When I was in college, advisor after advisor told me, “Be sure to study two hours outside of class for each hour you attend lectures.” Yes, I did what was I told. Many years later and I understand they were really preparing me for meetings with clients, colleagues and even investors, except the ratio is more like five to one!

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If we’re meeting next week, I’ll schedule at least five work sessions to prepare. I’ve made a “client prep” checklist of the most important tasks to get done before we get on the phone or around the table, yet meetings are sometimes cancelled, at the last minute, for any reason the client, colleague or investor dreams up.

Pretend for a moment you’ve prepped, you’re ready, you’re on your way but minutes before it’s scheduled to begin, you get notice that the meeting won’t happen. In that frustrating situation, the best course is to take complete advantage of the situation and move the mission forward.

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Spend half of the meeting time allotted working through the topics you were going to discuss. If it’s an hour-long meeting you will reschedule, set a timer for 30 minutes. Review the agenda and think the topics you planned to address. Update that list of things to talk about and write an informal “project update” note.

Send this “work in progress” to the person you were going to meet with. Include a note that explains since you had a little extra time, you thought through your discussion topics and came up with some ideas or conclusions.

Ask yourself, how can you move the mission forward? In my opinion, this is the only question to ask. Asking “what should I do now?” will pull you to something easy, late or loud. Most often, focusing on something that is not one of those three things will be what moves the mission forward.

A manager of mine once told me, and it has stuck in my mind since for 19 years, "If you’re waiting to decide what you’re going to do until you have time to figure out what to do, you’ll always be playing catch up.''

Whether you prepare a lot or a little for an upcoming meeting, you will have to consider how to move the mission forward. Pose the question, answer it and watch your productivity soar that very moment.

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