Economics may well be the most widely practiced religion of our times. Dare we say, productivity may be to economics as the holy ghost is to Christianity– ethereal, intangible and yet seemingly fraught with meaning.

Similarly, collaboration is a modern marvel, that is highly sought after and much lauded for its benefits. Especially so in this supposed hyper-busy, disruptively innovative and endlessly exciting period in history. We now have a vast array of tools– many of them technology-enhanced– practices and processes that are designed to make us more collaborative and more productive. Meeting

And while most of us will agree that productivity and collaboration are not bad things in and of themselves, they do need to be handled with due care. This is because it is difficult to know for sure whether we have all really become more collaborative and more productive or whether we should even try to be.

Whether and how much to pursue these prizes will depend on the particular organization and person. However, our experience is that too much collaboration can be counter-productive, and too often become a crutch for avoiding decisions or risks. Similarly, productivity can become an exercise in meaningless measurement, that fails to account for the most important element in the success or failure of any enterprise– human behaviour.

As sometimes peddlers of efficiency, effectiveness and optimization, we are no strangers to such dangers and see them manifest daily. And while we have no bullet-proof, sure-fire antidotes, here are a few suggestions to balance collaboration and productivity, specifically in the context of meetings:

  • First and foremost decide whether a meeting is even necessary: Consider what business can be conducted, approvals obtained or decisions made via e-mail, phone call or a direct chat versus a large, group meeting
  • If you decide that you do need a meeting:
    • Carefully think about how many people you need to invite– it’s usually fewer than you think
    • Keep it short– there are few things that can’t be accomplished in 30 to 45 minutes
    • Start meetings a few minutes past the hour or half hour and end them a few minutes before, to give everyone a chance to transition or simply walk between rooms
    • Consider meeting while standing up every once in a while– another incentive to keep them short
    • Have a timed agenda and provide it beforehand; reiterate it at the beginning of the meeting
    • Put away distractions avoid checking your phone or computer during the meeting– unless you are an emergency physician there few jobs where you can’t go half an hour or an hour without interruption

. . . And some suggestions on how to do it in other settings:

  • Send fewer e-mails– sometimes it’s easier to pick up the phone, have an instant messaging discussion or in-person chat rather than trading e-mails back and forth, particularly when trying to schedule something
    • Avoid the temptation to copy the world when you do have to send e-mails
  • E-mail is not work, so don’t focus on how many e-mails you have sent or received as a measure of productivity
    • Although research suggests that we are terrible at multi-tasking, some people find it easier to respond right away while others prefer to do so once an hour or once a day
  • Use simple checklists to keep track of what you want to do– professionally, personally, etc. on any given day (if a paper-based one doesn’t suffice, try one of the many online offerings, such as Wunderlist, Todoist (which integrates with Outlook) or Asana
  • Go for a walk in the middle of the day– it often helps to clear you mind and has the added benefit of providing some exercise

Most of all remember that there is no one way to do things– be open to new perspectives and to trying new approaches.