included specific tasks and deliverables. Meetings were most likely not on that list, yet you seem to be attending more of them every year and you’re not alone. There are 25 million meetings every single day in the USA alone.

No matter which industry you work in, your company is averaging spending 15% of it’s collective employee time in unproductive meetings. Think about all the things you, and everyone else in your company, could be doing with that time instead. A company pays each employee either a specified hourly rate or a salary, with the expectation the employee will work a certain amount of time and produce a certain amount of output. And the average company is wasting 15% of that paid time by requiring their employees attend unproductive meetings. If that time were instead freed up for the employee to work on their actual job, just imagine of the quality and quantity of work they could deliver. If an employee is having a hard time fulfilling the expectations of his position, unproductive meetings could be why and just think how much more an employee who is able to do their job could do with those extra hours every single week. These wasted hours are a major cost for any company and a burden for every employee.

15% of employee time is wasted in meetings. @Pinstriped has a simple solution to fix thatClick To Tweet

Generally when a company is spending or investing a large sum of money, there is someone who is directly responsible for it and who ensures there is a return. A marketing manager takes responsibility for a company’s marketing budget. An office manager is usually responsible for office supplies. Someone is managing the cost of printer paper and pens but most companies squander away their employees valuable time without any oversight.

To do some very simplified math, if an employee is earning $36/hour and works 40 hours/week for 52 weeks each year, they earn $75,000/year. If 15% of their time is wasted in unproductive meetings, that’s $11,250 of wasted investment. And meetings are never just one employee. Fifty employees at the same pay grade in an unproductive meetings waste $562,500/year. And that is assuming your average employee earns just $75,000/year. Developers and highly skilled employees command a much higher average salary. Having a Meeting Officer who is responsible for such a sizable investment only makes sense.

A Meeting Officer could save your company six figures a year. @Pinstriped explains howClick To Tweet

That’s all well and good, you say, but what would a Meeting Officer actually do to ensure the company is getting the most bang for its buck when investing so much of its employees time into meetings? It would depend on your company but your Meeting Officer could start by defining standards for the companies meetings, increasing awareness and raising expectations. They should find ways to measure employee performance within this area, and educate employees that need support. Your Meeting Officer could select software and services to help the employees, come up with a way to track overall improvement (putting actual numbers on cost savings and productivity gains), and so on. Anything related to meetings at your company would be under their job description.

Procrastination is easy. Spending far too many hours on a project is easy. What’s hard is getting things done in a reasonable amount of time with a high level of quality. Productivity is most likely something you and your team struggle with every day, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can learn from the masters, people like Elon Musk and Bill Gates, and get things done. All you have to do is make a few small adjustments to the way you work.

Start with your why

Simon Sinek has written a whole book and given an incredibly popular TED talk about the importance of knowing your why. Your why will do everything from helping you find your ideal customers to inspiring you on those dreary days when you just want to quit. Elon Musk isn’t building Teslas because they’re fun (although that probably doesn’t hurt) but because he wants to have an impact on car emissions and global warming. Mark Zuckerberg wanted to connect people. JK Rowling wanted to amuse her daughter.

Effective and efficient people know what their goal is and focus on it. In doing so they’re able to eliminate distractions and devote their time and energy to what really matters, what will propel the project forward. This clear focus allows them to reach their goals faster and more directly but they aren’t foolish enough to do it without help.

how to be more productive at work tips

Develop Systems

Don’t start from scratch each time you complete a task and don’t ask anyone you work with to either. Make everything you do more efficient and effortless by implementing systems for everything. There is no task too small to be systematized, whether it’s how to respond to customer emails or how to organize tasks in Trello. Even the processes for creative work can be systematized, although the creative work itself shouldn’t be.

The momentum required to start a new task from the beginning is hard because it involves a lot of decisions. By systematizing as much as possible, you take away the friction and resistance you’ll naturally feel. Instead of starting a project from the beginning, you’ll be able to jump in at step 2 or 3 and begin with momentum.

