A Simple Strategy To Jazz Up Your Team Meeting

How often have you been exhausted by back-to-back meetings with little to show for it at the end of the day? There is lots of data to support that meetings waste valuable time and money.

Optimal meetings facilitate the synergy of participation, further the objectives of the team, and leave participants with actionable next steps. So how can we have more effective meetings? The key is to have clearly defined roles.


Share the agenda with the participants at least one business day in advance of the meeting. Every agenda should include:

1) Specific purpose and objectives

2) Time allotment for each meeting topic

3) Identify meeting roles

Invite only the individuals that absolutely need to attend. There may be others that don’t need to attend but can be kept in the loop by receiving the meeting minutes.

Primary meeting roles:

1) Facilitator: creates and shares the agenda and moderates the meeting. Traditionally, this role has determined the success of the meeting. But this doesn’t have to be the case if everyone else understands how to contribute.

2) Recorder: takes notes.

3) Timekeeper: ensures the meeting is progressing as planned.

4) Contributor: can be everyone else but ideally, each of these individuals is clear about their responsibility. Contributions can be made by sharing research, updates, perspectives or brainstorming ideas as determined in advance by the meeting agenda.

Additional meeting roles may include:

5) Decision-Maker: responsible for confirming and stating the decision or clarifying the next action and the Directly Responsible Individual so it can be documented before the meeting ends. This may also be covered by the recorder in smaller meetings.

6) Agitator/Inciter: asks the questions that others may be afraid to ask. Giving a title to this role creates some psychological safety and encourages the participant to step up and fulfill the responsibility stating “since I’m the agitator, I think we should consider XYZ.”

7) Observer: may be less active during the meeting but their superpower is to step back and provide some perspective on process improvement. Was the meeting too long, did one person dominate the discussion or were all voices heard?

During the meeting

We’ve seen that stats, and have experienced firsthand, attention spans are short. When we don’t have a clear sense of our role, it’s easy to go into a passive mode and mentally check-out. It seems like the other attendees have it covered, and you may ask yourself, “Why am I even here?”

It’s not unusual to find ourselves multitasking during a meeting. We can minimize distractions as easily as we can minimize our windows, but having clear roles and responsibilities helps us to avoid the temptation of checking our email, texts, or social media. Every attendee should view themselves as a key participant and with valuable contributions to make.

The best teams take turns filling each meeting role. This means that each individual contributes to and is accountable for the success of the meeting. In addition, rotating roles allows participants to practice developing new skills and share diverse perspectives.  It’s a low-risk way to practice new skills.  Let’s use a weekly team meeting as an example.  Many of us could use a little more jazz in our weekly meetings.  What happens if we switch up who has the roles in our weekly team meeting?

Think about it- if you aren’t normally the person taking meeting notes, you might kick back and relax.  But if today you are responsible for the notes, you will be paying very close attention to the conversation. This is a great way to change it up for your brain.

If you are not normally the time-keeper, you might let conversations extend too long and have the meeting run over its allotted time. If your role is to make sure the topics are covered while ending on time, you’ll start watching for this.

If you are a more junior team member, you might not often get a chance to moderate or facilitate meetings.  If the roles on say your weekly team meeting rotate, this is an easy way for you to start practicing that skill. You can learn and see where and how conversations might go off track and practice navigating to get them on track.

Clearly defining roles is one of the most effective ways to execute meetings. These meetings also conserve valuable time, energy, and resources. Optimal meetings facilitate putting ideas into action and leave participants and teams confident there was time well-spent.

This article was originally published on BellaScena’s Blog.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

The Evolution of Productivity

The workshop “Productivity with Heart: Aligning Your Values with Your Schedule” has been one of my foundations for teaching time-management. This is the perfect starting point for entrepreneurs and busy professionals who want to create more time. I’m looking forward to sharing this event as part of Twin Cities Startup Week (TCSW).

As the world changes and priorities are shifting, some people have more time than ever. What’s lacking is presence. It can seem almost impossible to focus on work while you are trying to help your kids through virtual school. Or maybe you are working more because your home office makes it hard to create boundaries between work and home life.

