CG #58 – Cut Your Meeting Time in Half

There’s a reason professional writers write faster than the rest of us.  What they know will cut your meeting time in half.

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Reading Time: 2.6 minutes

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“…my argument is that you should write quickly but edit slowly; and you can buff your words and pick better words when you’re in the editing phase and (can) take your time.”

“Yes, you’re right and you say it in the right order. I’ve habitually done it backwards. I’m editing a blank page into even blanker before I get going.  [laughter]. I’m deleting from nothing.

–A conversation between authors Daphne Gray-Grant and  Arthur Plotnik.

I’ve been studying how to write faster with author Daphne Gray-Grant. Her 4-step process cuts writing time in half:

1. Make a mind-map that shows you what you’ll be writing.

2.  Draft fast without editing, evaluating or thinking.

3. Take a break.

4. Edit slowly and thoughtfully.

If only this were easy to do.  I’d like to tell you it gets easier with practice, but that isn’t true. It is very, very difficult to make a mind map when I am on deadline.   I want to dive in and just get it done.  Giving in to this urge will slow me down.

Even when I get this first step right, it is very, very difficult to write a terrible first draft without improving it as I go.  When I see a clumsy construction, a word that isn’t right, a typo, it’s like the world will come to an end if I don’t clean it up right away. RIGHT NOW.

It’s as difficult to write a terrible first draft as it is to get through 3 minutes of brainstorming or round robin without heading immediately into an open discussion.

Open discussion is the meeting equivalent of editing a blank page.  The biggest problem with open discussion is it happens too early.  Discussing before all the information is out on the table is editing a blank page.  It’s deleting from nothing.

How NOT to do it

 Here’s how open discussion erupts.  The leader asks a question.  Someone gives their answer.  Maybe another person gives their answer, maybe two more do.  But the 4th person to speak is no longer responding to the original question.  They’re responding to what the first three people said.  They’re agreeing or taking exception or evaluating what’s already been said.

They are editing, not drafting.  And they are editing a blank page.  The minute someone writes a sentence, someone else jumps in to improve it.   That’s what slows your meetings down to a crawl.

The whole point of a meeting is to get to the editing stage:  You want to look at a problem together and edit, evaluate and choose as a group.

You can’t do that with a blank page.  You need a draft before you can edit it.

How to meet like a writer

1. Create the draft first without editing.  Round robin is best for this, or post-it brainstorming. (5-7 minutes)

2.  Clarify what’s up there.  If you don’t understand every word, you don’t yet have a draft.  Do not edit, evaluate, weigh in or advocate.  Just clarify. You are still drafting. (3 minutes)

3. Theme, categorize or combine to make the information easier to edit. You are preparing your draft for editing. (5 minutes)

Editing

4. Cross-off the items everyone agrees can be eliminated. Don’t push to remove anything.  Give people time to think.  You are editing. (1-2 minutes)

5. Prioritize the list that remains.   Struggle is normal here.  You are editing. (5-10 minutes)

6. Agree on action plan for the first 1-3 on the list. This can be a bit peppier, as you are now through editing. (3 minutes)

You can go from a blank page to coordinated, enthusiastic action in 35 minutes if you’ll separate drafting and editing.  Or, you can have the same meeting over and over, run out of time and make little progress on your goals.   It really is that simple.  But it’s not easy.

It’s a discipline

I like author Steve Chandler’s definition best:  “Discipline is remembering what you want.”

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