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.
Last post, I mentioned in passing that creating an "Agendas" notebook on Evernote on or a folder on your desktop can be very valuable when clearing a lot of email out.
Today, I'd like to simply break that out and say -- If you dont have a running Agenda list, start one today and try it for a week.
It's rare to find a productivity technique that is easy to maintain, with almost no cost, no downside, and that produces huge gains. And the running list of Agendas is one of those.
It's easy to start. If you forget to do it for a while, it's easy to restart with no real cost, cleanup time, or setup time required. Ty it out for a week and report back; I think you'll be utterly amazed at how much more you done in your conversations and meetings.
Maybe by definition, but not in spirit.
I've been thinking a lot about BTYB / LN over the past couple weeks, which lead to the survey from yesterday (please take a minute to fill it out if you haven't already). Tonight I had a conversation about all this with Carl Zetterlund, a long time reader who is doing a segment of LN with me right now.
So, I think it's time to make some changes. Here are the problems, as I see them: