Everybody loves meetings, right? Probably not, but even I, hater of meetings, concede that they are necessary. The problem is that there are far too many of them. Fast Company’s article on the subject of meeting waste is full of eye-popping factoids like this one:

…Bain & Company found that a single weekly meeting of midlevel managers was costing one organization $15M a year!

The article also references Harvard Business Review’s meeting cost calculator, which is nice, but a bit too manual for my tastes. It reminded me of an idea I’ve batted around with fellow meeting attendees at at least two different jobs.

We’ve talked about all sorts of kooky ideas*, but the The basic idea is to make meeting cost very visible. The hope is that making the costs visible will make people more mindful of time spent in meetings. And, perhaps, they might be more judicious when scheduling them. Last year, I scribbled this crude little widget in the margin of my notebook, which sort of captures the idea. Yes, this was sketched while sitting in a long meeting with more than 30 attendees:

Sketch of real time meeting cost widget

Since no one should be expected to calculate such costs manually, this would be automated based on information known by the organization. Basically, the length of meeting and the cost of each of the attendees. Since massive salary gaps between employees may be embarrassing and distracting, an average or blended rate might be applied.

With that information readily available, it could be used in many places, such as:

  • Display estimated meeting cost while creating a meeting invitation (in Outlook or other shared calendar). Watch the cost go up when you add more attendees or increase the duration. Does Bob really need to be in this meeting???
  • Show estimated meeting cost on all invitations. The recipient can decide whether or not they want to contribute to this cost by attending.
  • Conference rooms could have massive wall displays that count up the cost of the meeting in progress, in real time. The cost should be displayed both inside and outside the meeting room. “Bob, your diatribe just cost us $442 bucks!”
  • Every Goto Meeting, Webex, or other remote meeting solution should include a tally not unlike the conference room display mentioned above.

Travel expenses would prove harder to obtain in real time, but it would be wonderful to see those as well. How about the lunch that was just delivered so everyone could just power through? So many possibilities here…

Perhaps someone, somewhere has already implemented a system like this. If it exists, I’d love to see it in action. If not, maybe one day, I’ll be able to create it. If only I didn’t have so many meetings to attend.

Thanks @clairemoncrief for retweeting the Fast Company link!

* One of the ideas involved a meeting room gradually filling up with ping-pong balls representing dollars spend on meeting time. Meeting attendees would be forced to exit the meeting room when the balls made it impossible to see their laptops, phones, presentation or each other. A fun idea, but perhaps difficult to execute. Another idea called for actual dollar bills that fall from the ceiling onto the conference room table, with a similar effect.

Recently, I was looking for an in-browser presentation tool that could handle Markdown. After a not so exhaustive search, I found Remark, which fit the bill quite nicely. It not only supports markdown, but also has a presenter mode and a few other nice features.

Unlike more feature rich presentation tools, Remark pretty much stays out of your way while you’re getting your thoughts down; the styling can come later.

Get started by downloading Remark from the project site.

In this early part of the new year, many people are looking to improve their task management. A friend is looking to upgrade from the stock notes app and sent a request around to see what others were using. He also promised to send around the compiled results. If he keeps his promise, I’ll post those here (with his permission of course). What follows is not only what I’m using, currently, but how I got here.

How one organizes one’s tasks is largely matter of personal preference. Firstly, one of the most important things about choosing a task management method is not to get bogged down in analyzing different methods. The next thing to consider is any sort of methodology you’re using such as GTD. If you are, you’ll want to look for a system or application that supports that methodology.

When I started using GTD, I used Outlook Tasks. Not because I liked Outlook, but because it’s what I had and it synced to my Palm Pilot–and later, my Treo (did I mention that I’ve been doing this for a while?).

When I changed jobs and went back to using Macs exclusively, I started using Omnifocus. I like it a lot, and it checks off all the items on my needs list (see below), but it might be overkill for some people. It’s designed for doing things in a GTD style, if you’re not using GTD, it might even be a little cumbersome. It’s also a Mac/iOS app, so if you’re on another platform, Omnifocus isn’t for you.

When I was looking for something other than Outlook, this is the short list I was using to evaluate task applications. Perhaps this list will be helpful in your own search.

The most important features of a to-do application (for me):

  • Sync and/or availability on all devices, work computers included. I couldn’t do this at one of my jobs, which wasn’t great.
  • Ability to future date tasks. I us this a lot, especially for infrequently recurring tasks.
  • View by context. this is a GTD thing, I like being able to call up tasks by context sometimes, e.g. “Phone”.

Somewhat less important to me, but really handy:

  • Ability to see the day’s completed items This is sort of a motivational thing that is easily lost when one stops using a paper to-do list
  • File attachments
  • Task & Project notes