After 20 years of meditation practice, I’ve seen the benefits of improved clarity to focus my time and presence to connect with myself and my loved ones. Now I’m sharing what I’ve learned and helping others bring more mindfulness to their personal and professional lives.

I’m excited about these upcoming collaborations with Luis Moreno and Sylwia Borowy:

Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness for Personal and Professional Relationships

And the first TCSW event in Spanish:

Cómo aprovechar la Inteligencia Emocional y la Atención Plena para Tener Relaciones Profesionales y Personales Más Efectivas

Another event that will be a fun way to bounce back this year with some positivity, is the Collaboration Coaching Group’s 2020 Reset!

I know you will love the insights and perspectives that Susan Kavanaugh shares when we discuss mindfulness and conscious communication on 9/22.

I can’t wait to connect with each of you at these upcoming events. And, stay tuned for details on my mindfulness for productivity course launching this fall!

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash


The 52:17 Rule for Productivity

Have you noticed that the more time you have, the more likely you are to waste it?  Since I started creating time blocks for meetings or focused projects, time feels more finite and I am more productive. If I only have two hours before my next meeting, I want to make the most of that time.

In 2019, I started tracking my time. Using the Toggl app on my phone or Chrome extension on my computer, I tracked everything in categories from work, to sleep, exercise, family time and commuting. I shared on my blog the experience of discovering where my time went. One unexpected advantage was that the simple act of tracking improved productivity. Especially when working on my own business. When I hit the timer button it was like I was clocking in and I wanted to make the most of this time, even if I wasn’t billing for those hours.

In 2020, I implemented a modified Pomodoro Technique. I had resisted this method because working only 25 minutes before a break did not feel like enough time to get into deep work. However, revising the method to 50 minutes of work and 10 minutes of break added a huge boost to my productivity. I downloaded the Focus To-Do app which not only improved focus, but also improved clarity by forcing me to identify my task for the next interval. According to Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable, we can’t claim to be distracted unless we are clear about what we are being distracted from. Preparing a presentation, for example, could include tasks like outline, research and slide creation. This technique got me back on track after a slump at the beginning of sheltering in place during COVID-19.

My modified Pomodoro technique was validated by research from the  Draugiem Group. Their DeskTime product tracks the logs of users’ computer programs throughout the workday. They studied the workflow of the most productive employees by analyzing data points from thousands of logs. These individuals didn’t get more done by working longer, but rather by working smarter with more frequent breaks. On average, this meant 52 minutes of productive work followed by 17 minutes of break. The key to making this work is 100% dedication to the task at hand, without allowing any distractions such as email or social media, followed by a 100% break.

Ideally, a break should be stepping away from your computer. The best options are a walk outside or brief period of exercise along with socializing with colleagues or grabbing a healthy snack. You can also meditate, listen to a podcast or read a book. Checking your social media or watching cat videos can be considered a mental break but these options don’t have the added benefit of reducing eye strain and may not get you out of your seat.

But wouldn’t we get more done if we worked 8 hours straight? In reality, working for longer periods decreases engagement with the task and increases cognitive boredom. Whereas breaks refresh our focus and attention. Or as DeskTime puts it “Concentration is like a muscle – it needs to rest to be able to function, and it shouldn’t be overworked. Otherwise, it’ll simply burn out and take longer to get back into the swing of things.”

In recent years, health researchers have dubbed sitting as the new smoking by increasing our risk of heart disease and diabetes. Trading two minutes of sitting for two minutes of light-intensity activity each hour lowered the risk of premature death by 33 percent, according to a study from the University Of Utah School Of Medicine. Moving throughout the day can reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Walking or gentle exercise also stimulates endorphins, which are the body’s natural mood elevators.

