6 steps for mastering meeting organization

6 steps for mastering meeting organization

This blog post was sponsored by Adobe Document Cloud.

Meetings can be the bane of our existence! A great many of them are poorly run and useless… but even the useful ones have problems.

Note taking! I take copious notes in meetings. After all, in good meetings, there’s a lot of good stuff that needs to be captured: decisions, their rationale, vendor information, and action items.

Electronics don’t do it. They’re distracting and take you away from the people dynamics—which are often the part that ultimately make or break you. You want your attention on people during a meeting; you need to spot those telltale flinches that signal potential blackmail material. It’s hard to watch the people when you’re trying to discreetly play Civilization 5 at the same time.

Paper lets you keep your attention mainly on people. And I like paper, but it can get disorganized and is hard to find stuff. My solution? A hybrid system that uses both: electronics for reference, paper notes for recording.

Create folders for each project

Give each project its own folder on a cloud service, like Adobe Document Cloud. All documents and resources related to that project goes in that folder. Make that a habit, and you just don’t have to think about it. Everything related to Project X goes in folder X.

When you need to find the secret plans related to Project X, you instantly know your go-to folder: folder X. It’s simple, and very effective if you use it rigorously.

Put background material into the folder

When there are background documents needed for a project or decision, they go in the project folder. While I may take large hardcopy documents to the meeting itself, for anything that’s only a few pages, I quickly scan it using my smartphone with a scanning app like Adobe Scan, then the PDF file goes into the project folder as background material.

Since Adobe Scan has optical character recognition of the scanned documents, it makes the PDF text searchable. When you need to find reference information quickly, rather than flipping through a stack of papers, you can simply do a quick search within the PDF.

I generally put background materials in a subfolder called REFERENCE so they don’t clutter up the main project folder.

Take notes on paper

Remember how you’re going to take notes on paper, so you can be on the lookout for the subtle interpersonal dynamics that reveal the true nature of the power hierarchy? Do it. Take the notes on paper.

When the group makes a decision, note it, and write a big exclamation point next to it. When there are action items, write them in the lower right part of the paper, with a little checkbox next to each one. Now, with a glance, you’ll be able to review your notes and find both the decisions and the action items. Consider using blank, unlined paper if you can write neatly.

Summarize and Scan, Scan, Scan

At the end of the meeting, if you have several pages of notes, you may want to copy all the decisions and action items onto a single page at the end, for quick reference.

Then … scan your notes and save as a PDF using your scanning app. You’ll end up with a single PDF that has an easy-to-use summary page, with all the details saved for the future. You can also use Adobe Acrobat to combine your PDF’s, update notes, and easily share with others on your team.

Name your files for easy retrieval.

Upload the PDF to the project folder, with a filename that starts with the word MEETING and the date in yymmdd format. For example, MEETING 180316 Marketing department.

When you sort the project folder by filename, all meeting notes will be together since they all start with MEETING. They will then be grouped in order by date.

Using a combination of electronic and paper workflow lets you keep your attention where it needs to be at any given time. You use paper when your attention needs to be on the people, and use scanning, project folders, and more to make it neat, easy, and fast to access information when you need it.

How to streamline your paper flow while traveling

How to streamline your paper flow while traveling

This blog post was sponsored by Adobe Document Cloud.

I know in my gut that business travel is what drives the paper industry’s profitability. Every step you take ends up producing a receipt, business card, or some important note scribbled on a napkin, in the hope it will become the Next Big Thing. Then you’re supposed to sort out this massive pile of former trees and report it. Yeah, right. Sorting expense report receipts is really high on everyone’s list of “most favorite task, ever.”

Though I often consider smartphones to be drains on productivity, taming the travel paper flow is one place they really shine. I love using “scanning apps”, like Adobe Scan to keep my travel paperwork completely sorted out from the start.

Adobe Scan takes a picture of a document, lets you crop it, and turns it into a fully searchable and editable PDF. You can organize several scans into one PDF document, and organize the PDFs into folders.

Use Scanning to Manage Your Receipts

Save your receipts throughout the day. When you get a receipt, jot down on the receipt what it was for, who you were with, and so on (which you need to do anyway). When you return to your room at the end of the day, you’ll get out all your saved receipts and super quickly deal with them once and for all.

Make a summary page. Total up the receipts into categories—how much you spent on food, how much on transportation, etc. Grab a blank piece of paper, write the date, and the summary of the categories.

Then open your scanning app, and snap a quick scan of the cover sheet with the totals, followed by the receipts. Your app will detect the pages, correct for perspective, and save it all in a PDF document. Include today’s date in the filename.

Voila! You now have a single PDF with today’s receipts already scanned and totaled, with the details noted on each receipt. If you have to fill out a separate expense report later, you’ve already done the totaling by category, and each PDF separates out a separate day. You don’t need to wait until the end of the day to scan your receipts. You can add each new receipt to your existing PDF, and then create your cover page at the end of the day and add it to the start of your file.

Adobe Scan’s optical character recognition makes your PDF searchable by any text mentioned on the receipts. This is a huge plus that you’ll appreciate later. When you need to go directly to an expense, just search for the name of the company on the receipt, and it will pop right up.

Organize by expense category. Depending on your reporting requirements, rather than organizing your scans by date, you might put all the receipts of one type into the same PDF. For example, you might want all your transportation receipts in one document, and all your meal receipts in another.

In this case, the easiest course of action is to sort your receipts as you get them, and save them up to scan them all at once. At the end of your trip, create a cover sheet with each category and its totals, and scan the cover sheet and all the receipts in that category.

Capture maps

Since you’re often in unfamiliar territory—a conference center, hotel, or corporate campus—you need to know how to get around. When you spot a map of the facility, scan it. Often the facility maps are on a wall, or printed in a book that’s inconvenient to carry around. But the filtering included in a scanning app can often give you a good-quality map even if you snap it off the hotel wall or out of a conference book.

Use Scanning for Conference Notes and Directions

You’re often traveling for meetings or learning. Doing a good job means having real engagement, with your attention focused on what’s going on around you, not on wrestling with your technology. If you take notes you’ll learn the material farbetter taking notes by hand on paper. You can keep more of your attention on whoever’s speaking, and you engage more of your brain in learning and participating. So do that! Take your notes on paper. At the top of each sheet, write a few keywords so you can glance at the top of the sheet and know what’s on it.

At the end of a session, scan your notes into a single PDF for the session. You can then pull the scanned sheets into Acrobat to annotate it as needed, adding circles, arrows, highlights, and anything else that will help pull your attention to the most important areas.

If you aren’t using a scanning app to organize your paper flow as you travel, grab one now. Tame your receipts and your business cards, so you can spend more time on substance, and less on administrivia.

The Fourth Circle of Focus: Scaleability

In my article on focusing your life around what you’re good at, what’s needed, what you love, and what’s scaleable, the “what’s scaleable” is a piece that’s new to me, and may be new to you. It’s worth talking about, though.

Four intersecting circles

The Myth of Hard Work says that if you work hard, you’ll get ahead. And if you work harder, you’ll get aheader. If you work super-hard, you’ll be Bill Gates. (And if you work hardest of them all, you’ll be Batman.) Sadly, that’s wrong.

The Industrial Revolution enabled fortunes to be made because it allowed scale. A lone blacksmith could only make a single horseshoe an hour. In a horseshoe factory, however, a lone machine operator can make dozens of horseshoes an hour. What makes the riches possible is that machines and technology allow us to scale.

Scaleability matters to whatever you do

When I’m working with a coaching client around any project that involves a lot of people (generally it’s a business), we often spend some time honing in on scaleability. The business buzzword “leverage” comes into play here. We look for ways they can scale their results without scaling the work and cost to the same degree.

Some businesses don’t scale well at all. To add one more diner’s worth of revenue, a restaurant needs more kitchen capacity, more food, more server capacity, and time to cook that diner’s meal. Some of those elements can be squeezed out. By offering a limited meal, cooking in advance, and dispensing with servers, fast food restaurants can serve more customers with fewer resources. But even so, scaling still requires a lot of effort and systems.

The internet allows unprecedented scale

The internet’s joys and woes come from the fact that it makes new kinds of scale possible. Craigslist, a single website, can handle all the classified ads. All of them.

How does your business scale? In non-information company, growing a business requires resources up front. If Ben and Jerry’s wants to add a new product like Oreo Ice Cream cake, they have to buy honkin’ truckloads of Oreos, then find customers for all that delicious Oreo goodness.

But in information businesses, growth happens by reaching more people.

How the internet enables scale

Before the internet, some people who sold information sold it in physical form, books and reports. Scaling required more physical resources. Other people sold it electronically, but charged for the access points. Bloomberg made his billions by renting out Bloomberg terminals, over which he was able to cheaply send his real product, the information.

The internet provides a common access point that anyone can use: the web. And everyone already has the physical stuff they need to read the information, monitors and computers. So internet businesses don’t require hard, upfront investment to scale.

That’s why, when revising our company strategy, we shifted from a coaching-driven model to an online course driven model. It fulfills that fourth circle. It scales better.

A 20-minute video about online businesses and scale

I’m helping my mentor Danny Iny achieve scale by introducing him and his products to my list. I happen to believe very strongly in him and what he has to say, so we’ve become affiliates. We introduce each others’ products and services to our audiences, allowing us to reach more people without the kind of investment that would be needed for a traditional business to scale. (WalMart, for instance, grows by having to buy or rent a new store location. Then they have to sweep it. And then hang curtains. And get the utilities connected… Who wants to work that much?)

Danny has a video that lays out the fundamentals of why online businesses are a good thing from a business perspective. Danny grew a seven figure business in just a couple of years, and I’ve found his grasp of business to be superb.

Danny’s video explains the fundamentals of online business. You can check it out here: