Matt Gornick

Why meetings fail and how to change that

Posted in Work by mgornick on May 16, 2009

I recently attended several meeting which, in hindsight, turned out to be completely pointless.  Oddly enough, we have meetings to fulfill a particular goal (e.g. inform others, brainstorm, follow-up on pending tasks) but when meetings occur just because their is nothing else to do, everything gets lost in translation.

I see one huge reason that meetings fail: lack of strict agenda.  From this there are two things that could occur:

1. There is absolutely no agenda at all, or

2. There is an agenda but it is not strictly adhered to

The first bad, but the second is worse.  May people lack agendas in their meetings because they don’t think ahead or they do not think that it will drastically improve the quality of their meeting.  Unfortunately, it is even worse when people think that their agenda is solid and perfect.  This gives people the false sense of hope that their meeting will in turn be successful and productive even though the opposite is usually true.

So how do you fix dysfunctional meetings?  There have been books written on this topic and a laundry list of remedies that people prescribe, but their are two fundamental laws that should be followed:

1. Create an agenda.  This includes:

  • creating a document that outlines the date/time/duration this meeting will occur
  • key bullet points that need to be addressed (limit to ~2 or 3 per hour)
  • sub-bullet points that are more specific and granular
  • try to separate the document so notes can be taken on the paper (if necessary)

2. Follow that agenda.  This includes:

  • Having the person in charge (usually the one who created the agenda in the first place) keep the group from digressing.  This is critical!  Many meetings start with a goal to inform the team of everyone’s progress only to find that one person spoke and then started a debate about new features, previous meetings/engagements, and highly granular topics.
  • Sometimes the agenda creator is shy or timid and thus feels bad if they need to cut a topic off or move onto other items.  I would recommend trying a timer or something to the effect of, “We’re going to go around the table and give about 5 minutes per person to fill everyone in on what action items they’ve completed. Go!”  This gives each person a clear understanding that they need to fit possibly months of work into a 5 minute summary so they need to be concise and cogent.  Once you allow for unlimited time to be spent talking and digressing, the meeting will in fact fail.

This summer, I’ll be following my own advise when setting up meetings with OrangeQC.  We’ll be following a mix of Agile and Extreme Programming methodologies in order to get things done.  I’ll keep you in the loop as to the successes and failures of my future meetings.

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How to be Successful: Timeliness

Posted in Personal, School, Uncategorized, Work by mgornick on July 6, 2008

“If you are on time, you are late!”

This seemingly contradictory yet true quote still resonates with me to this day.  I first heard it during my freshman year of high school and only until recently do I see its impact on pursuing success.  

First, what is being “on time.” If you are in high school/college, its the simple act of arriving 1 microsecond prior to the lecturer uttering their first words of the class.  As much as people in this age group (myself included) will tend to disagree with this definition, we all know it to be true and live by it as we prioritize our lives.  This leads me back to the point that you are either one of two things: early or late.  I’ve found that being “on time” doesn’t cut it anymore.

I’ve listed the consequences of being “on time” to a business meeting:

1. I am not prepared.  If I sit down as people are talking, I’ve missed any handouts, preliminary conversation, and the chance to organize my notes and thoughts.  This is detrimental to myself as I will not get the most out of the meeting or be able to contribute my ideas.

2. I will delay the meeting. Because most people will wait until everyone is situated, I will have essentially wasted other people’s time.  Others will be waiting for me to “catch up” to what everyone was doing earlier.  In general, people don’t like their time to be wasted!

3. I will not be in control. This is probably the most detrimental to one’s success.  If I show up “on time”/late, I obviously didn’t schedule my day, prioritize, or manage my tasks well enough.  Although this is sometimes unavoidable, it hurts to lack control over a situation.

This leads me to a story of a friend of the family that was interviewing for a job.  She’s worked in various fields throughout her life, has a presentable resumé, and landed an onsite interview with a nearby company.  She *assumed* she knew where the location was and how to get there.  When the day came for her interview, she arrived “on time”; literally walked in the door at 8:30 am for an 8:30 am interview.  Do you think she was ecstatic that she made it in time?  Of course not.  The secretary told her that if she couldn’t make the effort to arrive early for an interview then she obviously didn’t care enough about the job.  The secretary was right! If you show up late for an interview, you might not be dependable with a project or task that needs to get done.  Being “on time” is being “late”.

Lets take my story from this summer’s internship.  We [the intern class] were told to meet at a particular location at 8 am.  What time do you think most people got there?  If you guessed between 6:30 am and 7:00 am, you’d be correct.  Especially if you are not familiar with the area, you should give yourself enough time to find the location and travel there if you’re lost.  If time permits, you should try to visit the site a day in advance to judge the time it will take to get there.  A point I will leave you with: what if you were the only person to show up at exactly 8:00 am?  How would you feel?  I suspect that it will coincide with the 3 points I listed for being “on time”.

I’ve found that being punctual and organizing my time has helped me take proper steps to success.  Refer back to my post on JP Morgan to help prioritize your schedule and maintain timeliness.

Intern Guide to Success in Manhattan: Housing

Posted in Personal, Work by mgornick on June 22, 2008

If you are an intern in Manhattan, finding a place to live for the summer can be a daunting task.  You want time to be successful, spend time with friends, explore the city, and of course live in a somewhat decent apartment.  I firmly believe that the environment that you live in contributes to your lifestyle and success.  If you live in a complete dump, that is the way your life will turn.  If you live in a clean and functional apartment, you will be that much better off.

The old adage, “The early bird gets the worm,” applies here.  Obviously, your first step is to actually know if you’ll be working in Manhattan/New York City area.  In line with that, you should *speak* to your employer on the telephone and ask for any resources for finding a place to live this summer.  A lot of firms have recommended living areas or prearranged housing for those that act early.  If your employer doesn’t have any valuable information, start looking at the near by universities and educational housing services.  For example, search for *university* on Google Maps for NYC you’ll receive various locations of local universities, small and large, that can help you with your housing decisions.  Do some research of the top 10 university housing options you can find and call their summer housing department.  Most of the time, they can provide you with critical application deadlines, information about other housing options, and guide you through the application process.

If you missed the cutoff for the applications for the university housing options, you’ll need to do a little more work.  Look into EHS (http://www.studenthousing.org/) because they have housing options open relatively late in the semester and can place you on a waiting list to get into the apartment of your choice.  You can browse Craigslist of something similar but odds are you will be spending too much.  You’ll need to consider living in a different burrow of NY or moving far north in Manhattan.  At this crossroad, start to look at your commute time and cost of transportation.  I know a quite of few interns that live in several cities in New Jersey or Brooklyn Heights and commute to work.  This is completely acceptable especially if the living conditions in your northern Manhattan options are unfavorable.  Living outside of Manhattan can be a good thing if you are down to the last minute.

The key to remember is that 1) time is of the essence and 2) you need to find a decent place.  There are plenty of apartments that are more spacious, less expensive, and will still be relatively close to your work in other parts of the city/surrounding areas.  Don’t be afraid to ask around or talk to your recruiter for questions about the area or apartment you’re looking at.  Working in Manhattan is stressful enough, you deserve at least a chance to live in a relaxed environment.

Personal Outsourcing for Success

Posted in Personal, Uncategorized by mgornick on June 20, 2008

Outsourcing is considered a cliché in today’s society.  Surprisingly, I find the culture in Manhattan very open to “personal outsourcing”; that is to say, taking tasks that you would/could normally do and hire/pay someone else to do them for you.  For example, I can go to the store and buy groceries.  Unfortunately, I work 12+ hours per day, want to go to the gym for an hour, better myself, and sleep.  Luckily for me, I can simply spend 10 minute online and order a weeks worth of food and have it delivered next day to my apartment at the time I choose.  This is a huge convenience for me and the people I spend time with.  This leads me to the point of personal outsourcing.

For those that have read The 4Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss , you know that the goal is to delegate a lot of tasks to others in order to gain free time to do the things you want to do.  Personal outsourcing is just that.  Look at what you want to do and find time to do it.  I’ve picked up countless hours throughout my week which has enabled me to explore Manhattan, try new foods, meet new people, and enjoy the activities I love. 

My first step in finding out what I can outsource was simple: laundry.  I have to wear a suit and dress shirt every day to work and washing/ironing/etc. every week is monotonous and a waste of time.  I started with 4-5 loads of laundry per week and now I’m down to 2 (these are very small washers/dryers).  The remainder I take to the dry cleaners and they wash, press, starch, and hang all of the laundry for me.  Yes, I have to pay for that, but this simple outsourcing enables me to focus on what I want to do.

Now I focus on work, helping with a university club, brainstorming new startup ideas, rock climbing, and cutting stress from my busy life.

Become Smarter: Audiobooks and Podcasts

Posted in Financial, Personal by mgornick on June 20, 2008

Audiobooks and podcasts are a relatively old technology, but surprisingly I just began using them to better myself.  Just this week, I found myself doing nothing on my daily commute to work.  I spend about 30 minutes total composed of walking and train travel.  During this time, I would usually have only a fraction of the time to flip through “The Wall Street Journal” each morning.  Here is where my idea came in.

I just started to download a few podcasts (listed below) and listen them on the way to work.  This keeps me up to date on the most recent news and culture for the day/week.  So far, I have been enjoying receiving my information this way because it is extremely focused in the particular topic and it allows me to make use of my daily commute.  For instance, I can get the top headlines as well as recent news pertaining to the stock market.  To be successful, you need to be aware of the culture, world, and events around you.  Soaking in the news via a podcast each morning is a quick and easy way to make use of your commute.

Additionally, I found that Librivox.org offers free public domain audiobooks to download in mp3 format.  I’ve been getting through a few books simply by listening to a chapter or two on my way to work or while I’m relaxing.  Yes reading can be relaxing, but for those who are crunched with time an audiobook is a great substitution.  Additionally, you will be (or at least seem) more worldly and understanding to the classics when talking to your friends/coworkers/date.