I encourage you to experiment and see if the 52:17 method works for you. Or, if you’re like me, you may want to round those figures down to 50:10 to create hour-long time blocks. The bottom line is, in order to get more done, get completely engaged and focus on the task at hand. When it’s time to take a break, give that 100% of your presence as well. To learn more, attend the Impact Hub’s virtual event on 7/27/20: Productivity with Presence: Discover the Mindful Advantage for Work & Life.


Photo by Bonneval Sebastien on Unsplash

Productivity with Heart

February is heart health month. There are tons of articles that emphasize diet and exercise for a heart healthy lifestyle. These are definitely important, but I propose Productivity with Heart to not just be “heart healthy” but also “heart happy.”

What does this mean?

This means being productive not just for the sake of “getting stuff done” but with the greater intention of having the time and energy to create a satisfying life.

Why is this important?

Research shows, and you’ve probably noticed for yourself, our best or happiest days are those when we connect with others or do something to take care of ourselves.

The way we spend our days and weeks becomes the way we spend our years. If time is not spent where it really matters, this leads to life dissatisfaction. At the end of life, according to hospice nurse Bronnie Ware, some of the top regrets of the dying include:

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

I wish that I had let myself be happier.

How does it work?

Productivity with Heart is the process of:

  • Clarifying your values
  • Identifying actionable values
  • Prioritizing these values on your schedule

For example, you identify “Family” as an important value. The value in action is “time with family.” To make this happen more often, you have to block off the time on your schedule. This could be having meals together, game nights, date nights or activities out. This may require shifting schedules to leave work earlier (or arrive later) some days.

The same can be done for the value of health and creating time for activities like exercise and cooking. And, of course, the more you can be productive with work and other responsibilities, the more time you have to make your values a priority.

Pro Tips:

  • Schedule recurring calendar blocks for each week.
  • Treat these appointments as you would a business meeting or visit with you doctor. This is a commitment and you do everything you can to follow through at the scheduled time. If you absolutely cannot make it happen one day, you do not delete it from your calendar, you connect to reschedule.

What are the benefits?

The more consistently you are spending intentional time related to your values in action, the more you are living life in alignment with what matters most. This helps you to have a happier, healthier and more satisfying life.

Tamara’s passion is helping busy professionals align their values with their schedules to have the time and energy for what matters most. To this end, she founded Optima Results Coaching and launched the Productivity with Heart series. Like many of her clients, Tamara fills multiple roles as parent, partner, employee and entrepreneur.

Her background in psychology and integrative medicine, along with 10,000+ coaching interactions, has honed her unique skill set to help her clients achieve results. Her personal values include: Family, Presence, Connection, Service and Growth. Connect with Tamara to strategize your next steps for Productivity with Heart for yourself or your team!


The most important way to achieve work-life balance

I recently read a Forbes article on work-life balance that validates exactly how I help my clients. Kevin Kruse writes, “Tips From 24 Entrepreneurs Boiled Down To 1…Reflect on your top core values and then create recurring time blocks on your calendar.” The way we spend our hours and days becomes the way we spend our months and years. Nobody wants that time to pass without being present for what really matters in life.

Sounds simple, right? However, it’s not always that straight-forward. The first step that I recommend is to track how you are currently spending time. One benefit of this is to create a visual of the potential disconnect of your values and how you are actually spending your time. In business as in science, you must have a baseline measurement that is quantifiable in order to create a process for improvement. The next step is to create small incremental steps to make shifting your schedule more achievable.

For example, if your office values late afternoon meetings or evening face-time, it may be difficult to be home for dinner every night. An alternative could be to carve out more intentional time with family in the mornings. This may mean spending time together over breakfast or driving the kids to school some days instead of rushing out the door to be at work at 8:00 am. If you want to exercise without sacrificing sleep, block out your calendar for a longer lunch break and fit in a brisk walk.

If your job puts an emphasis on metrics of productivity, schedule time on your work calendar to focus on a project undisturbed. When the task is done, allow yourself to leave a little early. Plenty of research shows that more time at work does not equate to increased productivity.

If you want to convince your employer that you can be just as productive working remotely, experiment with completing a project while working from home to demonstrate the benefit of a flexible work environment. Working from home means less time getting ready and commuting and ultimately more time for your personal priorities.

