When I was first building out my new company with my business partner, we'd just hop on Skype and cover whatever. Now, before I call, I think about what the most important things are and make a list. If it's a very short chat, I send him the agenda in advance so he can fill in anything he needs to cover too.
Man, the difference between how much ground you can cover with an agenda, and how much you do talking about random topics is lightyears apart. So, so much more ground can be covered with an agenda.
You're not bound or shackled to it. Sometimes other things come up, and you roll with it. But having a general roadmap in front of you means if you start the call by swapping stories and realize 30 minutes have passed and you only have 30 minute, you burn fast to cover everything on the list.
When you get off an a tangent, it's very easy to come back around and say, "Okay, cool, so about the brochures..."
I've started doing it for my casual, social calls too. It might sound like it'd be stifling, but it's just the opposite. It's liberating. You know everything you could really enjoy and get a lot out of covering, and you also know when the call is over. Once you've covered everything on the agenda, you say, "Okay, cool, anything else interesting going on on your end?" If yes, you chat through that. If no, then it's goodbye.
I heard on an audiobook recently that some silly high percent of top salesmen have agendas and roughly set presentations before going into meetings. Something like 90%+ of the top 10% of salesmen use agendas. I understand why - if left to chance, you'll probably fumble through nonsense and waste everyone's time.
So, I heartily recommend you set agendas. I'm starting to do this with every business call, every presentation or business meeting, and more than half the social calls I make. Even calling my family back in the States I've started sketching out a rough list of topics before calling, and it's cool to cover like 10 important things in an hour instead of just talking about boring stuff like what food we've eaten recently.
Don't worry about making it perfect. You can just write down 3-5 things on a napkin or sheet of scratch paper before calling. At first it's kind of tricky to sort out your thoughts and decide what's actually important, but don't stress out about it. Just start. Sketch out some things you think would be good to cover the next time you're going to have a call or meeting. It's amazing. I wish I'd known this years ago. Try it before your next call - you're going to be blown away by how much you ground you cover.
I've found this tactic to be really useful when preparing for a job interview or meetings with superiors, and even before important conversations with coworkers/associates/subordinates on any level of the chain of command. (Military school made this a regular occurance). Especially in any kind of interview or situation where you might be asked what your goals are, or may need to bring them up yourself, making an agendea can help you work them into conversation smoothly. Paired with good research you can really walk into a meeting with confidence, or come out looking good after less formal gatherings. In fact you may be more likely to get what you wanted accomplished since you're not at the mercy of someone elses train of thought.
A lot of email got you feeling down? I know the feeling. After spending a bunch of time playing around analyzing the root causes of why an inbox gets backed up, and using a few different techniques and tools, I've got a pretty rock-solid way to get your inbox to zero fast. It'll absolutely work for you if you do it.
*Laptop*Comfortable spot without internet access*Offline email: Mac Mail, Thunderbird, Outlook, the Offline Gmail Chrome Plugin, or something similar*Scrap paper and a pen*An elegant note-taking program. I recommend Evernote.*A calendar
If you're an "online email only" kind of guy or gal, I'd recommend you set up IMAP so you've got all your email on your computer. Empirically speaking, internet access is distracting and leads down rabbit holes. The success rate of successfully clearing out the inbox goes down if you're online, and the time it takes to do so at least doubles. If you're a Gmail user, you're in luck -- Offline Gmail for Chrome is quite robust and you won't need to set anything up. I still like using Outlook or OSX's native Mail App better than Offline Gmail, but it's fast to set up.
Understanding the Email Problem
I've always liked the idea of a bucket list. However, it seems that for so many people a bucket list is simply a collection of things they think would be cool; a fantasy list. I want to avoid the idea that my goals are something that I would like to do but may never get around to accomplishing. I intend to complete everything on this list, whether that's within the next year or before I die.
I asked my Facebook friends for their suggestions on what to call my non-bucket list. I liked all the ideas, but Dan wins the prize for most comical with "pail plan" and Kel wins for most meaningful with "experiences yet to be had."
I've settled on calling my non-bucket list the Past:Present:Future list to emphasize that each of my goals is something that I've already accomplished, something that I am currently actively pursuing or something that I will actively pursue in the future. Nothing on the list is simply a dream.
Accepting that my goals will change, the list found on this page will remain untouched and serve as an interesting comparison to any future version of the list. The constantly evolving list can be found here and is organized by past, present and future: Past:Present:Future