Preparing For Work Meetings

Uncategorized May 22, 2020

I have too many meetings at work. (But that’s a topic for another day.) And I take very detailed notes during each one so I have a running history of our project I can refer back to, so I know what’s expected of our team, and what we expect from the other groups we work closely with.

There’s nothing unique about that. It’s just meeting notes.

But what I want to share today are two quick iOS Shortcuts I use to prepare for each meeting.

Almost every single note I take – whether it’s a throwaway idea, a reminder, the beginning of a blog post, or meeting notes – starts in Drafts. If whatever I’ve written ends up just being temporary, it says in Drafts and I archive it when done.

But anything else that may need to be referenced again in the future gets moved into Ulysses for permanent storage or final editing.

All of the meeting notes I take and keep in Ulysses follow a standard format that makes them easy to find, reference, and work from. Here’s an example:

# 2020-05-22 Dev questions with Product team about new feature 2:30pm

Johnny Appleseed
Tyler Hall
Bob Costas
x Tom Waits
Bonnie Raitt
x Michael Stipe
Leroi Moore

## Prep Thoughts

- Question 1 is about something something we need to have this and this defined before we can begin.

- How is this UI thing supposed to animate under this condition?

- etc

- etc

Have they considered that the fidget doodad might not correlate to the blippy bob when the furnitzer does its thing?

## Notes

BC said jumble pony will contaminate the water on 2020-07-10.

BR promised final copy and translations by EOD Tuesday.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

It’s a very simple structure written in Markdown that I’ve settled on over the years.

The H1 header is the meeting date in YYYY-MM-DD format followed by the title of the calendar invite and the start time. By always beginning with the date in that format, it

  1. Makes it easy to search/filter for things that happened on a specific day or year/month combination.
  2. Ensures my notes can be sorted chronologically by title (filename) – just in case their creation or modification dates (which I typically sort by) get messed up.

Next up is the list of attendees included on the calendar invite. Once the meeting begins, I put an x next to anyone who didn’t join. If you’ve ever worked with someone who is flakey and/or unreliable (or a professional gas lighter), it can be extraordinarily helpful to have a record of every scheduled meeting they skipped out on. CYA, folks.

The first H2 is a section where I add any thoughts / comments / research I do before the meeting begins that I want to be able to reference or remember to ask questions about.

And, finally, the ## Notes section is just that – the notes I take during the actual meeting – not to be cross-pollinated with the notes I prepare for myself prior to the start.

Anyway, none of that is special. It’s just simple and works for me.

For a long time, I’d have to create a note in the above format for every meeting by hand. Not only that, but I’d have to remember to do it ahead of time or else I’d be stuck scrambling to jot down my thoughts when my calendar alerted me it was time for the meeting to actually start.

Here’s the two iOS Shortcuts that fix that for me.

The first is called “Meeting Template”. When I run it on my phone it

  1. Finds all of my Not All Day events in the next 7 days on my work calendar that don’t include the word standup. (I have a separate folder of notes just for standup logs.)
  2. Presents a menu for me to select one of the events.
  3. Grabs the name of the calendar event
  4. Grabs the event’s start time and date
  5. Gets a list of the invited attendees
  6. Combines all of that info into my standard (empty) note format
  7. Sends the new note to Ulysses and puts it in a specific folder with all of my other work meeting notes.

I’ve added that shortcut to the widget section on my phone’s Today screen (or whatever that left-of-home screen is called), so I can swipe, tap, pick an event, and I’m done.

I almost exclusively take notes on my Mac, so I wish I could run this shortcut on macOS itself, but I always have my phone with me and Ulysses’s cross-device sync is so wonderful the new note is nearly instantly available on my Mac to begin working with.

The last puzzle piece is actually remembering to do any preparation for the meetings that require it. Not every meeting needs hours of research or prototypes built ahead of time, but it’s usually helpful if I do at least give each upcoming meeting a few minutes of thought beforehand.

So I have one more Shortcut that helps me remember to prepare.

Whenever I receive and accept a new work calendar invite, I’ve trained myself to remember to run the following shortcut that

  1. Finds the same set of events as the previous Shortcut.
  2. Prompts me to pick one (usually the meeting that I just accepted).
  3. Asks me how far in advance I’d like to be reminded to prepare.
  4. Adds a new event to my calendar named “Prepare For ‘The Title of the Original Meeting'” scheduled in advance for the amount of time I picked in step 3.

These new events are, literally, reminders and could just as easily be added to, OmniFocus, or your todo app of choice.

But – given how my brain works – I think of them more as dedicated blocks of time that I need to carve out of my schedule to make sure I do the prep work needed.

My todo list, my reminders, even when I assign a due or defer date, still typically remain fluid and can be rearranged (within reason). But calendar events are scheduled, dedicated times to do certain things.

So, for most meetings, I just schedule the reminder an hour or two in advance if there’s any preparation to be done at all. But for other more in-depth meetings where I might need to prepare a demo or diagram to help convey my thoughts visually, those take time and I schedule my reminder event far enough in advance to account for that.