It’s 2 p.m. and you’ve got the rest of your day planned out. Whether it’s packed with back-to-back meetings or you’ve blocked out some time for deep focus, your plan is your plan, and you’re content with it.
Until that dreaded last-minute meeting request comes in.
It says it’s urgent. It says it can’t possibly wait, not even one more minute.
You’re left with three options:
1move your plans to get the call done ASAP, leaving your other priorities at risk of incompletion;
2push the request away, leaving the requestor’s priorities at risk of incompletion; or
3navigate a balance to ensure the meeting is still productive for both parties.
Understanding how to efficiently handle a last-minute meeting request can mean projects get completed and the right decisions get made.
How to run a last-minute meeting efficiently
While often inconvenient, last-minute meetings can serve a valuable purpose. Agreeing to participate shouldn’t mean that you end up stressed and disorganized. Instead, we’ve provided five steps to help you ensure that your last-minute calls run smoothly and have value.
- Set a clear purpose for the meeting
- Avoid distractions
- Limit invites to people who need to be there
- Switch up the meeting environment
- Make the meeting short
1Set a clear purpose for the meeting
When teams are busy or spread a bit thinner than usual, it’s easy to become flustered and feel like something is more urgent or a larger issue than it actually is. Likewise, in these cases of uncertainty regarding projects and goals, you can easily be unsure whether a meeting is necessary.
Defining a meeting purpose statement ensures there’s a legitimate, meaningful reason for the meeting to occur. You can create this statement quickly and informally, so you won’t need to interrupt your schedule to plan out what the purpose should be. In fact, if the purpose of the meeting doesn’t come naturally to your mind right away, it’s very likely you don’t need that meeting.
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When thinking of your purpose statement, whipping up a quick agenda, or communicating the need for the meeting to multiple stakeholders, you’re already focusing on multiple tasks. Further distracting yourself is only going to lead you to become more overwhelmed.
While distractions can be difficult to avoid in work-from-home situations or busy office environments, do the best you can to find a quiet space that gives you a bit of breathing room so you can efficiently manage the planning of your meeting. Turning off your notifications or changing your status to “do not disturb” on your company’s digital communication platform can also reduce your distractions temporarily.
3Limit invites to people who need to be there
Last-minute meetings often arise because the topic is high priority and specific. As such, you should only include key decision makers in your call. Not only are these people able to provide you with a decision, but they’ll also often have the most information about your concern, so they’ll be able to guide you in the right direction if needed.
If you’re worried about non-decision makers feeling left out (or if you want to keep them in the loop for another reason), consider recording the meeting to share with them after the call.
4Switch up the meeting environment
Not every meeting needs to be in a meeting room. If you can’t get access to one at the last minute, look elsewhere. As you’re likely to have a small number of people attend the meeting, consider using an informal meeting area like the office lobby or a nearby coffee shop. Or, tune in virtually if you can!
Switching up your meeting environment can also be a blessing in disguise. Alternating work environments provides new mental stimulation and can be a way to boost creativity—a much needed tool when doing last-minute work!
5Make the meeting short
Have you ever heard of the plank meeting? To make meetings shorter, team members do a plank while doing their speaking part. Since (most) people don’t want to stay in the plank position for too long, the challenge encourages people to get straight to the point.
While your meeting doesn’t have to incorporate the same physical component, it should match the plank meeting’s premise and be short and sweet. Last-minute meetings usually happen when teams are getting close to the finish line, meaning there’s still more work to be done after the meeting. Have the meeting focus on answering the true blockers (the things that are holding the project up) and move non-priorities to another meeting time.
How to turn down a last-minute meeting invite
Despite your best intentions, there are realistically many reasons you might need to decline or postpone a last-minute invite. Whether you’re an important stakeholder who can’t afford the time within that day or you’re unsure if the meeting is going to have value, there are five considerations to keep in mind when turning down a last-minute request.
- Be honest
- Suggest a different date or time
- Propose a phone call or email instead
- Ask if the meeting could be recorded
- Request access to the meeting minutes
Don’t lie about why you’re declining. In most cases, you also don’t need to provide a reason you can’t make the meeting. Instead, just say, “I’m sorry, but I am unable to make time in my schedule today for the meeting.”
Those who respect your schedule will understand when you have prior commitments. On that note, your prior commitments don’t have to be other meetings. Even if you have a meeting-free schedule, you could have other priorities for the day, like focus time for an important project or frequent short breaks to reduce stress. You may also have a personal or organizational rule not to attend meetings for which you don’t have time to sufficiently prepare.
2Suggest a different date or time
If the meeting has a defined purpose and it’s essential that you attend the meeting, you definitely shouldn’t blow it off completely. Suggesting a different date or time can give you a chance to prepare while not disregarding the importance of the meeting. Using a schedule management tool can show the other party when your availability is so they can book something that aligns for the both of you.
3Propose a phone call or email instead
If you’re caught off guard by a last-minute meeting proposal, it can be overwhelming to meet in person or be on camera immediately. Discuss options for meeting alternatives, such as a phone call or email.
Consider options that are flexible for your current environment. For example, if a meeting request comes in while you’re traveling, a phone call is an approach that works whether you’re in the car, on a train, or at the airport. And it also works when you don’t have access to wi-fi!
Asking the requestor to send the information over email is also a great approach if your schedule is busy, your wi-fi signal isn’t great, or you want the other meeting planner to write out their purpose for the discussion (as writing can be a great way to process what the purpose actually is).
4Ask if the meeting could be recorded
If it ultimately isn’t possible for you to attend the meeting but you’re an important stakeholder, simply ask for the meeting to be recorded. This way, you can stay in the loop with the conversation without sacrificing time or stress to a last-minute meeting. This approach is also helpful if you’re working flexible hours and won’t be able to view the recording until hours later.
5Request access to the meeting minutes
The meeting minutes are much like the meeting recording. However, not all meetings may be video-recorded, but all meetings should have minutes. As well, if you’re more of a visual learner, you may prefer to read notes from the discussion rather than listen to a recording.
Both minutes and recordings should provide details on the purpose, the discussion on the meeting’s topics, the clear decisions (if any were made), and an outline of action items with assigned responsibilities.
Here is a free meeting minutes template to try out:
Scrambling for a last-minute meeting isn’t fun, and neither is being asked to join one. That said, last-minute meetings don’t have to be stress nightmares. Squeezing in some breathing and planning time can make a world of a difference in ensuring that your last-minute meeting reaps positive, purposeful results.