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f you've ever seen the kid's movie "UP!", the dog is easily distracted by squirrels. Sometimes people in meetings are no different. Have you ever been in a meeting where someone shifts the topic to something inane and everyone in the room jumps in and starts discussing it? Before you know it, the meeting is over and you haven’t had time to discuss what really mattered.

Why do we get so easily distracted? And what can you do about it?

We focus a lot on meetings in this blog because meetings are where collaboration happens in many organizations. It’s also a source of great waste.

‘Important because’ is not prioritization. When a low priority topic is being beat to death, and I ask “is this really important’, the answer I often get starts like ‘it’s important because…’ followed by a long explanation of why it’s important. And while maybe the distinction between the word “sprint” and “iteration” is super important, I have to wonder whether we were neglecting something even more important.

Discussing important things in a meeting is not your job. That’s right. Sitting in meetings and giving your opinion on important matters is not your job. Your job is to move the highest priority things forward. So if you’re not making decisions or taking action on the highest priority items, you’re not doing your job. And if you are letting others spend company time discussing unimportant things, you’re negligent.

What to do when it happens. It’s easier to get a meeting off on the right foot than it is to bring it back after its gone astray. However, you might try interrupting and specifically raising one of the higher priority items that’s being neglected. For example, “I can see that our team name is important, but our competitor just launched a product that is threatening 30% of our market share. Perhaps we discuss our response first.”

Set the prioritization at the start of the meeting. The best way I know how to stay on track is my prioritizing the meeting agenda at the start of the meeting. “The most important things we need to discuss this order. Does anyone want to add anything to this agenda?” By working in priority order you make sure to discuss the most important items. When there’s a distraction point raised, add it to the agenda.

How have you managed distractions in your meeting? Let us know!

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