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Recently, when I was researching an article on meetings for the Law Society of New South Wales, I came across this finding:  worldwide, workers nominate ‘ineffective meetings’ as the biggest culprit when it comes to wasting time and zapping productivity. That was according to a Microsoft survey of 38,000 workers.

Could it be that it’s not just lack of preparation or poor chairing that’s responsible, but also the way we treat our bodies during meetings? Sitting for too long, not taking breaks and fueling participants with sugar and caffeine?

If you want people to be alert, stay focused and contribute some good vibes as well as good ideas during meetings, it will pay to take stock of your typical meeting style.  Then as a team, you could experiment with different ways to make your meetings more healthy, effective and enjoyable.   Here are some body-wise tips and you can download a Body-Wise Meeting Checklist here .

Time of Day

  • Early to mid-morning is usually the time when our capacity for sharp thinking is at its peak.  You and your team might like to protect this time to get your most challenging, important work done first.  Or, if there are important decisions to be made, you might like to use this time for meeting.
  • Mid-afternoon, our mental and physical alertness dips for most people.  If you must have a meeting at this time, limit the agenda to more administrative items.  Or make it a walking meeting, if numbers are small.
  • Towards the end of a working day – at about 4 or 5pm- alertness tends to lift again. This could be another good time for a meeting when people’s energy levels are higher, depending on your team’s knock off time. ( See this article on body rhythms for more detail on our 24-our biological rhythms)
  • As people’s body clocks vary – some of us are morning people, other’s night owls – you might want to vary meeting times so it feels fair to all.

Break it Up with Movement

Physical activity research suggests we learn 10 per cent better when standing, so boost your  health and your ability to integrate new information with short movement breaks.

  • Give Permission: At the start of the meeting let people know it is OK to get up and move at any time, and model that yourself.
  • Structure in Stand Up Breaks Every 30 minutes.  This is a good time frame ergonomically, as well as metabolically and will also help reset people’s attention.
  • For small, shorter meetings, trying standing up or walking for the entire agenda.  One study found that stand up meetings were 34 % shorter than sit-down meetings, yet produced the same solutions.
  • Change Seats Half-Way:   A great way to free people from a fixed position – physically and psychologically
  • Nominate someone to notice the energy levels in room and call for an energiser when slumping.

Limit Duration

Planning, prioritising, making decisions and judgement calls, depletes the resources of the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which can lead to poor judgment and unethical behavior.  So there is no point in pushing on when everyone is flagging.

  • Agree on a time limit beforehand and the chairperson needs to be trained to stick to it.  If the duration is longer than an hour, structure in a 5 minute break at the 60 minute mark.
  • If you want to go over time, get group agreement first and take a short break before proceeding.

Healthy, Sustaining Fuel

  • Make water the default drink option. For extra appeal offer soda water and a squeeze of lemon.
  • Make herbal tea options as prominent as caffeinated drinks.
  • If your meeting takes place at a meal time (eg lunch) either provide nutritious food or let people bring their lunch.  Low blood glucose levels diminish self-control.
  • Lollies are cheap and colourful, but have no nutritional value at all.  Offer nuts and fruit instead.

Share the responsibility

  • Invite people to take up different roles each meeting, such as energy watcher, movement instructor, or someone to check that healthy fuel will be provided.

Many have given up hope on the dream of going to an enjoyable, effective meeting.  With a clear intention, it is possible!

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