How to run a meeting

I hate meetings, so I run short efficient ones where everyone leaves knowing exactly what they have agreed to do and when to do it by.

My meetings method is a combination of middle-school cooperative learning when I was always the de facto group leader via being the nominal “secretary” (regardless of which white boy was the nominal leader) plus the meetings chapter from Getting Things Done.

Here are my basic tenets (I think these are all from GTD):

1.  Don’t have a meeting if you don’t have an agenda.

2.  Follow the agenda.

3.  Don’t leave the meeting without action items.

If you don’t know what the meeting is going to be about, just don’t.  Don’t have a meeting.  You have to be able to write down the items you need to discuss.  Circulate them before the meeting and add anything anybody else needs.

Don’t let the meeting get derailed.  Stick to the agenda.  When you start to stray from the agenda, note it, and note that you can add whatever it is to the next agenda if need be.

Here is the important part:  At the end of the meeting, go through every single person and ask what their action items are and what the timeline is.  This is great because a lot of the time everyone will assume someone agreed to do something, and they may have even agreed to do it… but without this last step, they will simply forget.  Or they will mean to do it and just keep putting it off until they forget.  And then you will discuss it again at the next meeting, wasting time.  Again.  The other nice thing about going through everybody is that if someone doesn’t have an action item and another person has a ton of action items, the overloaded person will feel ok about giving some up and the underloaded person often feels guilty and will volunteer.  This doesn’t always happen, but for your people who don’t want to be perceived as bad people but also don’t generally volunteer, it’s nice.

Then after the meeting, send your minutes or a summary of the meeting as you understand it and remind people of the action items they agreed to and their deadlines.  They won’t always do it, but you’ll get the majority rather than the minority of people actually doing things they volunteered for.

The part that is from all that irritating cooperative learning:

If you’re in person, write on the chalkboard or on a word document on an overhead the things you’re discussing as you’re brainstorming (or you can use concept map software, you do do you) to help organize the discussion and to keep you from straying too far from the point.  A big benefit of the board is that it helps guide discussion and you can ask questions and write down people’s answers to help facilitate.  You can take a picture of the board after.   (Why yes, I am a fantastic discussion leader in class.)

If you’re on zoom or another online thing, use a google document and make sure everyone has access.  Being able to edit a google document of the agenda together is fantastic, and it’s easy for people to see what you discussed for each items and to claim action items.  You can use different color to group things or make them stand out.  One of my colleagues I’m on a grant with uses the google slides shareable version of powerpoint instead which is interesting.

So… it’s that simple.  And definitely allow your meeting to end early if you get through the agenda.  Do not have a norm where the meeting time is filled up no matter what you’re talking about.

A few other pointers:

Sometimes it’s good to call for a preliminary vote that doesn’t count to see where everyone is thinking when a discussion starts running in circles (for a set of job candidates, for example).  Sometimes it will turn out that the votes are so uneven you can just stop at that point.

You can also call votes about whether people want to to stop a discussion and do the actual voting or if they want to continue the discussion.  Sometimes it’s just one person who is dragging things out and they’ve said their piece and won’t let go but nothing they say is going to change anybody’s minds because they’re not saying anything they haven’t already said.

If you’re not the person in charge of the meeting (say you’re at a full-day “retreat”), you can still take charge the way I have done– by asking if you can go up to the (chalk/white/key) board and “take notes” to help people organize their thinking, asking questions to help know what to write down on the board, but actually guiding the discussion.  I hate doing this, but I hate pointless long meetings more, so…

I always start repeated meetings on time whether everyone is there or not (and ask if I can start early if everyone is early).  This keeps you from having that thing where everyone shows up five minutes later every week.  If you have that one person who is always 5 min late, they stay being 5 min late every week instead of eventually becoming 20 min late, and all the people who want to get done will show up on time instead of 5-10 minutes late etc.  (This is especially true when the meeting is over before the late person gets there because you’re that efficient.)

How do you keep meetings short?  Any tips or pointers?