Don’t Multitask

There is no such thing as true multitasking. What you’re actually doing is forcing your brain to switch repeatedly between tasks and denying yourself the time to focus entirely on what you’re trying to accomplish. Science has been telling us this for years.

Instead of multitasking and doing two things badly in twice the time, focus on one task at a time.Click To Tweet Get it done well. Move on to the next one.

Ask For Help When You Need It

You know what’s not efficient or productive? Staring at the same problem for hours or days without making any progress when someone in your company or your life could easily help you make it past this roadblock. Maybe you’re too deep in the issue or maybe you just don’t have the information/experience to see what would be clear to others. The best solution in this case is to simply ask for help.

No one expects you to have all the answers, not even if you’re the boss, and people love knowing their experience and expertise is valuable. So ask and be prepared to be asked for help in return. This sort of symbiotic relationship is why the company isn’t just you.

Use Your Goals to Make Decisions Easy

You make hundreds of decisions every day. Some of them barely matter (what you eat for breakfast, what color socks you chose to wear today) and some can impact dozens of other people (whether to take on that lucrative but difficult client, whether to go after more funding now or in a year.) The easiest way to make the decisions that matter is by asking yourself “Does this get me closer to my goal?” If your answer is yes, do it. If not, move on.

Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, is well known for using this decision-making process as part of his goal to make Southwest a well-known and well-loved low cost carrier. Don’t waste time debating the pros and cons of every decision. With this one simple framework, you can make good decisions quickly and easily.

When you have an unambiguous goal, it’s easier to see the route to get there. With systems in place, anyone on your team and carry the baton on your journey and they’ll be happy to pitch in and help because you’ll be able to clearly explain the destination. You’ll make decisions easily and be able to focus on what needs to get done, one task at a time. Effective and productive leaders implement these strategies and there’s no reason you can’t as well.

Focus and the resulting productivity are the holy grails of everyone’s workday. Being focused is something we all strive towards and there is no doubt of the benefits one gains when they’re able to focus. You get more done, faster and with less mental effort. Being able to focus for extended periods of time can save you a lot of time and mental energy. After all, any distraction, whether it’s Facebook, an incoming mail or thoughts of what you’re having for dinner, are minutes or hours of lost productivity. Even if it’s just a few minutes here and there, that time adds up. And the time cost doesn’t include the mental energy required to come back to the task, figure out where you were, and get back into flow. Do that a few times and your brain will have wasted quite a bit of energy it could have spent on the task at hand.

So focus is great. Focus is the golden cup we should all be reaching for, right? Well, yes and no. It turns out too much focus is also a bad thing.Your brain, like the rest of you, needs a break from hard work.

An exhausted brain not focusing, but instead paying attention on a number of different activities. Such as social media, email and other things that takes attention away. Focus is the golden cup we should all be reaching for, right?

Excessive focus can exhaust the focus circuits of your brain.Your exhausted brain will naturally have less energy and less self-control. This lack of self-control can make you more impulsive and less helpful. In your work environment that means you’re not making well-thought out decisions and are less likely to collaborate with your colleagues. Just the reputation you want, right?

So what do you do? Do you sacrifice your hard-won ability to focus? Or do you focus anyway and just hope you don’t exhaust your brain by doing so?

For optimal brain function, what you need to do is switch between focused and unfocused periods. Alternating will allow you to become more resilient, more creative, and to make better decisions.

For optimal brain function, you need to switch between focused and unfocused periods.Click To Tweet

When you’re intentionally unfocused (come back from Instagram now please), what you’re doing is activating the brain circuit known as “default mode network”, abbreviated as DMN. When you’re at rest, this circuit uses up 20% of the body’s energy (which is impressive since your brain is only 2% of your body weight.) Why so much energy? Because while you’re resting, the DMN isn’t.

The DMN is hard at work under the brain’s conscious radar activating old memories, hopping through the past, present and future and combining different ideas. Using this new or previously uncombined information, you’re able to imagine creative solutions, tune into other people’s thinking and predict the future, which leads to better decision making. Think of all the times a possible solution just “came to you” after puzzling over the problem for hours and then walking away. That was thanks to the efforts of the DMN.

There are several ways to build productive unfocused time for your DMN to be activated into your daily life.

Take a nap

Don’t do this at work unless you’re a freelancer working from home or you have an incredibly understanding boss. When your brain is tired, your creativity and clarity are negatively impacted. To be more creative, go for a full 90 minute nap. If you’re just looking for a little clarity, a 10 minute power nap is your best bet.

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes

That’s right. Pretend to be someone else and see how they would approach the problem or task you’re facing. Someone like JK Rowling would approach a problem very differently than someone like Marie Curie would. Try on various hats and see if thinking like someone wildly creative will bring you different solutions than being your normal self.

Carve out some time for Positive Constructive Daydreaming (PCD)

PCD is not accidental daydreaming nor the guilt-ridden and stressful rehashing of worries. It’s the relaxed mind-wanderings you have while engaging in a low-key activity like knitting or coloring or gardening. The very reason these activities, especially knitting and coloring, have grown in popularity over the last few years is because they are a gateway to PCD.

PCD is when you spend time engaging internally- exploring who you are through what you enjoy, casually connecting ideas and digging deep into your forgotten memories to establish your sense of identity. After some time engaged in PCD, your sense of self is stronger and your mind feels relaxed and refreshed.

Constructive unfocused time is just as important as your focused work, and will actually improve the quality of work you do when you’re focusing. So get your work done but also be sure to take a break and let your brain play on a regular basis. Your team will thank you.

Every company has at least one difficult person (and if you can’t figure out who it is, check in and make sure it isn’t you.) When it’s your colleague or employee who is toxic, but brilliant at their job, you have to figure out how to work with them. You’re still going to have those days where you feel like they’re trying to suck all the joy out of your life but if you manage your interactions with them with them carefully, they won’t succeed. This is what you need to do in order to keep the work progressing and your sanity intact.

Set Limits

Toxic people are exhausting and if you let them, they’ll be at your desk every day about something. It’s up to you to establish and maintain those boundaries for your interactions. Just because you work on a team with or manage a toxic person doesn’t mean you have to be close and friendly with them. Sit down and define for yourself what you need your boundaries to be and then be diligent about enforcing them in a professional manner.

Stay Aware of Your Emotions

Your difficult colleague most likely enjoys pushing your buttons but you may not be aware that’s what’s happening if you’re not monitoring your emotions. Sometimes you’ll need to be able to take some time and regroup to be able to figure out how to move forward. Again, being aware of your emotions will allow you to recognize when these times come and you shouldn’t feel bad about needing to step back and assess.

Don’t Get Infected

Negativity is easy to spread because we all have our own insecurities and doubts. Spending too much time around a negative person can lead to those insecurities coming to the surface and to a more negative mindset in general. Don’t let this happen to you. Acknowledge their negativity and toxic outlook and focus on staying positive.

If you’ve been spending too much time around them and your self-talk has become negative, don’t let it bring you down. Be aware this is happening and work on changing your internal dialogue and, if possible, setting stricter limits on your interactions with them.

Stay Solutions Focused

If you keep your eyes on the muddy ground, you’ll never see the sky and where you focus your attention determines your emotional state. Being wrapped up in a problem you’re facing will only result in stress and negative emotions. In turning your attention to solutions, you will instead feel motivated and powerful and less stressed, all of which are positive emotions.

Difficult people will try to draw you into their personal drama and stress you out. They will be focused on their problems but don’t try to step in and fix the problem for them, which will only result in more stress for you. Instead spend your energy on figuring out how you can manage them. By keeping your eye on the task of how to manage them and their negativity, you’ll stay in control and be able to walk away unscathed.

Don’t Forget

Like small children, toxic people will try to manipulate you and require constant management. An emotionally aware and intelligent person can forgive their transgressions and move on but it doesn’t mean they forget. Don’t be bogged down by their mistakes and manipulations but also don’t forget them to the extent that a toxic person is able to manipulate you in the same way again.

