Manager Tools: Capturing and Routing Information

photo of pathway surrounded by fir trees

How many of you have walked out of a meeting and realized you’d forgotten
the one thing you really wanted to bring up?

One of the values of a good manager is effective communication — getting people the right information at the right time. This requires gathering, sifting, and routing the deluge of information available from meetings, emails, research, slack, etc.. It’s is hard to do well, and impossible to perfect. We can, though, use tools to improve our abilities beyond what our brains are naturally capable of though.

(I’ve written before about how I keep track of and synthesize information — a separate, but related challenge.)

Here are three tools I use to make this challenge a bit easier:
1) 1:1 Docs for each of my regularly recurring 1:1s. I keep a running agenda for each week. It looks something like this:

Then, when a topic occurs that I need to speak with that person about, I open a new tab, pull up the doc, and write a few words or sentences on the topic in the “Up Next” section. When I meet with the person, I will pull the up-next section into a section for today’s date, and rearrange based on priority. The people I’m meeting with also have access to do the same. This allows me to gather thoughts throughout the week as I have them, then use that to construct the agenda for the meeting quickly.

I find that having this list means I am much less likely to walk out of a 1:1 and later realize I forgot to bring up an important topic because I forgot.

2) A meeting grid. This is basically a paper-based version of #2 above, but I use it for meetings where I don’t want to maintain a doc (because they’re infrequent or 1-offs — also I just like using paper because I’m a neanderthal). It looks something like this:

Proof that you can be organized and still have bad handwriting!

Think of it like an index. If I think of something I need to bring up in a meeting, I’ll find or add a header for that meeting and then add the note beneath it. Then when I walk into this meeting (or zoom in nowadays), I can look at my notebook and see if there’s anything I wanted to bring up with this group. 

3) My to-do list.  I’m fairly certain everyone knows what this is (if not, Getting Things Done is a good read). I use it for ad-hoc communication where I can’t get to it right away. Where I have to take some action outside of my normal flows. I’ll make a note to myself to schedule a meeting or to talk to someone on a given topic. If it’s something I’m likely to forget or has a lot of detail, I may also write some bullet points in my journal to jog my memory.

1:1 DocsIn the next week or twoPlenty of room to write topics. Ensures they’re captured and routed to the right person. Avoids the need to interrupt someone.Requires building a habit around using the doc. Can lead to a lot of tabs open / docs to manage. Not ideal for things that need immediate attention.
Meeting IndexSoon, but not nowAvoids distraction, prevents forgetting, batches communication, ensures the right audienceTakes some time to get to things, can lead to context loss if notes/memory aren’t good, can overload agendas (but is easily solved with prioritizing)
To-Do ListVariableGives time to craft message, can decide good time/method of communication, built-in prioritization method (can do other stuff first if it’s not important)Things can end up taking a while to process, depending on your list, requires regular habit of review or fails

Memories are faulty and communication is hard, so I frequently try out new tools that help work around the limitations of my biology. These three, for me, have all stood the test of time. Hopefully they give you some ideas to help improve your communication and effectiveness.

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