How to Have a Productive Meeting

The concept of unproductive work meetings is pervasive across many industries, but meetings can be an integral part of workplace productivity when handled properly. To get your employees excited about meetings instead of dreading them, follow these simple guidelines for how to have a productive meeting.

Identify your goals

If you don’t have goals for your meeting, then why have one? While your goals don’t need to be huge, they should be specific and actionable. For example, if your goal for an upcoming project meeting is to introduce the project plan to everyone on the team, be sure to include all aspects of the plan, such as deliverables, deadlines, assignments, and contingencies. By thinking through the specifics of your goals for the meeting, you’ll be better equipped to preempt any questions your team members will have and help them feel like they can leave the meeting and get to work.

Set an agenda

While you may have a mental agenda in advance of your meetings, setting a written agenda is crucial for maximizing productivity. Once your agenda is on paper, you can more easily see if your plan for the meeting is reasonable to cover everything in the time allotted. Your written plan can also help you spot anything you may have left out and verify that your meeting topics flow well. Ideally, you should have this written agenda prepared 24-48 hours in advance of your meeting and distribute it to meeting participants the day before. This will allow attendees to prepare thoughts and questions in advance, and it also demonstrates to attendees that you value their time enough to plan ahead.

Schedule questions at the end

Nothing derails meetings faster than a snowball of questions that are only tangentially related to the topic at hand. To avoid this rabbit hole, start your meeting by respectfully asking attendees to save all questions for the end. You can preface this request by reminding team members that you value their time and you want to keep the meeting on track. You can also offer to follow up with attendees after the meeting for any additional questions.

Include a “conflict valve”

Depending on the goal(s) of your meeting, it may be necessary to have an open discussion with your attendees in order to make decisions. These discussions can sometimes evoke heated debates or unresolvable conflicts. Plan for this in advance by preparing a “conflict valve” to diffuse the situation and move the meeting forward. A conflict valve is similar to a time valve – it’s a step you can take (or remove) in the moment to adjust to an unexpected direction or conflict that arises within the meeting. If, for example, a budget meeting resulted in conflict surrounding which departments would be affected by next quarter’s necessary budget cuts, your conflict valve may be to request email input from all meeting attendees. This will help you avoid time-consuming debates within the meeting and show your team members that you want adequate time to review and consider the matter fully. While your conflict valve may not always involve requesting more time to reach a decision, you do want to anticipate conflict in advance and have a plan for resolving it efficiently to keep your meeting on track.

Ask for feedback

One of the best ways to learn what works for your team is to ask those sitting across the table from you. Many people won’t volunteer feedback unless it is specifically requested, so take some time to ask your coworkers for honest, open feedback on how to have a productive meeting. While there are many ways to request and collect employee feedback, experiment with various ways that resonate with your team. When you start to receive useful feedback, show your team that their opinions are valued by implementing the feedback and continuing to make your meetings more productive.

By following these simple strategies, you can improve participation and commitment among your team in workplace meetings. By showing respect for their time and planning in advance, you will garner their appreciation and make your meetings increasingly more productive.

foundational pillars of a strong startup

5 Foundational Pillars of a Strong Startup

If you’re in the startup phase of an entrepreneurial venture, you know there are many moving pieces and many aspects of your business to consider. While it can feel overwhelming, there are some aspects of your business that are more important than others. To make sure the time and resources you invest in your business are used wisely, explore these 5 foundational pillars that are critical for building a strong startup.

  1. Sound financial management skills

    While founding your company with a solid cash outlay can increase your chances of success, starting with a lot of cash won’t matter if you can’t manage your money well. Making poor financial investments or failing to plan for revenue downturns can leave your business on shaky ground. Make sure you have a good financial plan in place that includes strong money management habits. If you want to start a business but financial management isn’t your strong suit, consider contracting your business finances out to an accountant or firm with a good head for numbers.

  2. A dedicated leadership team

    With any startup, there will be challenges and unexpected setbacks. Dedication will be important for your key leadership team to help weather those storms. If your team abandons ship at the first sign of distress because they aren’t adequately prepared for these challenges, your startup may be short-lived. While your leadership team doesn’t need to be deep, you will want to have a few core team members who can help you generate new ideas and act as a soundboard for the future direction of your company.

  3. A solid business plan

    If you’ve heard that a business plan is only needed once you are looking for angel investors, you’re shortchanging yourself and putting the success of your startup at risk. The process of compiling a business plan helps to ensure you have solid systems in place and helps you think through aspects of your startup that you might not have considered otherwise. A solid business plan should include, at a minimum, a competitive analysis, marketing plan, SWOT analysis, and a 3-year financial projection.

