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I used to detest going to meetings. I considered them a massive waste of time, so I avoided them as much as possible. When I became self-employed, I kept this mindset of avoiding meetings.

Over time, I saw a pattern emerge. I had become overwhelmed and lacked clarity in where I wanted to go with my work.

To resolve this problem, I started to have meetings with myself. Once a week, I would have a simple 30-minute meeting going over different aspects of my business. And it was through this process I learned how to have successful meetings with other people too.

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I became more aware of what needed to be done between each meeting. I started to plan better. I got better at distributing my time between being the guy managing the business and the guy working the business.

I learned that these four things are essential to running an effective meeting:

1. People. The key to an effective, efficient meeting is to have the right people at the meeting. To determine who these people are, you have to ask a few questions. Who is needed to contribute at the meeting? Who can help make decisions? Each person that attends a meeting needs to be there for a clear reason. In general, I like to keep meetings as small as possible. This helps with time management as well as keeping the discussion moving forward.

2. Agendas. A great way to look at the agenda is to view it as the roadmap for where the meeting will go. When the agenda is done properly, it is clear what topics will be discussed and helpful background information will be included as well. In many cases, the time spent crafting an effective agenda can actually take more time than the meeting itself, and the agenda is the first step in having a great meeting.

3. Minutes. Many people view the minutes as a transcript of the meeting or a summary of what happened, but the minutes should reflect the successes you had at that meeting. The minutes need to tell a story and state the problem, solution and next steps that should be taken. One of the best (and easiest) ways to do this is to transform the agenda into the minutes. Clearly state what will happen next, with a specific date and specific person attached to each task. Also, keep the minutes easy to read by using some white space and bullet points to make this document more useful.

4. Progression. Once you have gone through the process of creating a solid agenda, it drives decisions, facilitates easy capture, and focuses on relevant topics. Hopefully you've facilitated a well-run meeting and things have stayed on track. All of this leads to the natural progression toward the next meeting. And best of all, you can take the minutes from the last meeting to craft the agenda for the next meeting. No longer do you have to start from scratch. Just refer to the work that has already been done and then take it to the next logical step.

This is a far cry from how I approached meetings just a few years ago. I've definitely become more productive using these guidelines and I now view meetings as a helpful way to make decisions and to move forward.

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Mike Vardy is a productivity strategist and the founder of Productivityist, a company that offers services and products to help people be more efficient.

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