I’ve outlined some of the recommended podcasts and audiobooks to get started!

Podcasts:

1. The Wall Street Journal Podcasts: “What’s News” and “Tech Headlines”.  If you have a 30+ minute commute I would recommend their “This Morning” podcast as well (but its usually ~35 min).  The WSJ is the quintessential source for financial and market news.  If you don’t listen/read it, you’re missing out.

2. The New York Times: “Front Page” and “World View” for a different perspective on the news.

3. (Your favorite news source or another podcast of interest if you have extra time)

Audiobooks:

1. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli:  Written by a Renaissance hilosopher, The Prince is timeless novel that digs deep into how a ruler, company, or CEO should serve and rule his domain.  If you are interested in Investment Banking, Mergers and Acquisitions, or start-up takeovers this book is a must read!

2. Pick a book from: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/getting-away-from-the-daily-digital-noise-a-list-of-time-tested-classics.html

3. Or http://artofmanliness.com/2008/05/14/100-must-read-books-the-essential-mans-library/

Intern Lifestyle in Manhattan

Posted in Health, Personal, Uncategorized, Work by mgornick on June 16, 2008

I haven’t wrote in a while, but I’ve been adjusting to the Manhattan lifestyle.  Since I’ve only been here a few weeks, I thought I would post an update as to my current lifestyle for success.

Work: I’m early to bed and early to rise.  Before I got to sleep, I create my list of things to do for the next day and review them when I wake up.  I find that this greatly helps me focus on what I need to accomplish for the day.  I arrive at work early and stay late (10-11 hours of work per day).  I love the project(s) that I’m working on so I have no problem putting in the time.

Health: Before I start work, I go to the gym for an hour and then prepare for work.  I’m starting to prepare a healthy breakfast and lunch the night before so that I can just fill my gym bag and leave in the morning.  I’ve been eating pretty healthy and going to the gym 5 days a week with a various mix of cardio, strength, and supplemental workouts (e.g. rock climbing).  

Financial: It is obvious that Manhattan is extraordinary expensive!  I found that purchasing food via freshdirect.com was actually cheaper and more convenient that going to a grocery store in Manhattan.  So far, I received my first order from Fresh Direct and I’m very satisfied.  I can fill out my order the night before and have the groceries delivered to my apartment the next day.  I find that it should save me countless hours each week due to traveling and comparison shopping.  Also, cooking my own food and bringing my own lunch has enabled me to save money that would otherwise go toward restaurants.  I’ve noticed the average price for a meal to be around $10; so by purchasing my food and preparing it myself, I can save a good deal of money this summer.

I am planning on writing an “Intern Guide to Manhattan” post that will give specifics on how interns can be successful and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in Manhattan.

Secret to Success from JP Morgan

Posted in Personal by mgornick on May 19, 2008

I’ve heard this story from multiple sources; it may be fiction or it may be fact.  Regardless it gets the point across of a tactic that few actually follow to be successful.

The following excerpt is quoted from (http://personalmba.com/quotes/jp-morgans-guaranteed-formula-for-success/): 

One day, a man approached JP Morgan, held up an envelope, and said, “Sir, in my hand I hold a guaranteed formula for success, which I will gladly sell to you for $25,000.” 

“Sir,” JP Morgan replied, “I do not know what is in the envelope. However, if you show me and I like it, I give you my word as a gentleman that I will pay you what you ask.”

The man agreed to the terms and handed over the envelope. JP Morgan opened it, and extracted a single sheet of paper. He gave it one look and handed the piece of paper back to the gent, pulled out his checkbook, and paid the man the agreed-upon $25,000.

The paper read:

  1. Every morning, write a list of the things that need to be done that day.
  2. Do them.

Something so basic, simple, and brilliant is so often overlooked.  I try to wake up in the morning and produce a list of things I want to do.  When it comes to the execution of those tasks, I get side tracked, or remember another task to do, or an exhausted, or simply find a reason to postpone the task.  To alleviate some of these common failures in execution, I came up with some tips.

First and most obvious you need a list of things that you need to do for that day.  Take the list and reorder in order of priority.  Example, studying for my upcoming Multi-variable Calculus Final has higher priority than catching up on my RSS feeds or reading the newspaper.  Once the tasks are in order, break them into smaller subtasks that can be crossed out when complete.  Example, the task is to study for my final so my subtasks can be to reread Chapters 5,6,7; go over lecture notes; study homework assignments 14 and 15; study online quizzes.  This level or organization helps keep you moving through the task; studying for a final can take days (or hours if you’re like me and every other college student) so breaking it into bite-sized chunks of subtask will give you the satisfaction of completing necessary items as well as accomplishing the large goliath of a big task.  I have found this basic addition to JP Morgan’s success has helped me stay focused on my end goal as well as focus on specifics that I may have forgotten if I didn’t write it down.  

I will be starting my reread of David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity”, and posting about some ideas that I can refocus on.