Walk Away

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to literally walk away. When your difficult colleague is stressing you out, create the space for you to calm down and come back to the issue with a clear head. You’re likely missing something important because your emotions are clouding your good judgement.

Walking away might not always be possible but whenever it is, take advantage of it and tell them you’re going to think about it and come back to them. Take the time away to process and let go of the stress they’re causing and focus on what really matters – the work.

Sleep It Off

One of the best things you can do for your stress level is to sleep enough. Most people need 7 or 8 hours each and every night so carve out that time. Not only will enough sleep give you the emotional resilience to deal with your toxic colleague and daily stressors, but it’ll enable you to work better and faster. Your focus, attention and memory are all tied to your quantity and quality of sleep, as are your creativity, positivity and ability to handle stress. Keep your baseline stress levels lower with enough sleep and you’ll be better able to handle all the additional stress work and life will pile on.

In an ideal work environment, you wouldn’t have difficult colleagues to deal with but unfortunately, your company probably isn’t perfect. You can minimize your workplace headache by learning how to intelligently manage your difficult colleagues and keeping your stress levels low and your work focus high.

Most people simply accept meetings as a fact-of-life, as part of the process of doing the work they do. To most, meetings are a necessary evil, like being at the office by a certain time or working on a team with someone you don’t particularly like. It’s simply accepted that meetings have and always will be a part of the job and a waste of someone’s time.

Stop thinking of meetings as just a necessary cost.

Meetings aren’t the core of any business (except maybe ours) and meeting attendance is rarely in anyone’s employment contract. There is always something else you could be doing that is part of your core job description. Your job title might be almost anything but it probably isn’t “/meeting attendee”.

The time you’re spending in a meeting is time you’re taking away from doing the work the company hired you to do, which means you shouldn’t be attending just any meeting someone thinks to invite you to join. There are situations and jobs in which holding a meeting is necessary, but more often not, that isn’t the case when a meeting is called.

Start thinking of meetings as investments.

Every half hour spent in a meeting is a half hour spent not doing the job you were hired to do. Which means any meeting you attend should be one where your attendance has an obvious impact. Your time is being invested in the meeting and there should be a reason for that investment.

Viewing meetings as investments rather than unavoidable costs raises expectations – of the meeting organizer, of the meeting attendees and of the meeting itself. Instead of being an ineffective use of time, meetings are objective-driven and those objectives are clearly defined.  There are many alternatives for information dissemination and planning. You could send an email, get on a group call (which tends to be shorter than a meeting), walk over to another colleagues desk, etc. Meetings force people to take time away from their official job for an extended period of time and to interrupt the flow of their work. When that happens, it should be because their attendance is adding more value than if they were focused on “regular” work.

Always ask “what’s the return?”

If you think of a meeting as an investment and ask “what’s the return?”, you’ll approach each meeting with a purpose and clear expectations. Before you schedule the meeting, you’ll know what you’re hoping the end result will be. Before inviting someone, you know what their contribution to the meeting will be. Walking out of the meeting, you’ll be sure to have the next steps planned out because the best time to take action is immediately, even if it’s just a small step.

In treating each and every meeting as an investment instead of just the cost of doing business, you’ll have clear and raised expectations for the meeting. This, in turn, is more likely to produce a measurable return. You’ll also have more attentive meeting participants and, most likely, fewer meetings to attend.

You hand over some money in a coffee shop, you get a caffeine fix. You make the downpayment on a car, you get a car. You put in the work building a Lego Death Star, you get a Lego Death Star. For most things in life, when you put in the work, you expect some kind of return. It doesn’t have to be big, but most people like to see a tangible result of the effort they put in or the price they pay. The coffee, the car, the Lego Death Star, they’re instantly gratifying because you have them and can see them.

But this kind of return, call it a reward if you like, isn’t happening in our meetings. If it was, our meetings would be gratifying. With a meeting, even if it goes well, the result is rarely that satisfying. It often feels like all we get is more work.

