In the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Sabbath, 31b), there is a story of a wise elder named Hillel who was challenged by a gentile to teach him the whole of the Bible while he stood on one foot. Hillel’s response was, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow…the rest is commentary. Go and study.” Hillel’s ability to drill down to the main concept in one phrase and one directive was not only inspirational for the gentile (and led him to conversion), it was probably also the origin of the startup world’s “standing meeting.” Of course, standing meetings also came from the idea that people should be standing more for their health, and that meetings should not be unnecessarily long. Somehow, the latter dropped off and standing meetings have become as much of a long, annoying, undue burden as the meetings they replaced.
So let’s get standing meetings right, both the start-of-day standing meeting (SOD) and the end-of-day standing meeting (EOD). Here’s how:
1) Standing meeting is not the first thing you do every day. Preparing for standing meeting is.
One of the primary reasons that meetings are a waste of time is that people do not prepare for them in advance. You are better off not attending standing meeting than attending unprepared. Spend at least 15 minutes preparing for a standing meeting (yes, that’s as long as the meeting itself!). Even if the standing meeting(s) you will attend aren’t immediately after your preparation, you need to do it to get organized for your day anyway.
2) The agenda for standing meeting is goals and interfaces.
At start-of-day standing meeting, everyone should be answering two questions:
- What are my 1–2 main goals to accomplish today?
- What are the resources I need from others (including their time) to accomplish those main goals?
At end-of-day standing meeting, everyone should be answering three questions:
- How did I do an awesome job today? (It’s not bragging if everyone’s doing it.)
- How well did I accomplish the 1–2 main goals I reported at start-of-day standing meeting?
- To whom, or about what, am I grateful today? (This is where you high-five individuals on your team.)
3) Your preparation for standing meeting should fit the agenda.
For SOD, look through your calendar and to-do list, and take at least 15 minutes to identify the following:
- What are my key goals for today? Which of these are the most important to accomplish today?
Many of these are actually sub-goals of much larger objectives, and you will need to drill down to figure out what you hope to accomplish today, and what you must accomplish today.
- What are the resources I need for today? Do I have them?
This seems a bit like a silly question at first, because the likely first answers are: my computer, internet connection, etc. It’s actually worthwhile to get that essentials list down at least once, because people often discover that there’s something that would make their lives a lot better if they had (even if it’s as simple as “more packs of sticky notes”). Once you have it down, you likely won’t need to go over it again (once a month for the first three months after you make it, and once per quarter afterwards). After your list of staples, think about what you need for today that you may not have. Usually, it’s someone else’s time. This is your opportunity to think about:
- Whose time you need
- How much of it you need
- Why you need it
Same goes for the other resources you might require (goods/services should include estimated costs).
- How likely is it that what I have put down for my goals and resources is realistic?
When we first plan, we aren’t always so realistic, and that’s actually a good thing! Having an ideal set of goals is actually very helpful, because there is no way that we can get what we want without actually laying it out…and sometimes we even get it! Other times, we may need to be a bit more realistic about what is really going to happen. The biggest challenge while answering this question likely isn’t going to be the fact that what you want isn’t realistic so much as the fact that you are going to get/do it today may not be as possible as you are hoping. As such, it helps to walk into the meeting with both ideal and realistic expectations, and to consider presenting both.
For EOD, review your day, take at least 15 minutes to identify the following:
- What are the results of your efforts today? What have you accomplished? Consider both finished products and progress.
Regardless of what you present at EOD, it is worth your own time to have a daily review, both because you deserve the pat on the back, and because it helps you get ready for SOD tomorrow. Research also shows that recognizing that you made progress is a key part of enjoying yourself on the job.
- Which meetings did you have today? What were the results?
Some of this may have been answered by the prior question, but it’s important to know the results of all of your meetings, regardless of whether they were as productive as you might have hoped.
- How did I spend my time today?
You did pay attention to this, right? Reviewing this should be done non-judgmentally. After all, the time is already gone. Get a sense of all the time you spend, including the breaks and whether those breaks are actually recharging you. If you are not using your time as well as you would like (and I haven’t met too many people who do), the first step is being aware of how you use/spend your time (pick your favorite productivity blog if you need some additional tips).
- What went well today, and what/whom am I grateful for?
A lot of research shows that the best attitude is gratitude, and counting those blessings can make your day. It can also make someone else’s when you’re giving high fives to the people that helped make your day a good one.
At first, this preparation is likely to take longer than 15 minutes, so budget 30 in the beginning. With practice, this speeds up tremendously and you can get it down to 15 minutes (I’ve seen well-practiced and organized speedsters do it in 10, but no one preps successfully for SOD or EOD in less.)
4) The leader of standing meeting should decide who attends (10 people MAX). Each person gets up to 2 minutes (on the clock if you have to!) to address the key items in SOD/EOD.
If your team is larger than 10 people, then you need two different standing meetings, and you need to prepare and think about who should attend which meetings for which reasons. As a leader/manager, attending multiple strategy/goal-setting meetings is a key part of your job. Then again, no one should have to attend more than 3 standing meetings at start-/end-of-day. That means that attendance at each day’s standing meetings is variable, and should be shifted and considered as part of the prep. Generally, every attendee should know at least 12 hours in advance which standing meetings to attend. As a leader/manager, part of your job is giving that notice and figuring out who needs to be where. Review the preparation and agenda items above, and think about who needs to hear from whom, and who needs to interface with whom solely on the day in question — don’t get ahead of yourself. If you find yourself thinking further out, and need to tag people, that’s what email is for!
5) After the standing meeting, there will be a bunch of mini-meetings where people coordinate calendars and resources (SOD), and show some appreciation (EOD). This should take no more than 10 minutes — anything more requires scheduling a conversation.
Standing meeting is only for answering the key questions, so the follow up is going to be about actually coordinating and reflecting. At SOD, people will need to synchronize their calendars and make adjustments accordingly, resource requests may need to be fleshed out, and point people may need to be assigned for multi-person efforts. At EOD, people may want to discuss accomplishments, set meetings to discuss results, and appreciate the recognition that was given.
The biggest challenge of standing meetings is the fact that people actually need to put in a decent amount of effort up front to get organized. The infrastructural coordination may seem time-consuming because of the front-loaded effort, but it saves an inordinate amount of time on the backend. Consider how much time is wasted being bored at meetings where you don’t belong, or playing email tag about items that you could have spent 10 seconds chatting about, or going back-and-forth with others because the bunch of you didn’t just come to the table knowing what you wanted. As such, the value of standing meeting is not just what comes of the meetings in and of themselves, but how they incite people to be organized and cognizant of what they want, what they need, and how they are going to do it all. Huzzah for being productive!
(NB: A lot of my inspiration for this article comes from the pleasure I have had advising and working in a number of startups, as well as working with productivity hackers like Upgradable founder James Norris.)