A snapshot of DH’s unemployment chores list

  1. Get and install curtains for the office.  [Ed:  this is my requested Christmas present this year so my face isn’t half blindingly white while zooming]
      1. Rod hanging style
        1. We do not want a curtain rod that attaches inside the door frame, because that will interfere with the screen door.
        2. We could use inside mount brackets and mount the curtain to both side walls, but then there would be a long rod sticking out over the filing cabinets for no reason.
        3. We could use an inside mount bracket on the side wall by the desk, and a normal bracket (to the window’s wall) on the other side, but that’s going to look asymmetrical.
        4. I think we use a normal rod attached to the same wall as the window, and it equally extends on either side of the door frame, which will put the end next to the desk almost up against the side wall, and put about 12” of space between the edge of the window and the end of the rod on each side.  To get the bracket close to the side wall next to the desk, let’s use the blackout rods that curve back into the wall.
          1. It would also be nice to minimize the depth, so the curtain is close to the wall.
      2. “Door” width 70.5” including the molding.
        1. Add 24” -> 94.5” wide curtain.
          1. Divide by 2 panels -> 48” panel width.
        2. Add ~10” -> 80.5” rod.
      3. 4.5” from the outside edge of the molding to the nearest wall.
      4. Do we need two panels or just one?
        1. I think 2 panels would look better.  We could get a single panel 100” wide, but I think when the curtains are open they will look better framing the door.
      5. Door height: 83.25” from floor to molding.
        1. So an 84” long panel? Then we set it above the top of the door and it won’t puddle on the ground.
      6. For curtain color, I think anything light or black is too extreme. Probably best to just go with brown.
  2. Fix the broken fence board.
  3. Clean the guest bedroom. [Ed:  this used to be DH’s office]
  4. Use the copper test kit.  [Ed:  Our water was strikingly blue for a little while.  We turned the whole house filter back on.]
  5. Clean the junk on the floor in front of the printer. [I suspect he means his 3d printer which is on the floor of the guest bedroom]
  6. Get the car inspected and registered.
  7. Clean out my work desk drawer.
  8. Keep the wooden boxes currently in the garage, break them down, or get rid of them. [Ed: More work stuff]
  9. Cash bonds.  [Ed: Both of our families bought us small savings bonds that have stopped accruing interest back in the early 1980s when there was a sale]
  10. Glue “Baking with Julia”.  [Ed: Wonderful cookbook, terrible binding]
  11. Ant hill by corner.  [Ed: Red ants are evil]
  12. Fix gate.  [Ed: I’m not sure what gate he means since the one to our dogrun just sort of fell over and we removed it and it’s no longer a dog run… we now have a more open concept backyard.  Come to think of it, there’s a gate on the other side that we never use that is under a bunch of wisteria, so maybe that’s what he means.]
  13. Replace the lightbulb in the refrigerator.  [Ed: One of MANY lightbulbs that heard DH was going to have a bunch of free time and decided to die]
    1. Ordered replacement.


I have no questions.  But it is nice having a highly qualified personal assistant!

Push presents

Back 5 or 6 years ago when I was in the process of becoming a mommy, I hung out on a forum that had infertility, pregnancy, and mommy sections.   It’s amazing how much drama can ensue in an online forum environment.

One of the big debates, and something I had never heard of before, and have never heard of IRL, was whether or not Push Presents were appropriate or crass.

A Push Present, btw, is an expensive present, usually a piece of jewelry, that the baby daddy gives you for pushing out (or c-sectioning out) his offspring.  You know, for a job well done.  (#2 says:  Ewwwww.)

One of the things that I noticed in these debates was that the women who were heavily pro-Push Presents, of the “I DESERVE this piece of jewelry” arguments were also the ones who were always complaining that their husbands were never around and were always working.  The women who thought the presents were crass tended to have what seemed to be better marriages– or at least they complained less about their husbands on the internet, which may or may not be the same thing.  They tended to say things like, “It’s OUR baby, the BABY is the reward” and so on.

I’m not really big on jewelry (in fact, I may have told DH I wouldn’t marry him if he went into debt on an engagement ring), so I’m not really the person to ask about the suitability of jewelry as a post-baby gift (and I kind of like the idea of charm bracelets with birth stones… you know, all symbolic.  Don’t want one, but like the idea.).

But I will say that time is so much more valuable than any piece of metal and stone.  I would rather have DH taking me to Bradley classes, feeding me when I can’t keep anything down but smoothies, taking over my chores when I’m too exhausted to do anything… and so on.  There’s no expensive present in the world that could make up for that (even a butler/valet/housekeeper/personal assistant just wouldn’t do it– I’d rather have DH there than the most highly competent servant taking care of every need).

Are push presents still a thing?  2011 was the year of weaning off mothering forums so I’m no longer hooked in.  Had you heard of them?  What do you think about them?  And what do you think about the standard “he’s not around but he’s working so he can secretly buy something nice for YOU” trope that I don’t even enjoy in Christmas anime episodes?