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People sleeping during a meeting
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5 Ways to Take Meetings from Mind-Numbing to Mindful

Image by AndreyPopov on Thinkstock by Getty Images
Today's guest post is by speaker and executive coach Dr. TC North, who provides advice on how to make those often-unproductive small meetings more effective—and possibly even enjoyable.

Are your meetings more dreadful than mindful? Sadly, all too many fall on the dreadful side. Enterprise software developer Atlassian surveyed individuals about meetings and made some stunning discoveries—I knew most meetings were bad, but these findings kinda blew my mind:

• 91 percent daydreamed during meetings.

• 39 percent had fallen asleep in meetings.

• 45 percent felt overwhelmed by how many meetings they had to attend.

• 73 percent did other work in meetings.

• 47 percent complained that meetings were their number-one time waster.

The Atlassian research estimated that in the United States, unnecessary meetings cost companies $37 billion a year in salaries.

Here are five ways to enhance interactions and make meetings more mindful, productive, and creative:

1. Create a mindset of positivity and success.
Every month when the Fearless Leaders Entrepreneur Forum members meet for our half-day session, we begin by having each group member share wins for the month. Then we celebrate those wins in a group acknowledgement that only takes about five seconds but is an extremely powerful success reinforcement. Beginning our meetings this way puts everybody’s mind in a success framework; the psychological term for this is subliminal priming. Later, when the discussion focuses on problem solving, everyone’s mind is primed for positive successful solutions because of how the meeting started. These entrepreneurs almost always exceed their annual goals. It’s a great ROI!

2. Show respect and curiosity.
Have well-defined values as an organization and/or team, including showing great respect toward others. In organizational cultures, respect is an extremely common value. However, people interpret respect differently. One person might consider it disrespectful to question another’s perspective. However, high-performing organizations and teams value differences. When somebody presents an idea that is different from yours, you can be respectful and curious.

Example: Cynthia stated what she thought the best strategy was, and it’s different from what you think. Instead of stating your strategy, you could pause, open your mind and say something such as, “That’s different and extremely interesting. Could you share why you think that would be so effective?” This shows respect for her thinking, and she may have a new, brilliant approach that no one has thought about.

3. Time everything.
A task generally expands to the time you give it. Agree on how much time each agenda item needs; there will be different amounts of time for each one. If you assigned an agenda item 10 minutes, set the timer for seven or eight minutes, whatever seems like the right amount of time to let the group know it needs to come to a conclusion. Then reset the timer and finish discussing the topic, including determining what action items to take.

4. Engage your whole brain!
Engage both the conscious and subconscious minds of all of the participants. If you’re problem solving or brainstorming, intersperse moments of total silence. A rather startling discovery in neuroscience research found that when you sit in silence, quiet your mind, and stop thinking about solving the problem you have been working on, a much larger portion of the brain, including your subconscious mind, starts working on solving the problem. The March/April 2015 issue of Psychology Today includes this quote: “The brain in ‘idle,’ it turns out, is actually far more active then the brain in conscious engagement.”

This research referenced in that article indicates that when working on a problem in silence, the resting brain uses about 20 times as much brain power as the conscious brain when working on the problem. Solving a challenging problem combining silence with active discussion allows everyone’s whole brain to work on the problem.

5. Implement positive accountability.
At the end of each agenda item and/or the end of the meeting, summarize actions to take, who will take them (assign one person as the lead), and when the action should be completed. Check that items are completed on time and as appropriate, acknowledge and celebrate successful completion of team and individual goals, bringing things full circle, back to the first way of creating a mindful meeting. Accountability is a critical feature of all high-performing teams. Imagine being on a high-performing, mindful team …

Mindful meetings are not only far more productive but also actually enjoyable!

For a deeper dive, read How to Run an Effective Meeting: 9 Unusual Strategies, one of my most popular articles.

Dr. TC North has been an executive coach and leadership speaker since 1986. For more on his work, visit

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