  4. A marketing mindset

    Marketing is about communicating value to the people who are willing to listen. Starting your company with a marketing mindset is understanding this definition of marketing and how companies can provide and communicate value to a target audience. While you may have a new or creative idea, it won’t necessarily result in a viable business unless you can market it successfully. Start by understanding your target audience and what they need, then work to explain how your product fills that need using the language your target customers would use. When communicating value to these customers, be sure your marketing message is clear, succinct, and differentiates your offering from that of your competitors.

  5. Time management strategies

    In the early stages of your startup, it can be very easy to spend considerable time working “in” your business instead of “on” your business. Unfortunately, spending time on low return activities can be a death sentence to a fledgling company. As a business owner, you will need to strategically manage your time to ensure that you are investing in activities that will have long-term, growth-oriented results. Depending on your business goals and where you are in the business lifecycle, your time management strategies will focus on different aspects of your business, but remember to stay focused on tasks that can’t easily be delegated to others. To ensure you are managing your time well, initiate a weekly time tracking system. At the end of the week, evaluate how much time you spent on activities that pushed you towards your designated goals.

By ensuring that you have key resources in place for each of these 5 foundational pillars, you will give your start up the best chances of long term success. Evaluate each of these areas in detail and develop a plan to fill in the gaps for any resources that are currently lacking in your business plan.

productivity hacks

Productivity Hacks for the Work Week

Starting the work week with a mountain of paperwork and a mile-long to-do list can leave you feeling overwhelmed before Monday’s lunch break. Feeling unproductive for several weeks in a row can set you up for burnout and missed work opportunities. Fortunately, there are several simple hacks that you can implement this week to turn our productivity around before quitting time.

Utilize distraction blocker apps

If you work in front of a computer for any part of your day, it can be tempting to pop open your social media feed or read through an interesting news article, especially when you’re feeling mentally blocked. Studies show this temptation is prevalent in the workplace – most people use only 60% of their available work time, primarily as a result of distractions such as email or online browsing. These simple distractions eat up more time than you realize and can compound your lack of focus. Avoid the temptation by utilizing distraction blocker apps, such as RescueTime. These apps block designated applications or websites for a specified time period, allowing you to clear your mind (and your desktop) of fruitless distractions.


Even if you don’t typically practice meditation outside of work, indulging in mindfulness at the office for just 5 minutes can help your productivity levels. A study in Psychological Science shows that intensive meditation can enhance brain function leading to greater focus, even during mundane tasks.

Schedule appointments with yourself

While there is probably no shortage of meetings already on your calendar, including some appointments with yourself can improve the effectiveness of your schedule as a productivity tool. Block out designated time to work on larger projects, schedule break times, and build in “quiet” time for deep thinking or personal development. By scheduling out any unused blocks of time in your calendar, you can use your schedule as a visual queue to help you stay on task and seamlessly transition between activities.

Eat the frog

In his book “Eat That Frog!”, Brian Tracy recommends an important productivity hack. If you have to eat a live frog, you should eat it first thing in the morning. In other words, to avoid procrastination, get a jump start on your biggest, most challenging, and least desirable task at the beginning of your day. This will leave you with a sense of accomplishment once the task is finished, and you’ll also feel relieved and unblocked for the remainder of the day knowing that your most difficult task is behind you.

Establish a nightly routine

Many people have a morning routine, but establishing a nightly routine can also have a significant impact on your weekly productivity. This doesn’t involve brushing your teeth and changing into pajamas before bed; your nightly routine should include the tasks you commit to doing before quitting work for the day. These items might include reviewing your calendar for the next day, cleaning off your desk, or getting to inbox zero. Whatever your personal routine, committing to it faithfully will set your next work day up for maximum productivity.

Delegate non-essential tasks

Trying to handle every task personally will kill your productivity. Free yourself up to do important work by delegating non-essential tasks, such as personal household chores or low-value work responsibilities. To identify which tasks you should pass off, try the following:

  • Value your time on a per-hour basis. If, for example, you can earn $30/hour at work, you might value your time at $30/hour.
  • Identify tasks that you would consider delegating. Build a list with a considerable number of tasks that you could pass off to others, either through outsourcing or through rearranging priorities on your current team.
  • Calculate the hourly cost of outsourcing or delegating each task on your list. If, for example, an item was “mowing the lawn”, it may cost you $50 to hire a landscaper and 2 hours to mow the lawn yourself. This translates to an hourly cost of $25/hour to delegate.
  • Pass off any tasks that are cheaper to delegate than your personal value. Honor your worth; if you can make more money than it would cost to delegate a particular task, delegate it and focus on higher-value activities instead.

