More on Meeting Productivity - The Agenda

If you are running or attending a meeting, preparation is critical to productivity. The Havard Business Review gives some sound advice on meetings with their guide to running meetings (Amy Gallo) which cites the importance of the agenda.

“Always set an agenda out ahead of time – and be clear about the purpose of the meeting.”

It’s hard to imagine more sound advice about meetings. Axtell and Gino agree that designing the meeting and setting an agenda ahead of time is critical. “You should explain what’s going to happen so participants come knowing what they’re going to do,” says Axtell. In her book, Sidetracked, Gino talks about how lacking a clear plan of action is often why groups get derailed in decision-making. “Having a plan gives us the opportunity to clarify our intentions and think through the forces that could make it difficult for us to accomplish our goals,” she says.

Further, HBR gives their advice on preparation of an agenda. Given the number of meetings and types of meetings, this type of agenda is more than is needed. However, it's hard to argue with the advice of getting clear on purpose. Roger Schwarz outlines this nicely:

We’ve all been in meetings where participants are unprepared, people veer off-track, and the topics discussed are a waste of the team’s time. These problems — and others like it — stem from poor agenda design. An effective agenda sets clear expectations for what needs to occur before and during a meeting. It helps team members prepare, allocates time wisely, quickly gets everyone on the same topic, and identifies when the discussion is complete. If problems still occur during the meeting, a well-designed agenda increases the team’s ability to effectively and quickly address them.

Meeting Productivity

My writing is a lot about getting more effective at the things I need to do on a day to day basis. I try to only have a couple of items I focus on over time and approach them simply. I've written about three of the four areas that have been my main focus. I started with note taking which I've improved at sufficiently for my needs. Most have been about filing and finding files. I've tackled email which I've worked to at best a stalemate.

The fourth area I have focused on and a very important element of my productivity needs are effective meetings. I've been a manager for more than 10 years. Meetings are the primary reason I set about to take better notes. Fundamentally, the ability to run effective meetings is a way that teams, and team leaders, can deliver their programs.

Effective meetings have many important elements that need to be in place but there are thing that you can control either as a meeting leader or participant. You can control your preparation and understanding of the objectives of the meeting or your particular topic for the meeting.

My focus on personal preparation is pragmatic and based in training from my early days with the same fortune 50 company that I am with still. In preparation for meetings with my direct supervisor and importantly for my one-on-one meetings with my section manager, I was taught to come to those meetings with a focused set of topics with a brief statement of purpose. So early in my career, I was typing, usually, 3-5 bullet points and the relationship to my project or task objectives. The meeting purpose was usually to inform of progress, ask for any needed help, and get input on my work. This training has served me well as an individual contributor and been something I have coached many others as a manager.

Principally, larger meetings are much the same in that you have a specific purpose and agenda items that should be directed at achieving the project objectives. To over simplify the point, the meeting is only as good as the agenda item topics and their relationship to what needs to be done. If you do no more than take the time to type out or write down what you want to discuss as the meeting in concise statements and think about how that relates to both your personal and team objectives, you will have vastly improved the discussion at the meeting and meeting outcome. Pair that up with effective note-taking and your productivity will improve tremendously. This is in your control whether you simply participate and should be routine if you run the meetings.

I participate and run a large number of meetings. So much so that its often difficult to come out of one meeting and switch gears to the next. I need to be able to prepare for these meetings and importantly remember all the items that relate to that meetings objective. As my hobby is programming, naturally I wrote a program to help with this. I've been using various iterations of the program to help me prepare for meeting. Outside work, I have been polishing this program for release into the Mac App store since I attended an awesome conference, Release Notes, in Oct 2015. Since you've read this far, I would say you have demonstrated interest in the topic of meetings. If you are working on a Mac and interested a personal productivity app for meeting preparation, head over to and sign up for the mailing list for information about Agenda Minder.

Finding Files Quickly with Favorites in Trickster

So I had a bit of a hiccup in my filing system recently. I was with my boss on a video call when we decided to finalize a document. I couldn't find the document quickly. I had to resort to going into email because I remembered the last person I sent the document to. These types of interactions are a bit stressful to me as my desktop was shared, my face was on video, and it was slower than I wanted to be able to lay my virtual hands on the document.

My fix was to load a program that I didn't get moved over when I set up my new work machine about 8 months ago. That app is Trickster. Overall, the app keeps track of what you've been using on your Mac and makes access quick and easy. The main feature set I'm using for my recent issue is Trickster's Favorite feature. Brett Terpstra talked about this app again recently so I don't need to go into great detail. For the most part, my filing system is workable but having a well-crafted app vs. my direct effort to keep track of files makes good sense.

Trickster lives in the menubar so its very easy to access. The favorites section is a sidebar where I can keep links to these types of files that I use routinely on projects but that I may not have opened up very recently. This saves me from the dreaded multiple copies and is this the latest version of the file when on the spot and visible during meetings.

The app is only $9.95 and if it saves you during one meeting this year in addition to being a great utility day-in day-out, it's more than worth the price. Trickster has a free trial so there's no better time than the first of the New Year to try out a productivity app for you new productivity resolutions.

If you are like me, this will become a go-to app!

Can't Wait for the New AppleTV

With the demise of the Ouya nearly complete, the stage is set for Apple TV. I've been waiting for a while. OK, the Ouya didn't technically set the stage. It did demonstrate the concept to me personally. So I can't wait the last few days before I can order the new AppleTV. I'm more excited about this than the watch!

P.S. Finalize the content deal so I can ditch DirecTV and declutter my TV setup.

Bring it!

Update to Encrypting PDF with PDFPen

Slight update to the automatically encrypt PDF's with PDFPen. Updated to select the file and encrypt using PDFPen.

Here is the script which can also be found on github

set this_file to choose file
set label to "PDFName" --this is the Name: in Keychain change for whatever you use   
set Qlabel to quoted form of label     
set t to do shell script "security 2>&1 find-generic-password -gl " & Qlabel     
set text item delimiters to "\"" -- Get Password     
set tlst to every text item of t     
set pw to item 2 of tlst     
tell application "PDFpenPro 6"     
    open this_file    
    save document 1 encrypt using AES256 password pw     
end tell