Gratification from intangible rewards

If there’s no tangible return, then how do we get that same feeling of gratification from our meetings? It starts with perspective. Go into your next meeting with the mindset that you’re in there to achieve something, and you’re already pointing in the right direction.

There are things in life which don’t have a tangible return, but which are still gratifying, like running a marathon or checking off the last of 27 tasks at the end of a busy work day. With meetings, as with marathons and checklists, the instant gratification comes from the sense of achievement.

Make the objective your objective

A clearly defined goal is essential for capturing that sense of achievement. Imagine running a marathon with no idea of where the finish line was. Set an achievable objective for your meeting. Something that’s:

  • Specific
  • Purposeful, and
  • Timely

 

Make it so that success is clearly and easily measurable. Did we meet the objective? Yes or no? And remember, that everyone you invite to a meeting needs to know what the objective is, and what their role is in helping the group to reach it.

It is possible to get instant gratification from a meeting, you just have to make sure you plan it right. And remember to thank people, to celebrate if it’s a big deal. A simple “great meeting, thanks guys” or “well done, everyone” goes a long way.

In a world obsessed with productivity and innovation, why are so many of us still willing to sit through poorly planned, badly executed, irrelevant meetings? Why do we accept pouring precious time down the drain, in meetings with no clear objectives, all while knowing that none of the key points raised will be capitalized on?

A good meeting, that is to say, one which involves the right people, and where the objective is clear and met, can be a great thing.

But think about the meetings you’ve been in over the past six months. How many were honestly worth your time? With the rise in popularity of apps and technologies in almost every aspect of worklife , it seems ludicrous that many of us still can’t organize effective, relevant meetings. So why is that?

A Sense of Professional Obligation

One big reason why we accept bad meetings, is this pervasive sense of professional obligation. When a meeting is called, unless you’re specifically excluded from it, you’re expected to go.

It’s as though the calling of a meeting turns on a motor in your head, one which autopilots you into the meeting room, where you sit, thinking about all the other places you’d rather be. That’s a big problem. If you’re sitting in a meeting and you’re thinking about being somewhere else, then either:

  • You’re in the wrong job, or
  • This meeting is not relevant to you

 

What Are You Afraid Of?

Think about saying, ‘This meeting isn’t relevant to the work I’m doing. I honestly don’t think I have anything to contribute .’ Feels good, doesn’t it? But most people won’t say it, because something gets in the way:

Fear of missing out
This will mean different things to different people, but consider how many meetings you’ve been to, where you went because you did not know what the objective was. If you don’t know exactly what the meeting is about, and what the objective of it is, how can you make a convincing case for not going to it?

In addition, not knowing what the objective of the meeting is, makes it impossible to know whether important stuff will be decided over your head, on your behalf, or otherwise without your knowledge.

Fear of reprisal
Let’s say that you do know what the meeting is about, and you’ve decided that it’s not relevant to you. Many people still go, because they fear losing face with their colleagues (does s/he think s/he’s more important than us?) or risk getting into trouble with their superiors.

Lack of an accommodating culture
The company’s culture is outdated. When a meeting is called, it is not ok, regardless of relevancy, to say that you’re not attending. This is something which should be challenged.

Would You Keep Going to Poor Dinner Parties?

If you showed up to a friend’s dinner party once, and they’d forgotten the music or the drinks, you’d be disappointed. If it happened a second time, or a third, you’d start declining their invitations, you might even tell them, ‘Hey, if we’re going to do this, we ought to do it right. Can I help you?’

With meetings, though, for years we’ve been beaten down with boredom and bureaucracy. Nobody says anything — not in a way that changes things — about how poorly planned or irrelevant said meeting was. We take bad meetings like we take disgusting medicine, only bad meetings do more harm than good, and why? Because we’re under-informed or afraid of office politics?

It’s time that we starting having more respect for ourselves, and more respect for our colleagues, by holding meetings which reflect the standards upheld in almost every other aspect of business.