Complete a social media detox

In addition to being a distraction at work, social media is often a mental distraction throughout the week. Feelings of boredom, sadness, happiness, curiosity, or frustration can all compel people to take to social media and share thoughts or mindlessly scroll through the stories of others. If you find yourself constantly turning to social media, complete a social media detox for one week to break the habit of constantly pulling up your social feeds. Research shows that a one-week social detox can improve sleep patterns, decrease feelings of stress, enhance mental clarity, and increase productivity. Even without those added benefits, heavy social users may save up to 30 hours per month by cutting out social media.

By focusing on simple changes that can improve your productivity, you can reap many benefits beyond increasing your work capacity; you will likely experience more creativity, improved mindset, and a newfound sense of enthusiasm for your work.

Cyber Security Tips for Businesses

With the increase of computer-based operations for many businesses, a strong cyber security strategy is an extremely important part of your operational plan. Although investments in security may not seem like they contribute to your company’s bottom line, failing to consider security risks and taking appropriate action to avoid them can have disastrous and costly consequences for your business. To ensure your business is well protected before an incident occurs, consider the following cyber security tips for businesses.

Install software updates routinely

Software updates may seem like a frequent annoyance, but they serve a very important purpose in keeping your business data safe. Hackers are constantly coming out with new viruses, and software updates often include important patches to close the loopholes that hackers exploit. It is important to keep any software used by your company up to date, including:

  • Antivirus software
  • Operating Systems
  • Firewalls
  • Web Browsers and plugins
  • Business applications and software
  • Cloud-based communications software

Installing these important updates will minimize the opportunities for hackers to access your system externally.

Utilize Two-Factor Authentication

Two-Factor Authentication, or 2FA, refers to a security measure where employees must provide two different means of verifying their identity before they can access critical business systems, such as email accounts or company databases. Typically, a user will log in with their username and password as the first authentication factor. Then, they will utilize a second security measure – a fingerprint scan, security token, or a push notification sent to the user’s verified cell phone – to complete the verification process. This added layer of security helps to minimize unauthorized access to important company systems and can easily be changed as employees join or leave the company.

Set company-wide security standards and adhere to them

In larger companies with fragmented departments, getting everyone on the same page about proper security standards can be challenging. The first step is to start with a documented set of security standards that can be easily referenced by employees, then implement a communication plan to ensure all employees are following these standards regularly. The completed cyber security standards plan should include the following:

  1. Quarterly training for all employees on proper cyber security measures

    In companies with dedicated network security personnel, the security team sets and manages proper security standards for the company’s network, but those standard operating procedures are not always thoroughly communicated throughout the rest of the organization. To maintain a high level of security, it is important that all employees are properly trained on a regular basis regarding cyber security standards.

  2. A list of potentially harmful websites that are blocked on company computers

    Blocking all potentially harmful websites on company servers can severely hinder business operations and decrease employee morale. For example, the company’s marketing department will likely need to access common social sites like Facebook or Instagram in order to fulfill the company’s marketing objectives. However, some websites have very little use in the normal course of operations for the company and could present a considerable security risk if left unchecked.  Have your company security team evaluate the most dangerous websites and create permissions settings on the company network that block those sites from being accessed on the company network.

  3. Password standards for all employee accounts and devices

    There are a variety of ways that hackers can access company accounts and systems, but one of the most preventable ways is through unsecure passwords. All employee accounts and devices that are accessed on the company network should have highly secure passwords that are changed frequently (typically about every 90 days). During the employee training process, it is important to communicate how employees should handle passwords internally. Your company should institute password policies, such as:

    • Never write down a password.
    • Use different passwords for different company accounts and devices.
    • Passwords should be a specified length and include at least 3 different types of characters.

All company passwords should also be managed by a secure password management program that allows security personnel to force password changes if systems or accounts are compromised.

Leverage the cloud

If your company doesn’t have a designated security team, managing all the aspects of a proper cyber security management program can be overwhelming. Fortunately, leveraging cloud-based programs can help minimize the workload on your team. Reputable cloud-based service providers will install system updates regularly on your behalf, and they also utilize highly secure platforms to protect their customers’ data. Many cloud-based services also have built in integrations with other frequently used business systems, which allows a company to transfer data efficiently without having to use a local data warehouse that requires additional security measures.

Utilizing these tips can help your business avoid security compromises that can be time-consuming and costly. The key to an effective cyber security strategy is in understanding how threats can occur and working proactively to avoid them before they happen.