Want to get started applying these changes in your own life and have some accountability along the way? My passion is helping busy professionals like you. Together, we create strategies to align your values with your schedule so you have the time and energy for what matters most.


What I learned from tracking my time

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

According to Laura Vanderkam, time management and productivity author, if you want to be more productive or intentional with your time, you need to know how you are currently spending it. I decided to put this to the test.

In July of 2018, I tracked my time for two weeks. I used a paper log to track 15-minute increments. Since my daughter was visiting her dad and I had a break from parental responsibilities, I knew I would have plenty of time to dedicate to my business.

Indeed my tracking showed a lot of time was spent on my business. However, without a set stopping point to help get my daughter to bed, I found myself doing work some nights right until the moment before I brushed my teeth at night.

In August 2019, I experimented with tracking again. Instead of using a paper tracker, I downloaded the Toggl app. This made it easy to track my time from my phone or laptop. Toggl also shows your time use in a colorful pie chart and sends a weekly report.

Since I am employed by a corporation almost full-time, my goal was to dedicate only 6-10 hours per week to my coaching business. I was surprised to discover that I was actually spending 18 hours per week. However, these were the final two weeks before announcing the September launch of my new coaching program.

At the same time, I was pleasantly surprised to see I was spending even more time with my family. Time with my daughter or my partner individually or together as a family totaled 24 hours per week. Much of the time spent with my daughter was helping her get ready, transporting her to activities or running errands together. However, since we were listening to an audiobook together in the car and discussing the story, the time often felt richer and more enjoyable.

Over the year between tracking periods, I have made several changes to ensure that the way I spend my time aligns with my personal values and goals. For years I have been scheduling just about everything I do on my Google calendar. I already had a recurring Friday Night Date with my partner. But we all agreed that we wanted to have more intentional time as a family. So, we scheduled evenings for playing cards or watching a movie together a few times per week at home. This was in addition to longer activities on the weekends such as bike rides, trips to the lake, outdoor music and festivals. With the exception of occasional networking events, I have also committed to protecting family time by not scheduling work tasks evenings and weekends.

Thanks to Gretchen Rubin’s idea of the 19 for 2019, I created a clearer vision of what I wanted to do on a regular basis to bring greater enjoyment to my life. These included activities like eating at a new restaurant each month and visiting a novel museum or theater venue each quarter. I set a goal to meet with friends monthly and found that I was actually meeting with friends much more often than I realized.

In the last few weeks, I’ve found that reading to my daughter as she gets ready for bed is a ritual she looks forward to. My daughter is 12 years old, and it had been several years since I stopped reading to her nightly. She chose a young adult novel. I was curious about the book and thought it would be fun to read together. After a few nights, she was asking me to read to her without prompting and it felt like a good way to slow down and connect before bed.

Another major shift was deciding to carve out a longer period of time to unwind at night. There is so much research that demonstrates the negative impact on sleep caused by the blue light from our computers and phones. Light from these devices suppresses melatonin for longer periods of time than natural light so we don’t feel as sleepy as we should. My bedtime has been consistently around 10:30 pm for several years. However, I’m now aiming to get to bed earlier to dedicate 15 minutes to reading a paperback book. As much as I love self-improvement books, I decided that my bedtime reading had to be purely for pleasure. Reading this book only in bed has created some anticipation for my bedtime. Since the evening wind-down has lately begun with reading to my daughter, I have created an even longer buffer of time between ending my work tasks, disconnecting from devices and going to sleep.

Laura Vanderkamp emphasizes that we are allotted 168 hours each week and it’s up to us to choose how we spend them. Even after 56 hours of sleep and 50 hours of work, there are still 62 hours where we can be intentional with our time. It’ not surprising that when I track my time I am more productive. Tracking helps me stay focused on a single task and make better choices, just like when I track my foods I eat better. Just as importantly, I discovered that by making some small changes I am dedicating my hours, days and weeks to the people and activities that matter most.