How to empower 1:1 meetings with actual data

A typical workday has so many agenda-heavy meetings—project kickoffs, internal reviews, town halls—that we tend to see manager/dev 1:1s as casual check-ins.
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Too often, our weekly 1:1 touch base gets reduced to a few minutes over Slack, or serves more as a vent session than a problem-solving opportunity. We’re leaving significant missed potential on the table. 

For individual contributors, this unguided meeting fails its purpose: to enable their best work. Nothing is more frustrating than knowing you don’t have the time or tools to get things done, while also not feeling empowered to ask for changes. Even with a sense of what’s to blame (say, too many meetings or projects), without data, it might feel like general complaints.

For managers, there’s a challenge to remove roadblocks that can’t be clearly defined. This ambiguity leads us to trial-and-error solutions, when we really need effective data to show the way.

Preparing for effective 1:1s

The best 1:1 starts before you meet. Consider a few key measurements of productivity or bandwidth, looking to calendars, JIRA tickets, or Slack activity for evidence. For managers, this might take more high-level observation, like frequency of missed project deadlines or lack of cross-team collaboration. (Your Uplevel dashboard displays all that in one place, by the way.) Next time, collect the data and come prepared.

Here are some common things we hear from individual contributors, and ways for them and their managers to identify solutions:

“I’m in too many meetings.” For better or worse, nearly everyone we talk to complains of having too many meetings on the calendar. It helps to get specific.

  • Look at size: Are most of your meetings large (i.e., department-wide) or small (i.e.,focused group sessions)? Do attendees share similar job titles, or span multiple levels of the org chart?
  • Now, consider multitasking: How many meetings have been spent with an open laptop, catching up on email, either by you or those around you?
  • Check recurring meetings: Is that Friday stand-up still serving its purpose, or does half the group skip these days?
  • Most importantly, how many of these meetings could’ve been emails? Is there another team member that can take notes?

“I never have time for Deep Work.” Of course, having too many meetings inevitably takes time away from focused work. There are myriad other factors at play, all of which can be discussed at your next 1:1.

  • Do the math: How many hours every week are free for independent work? Has that number increased or decreased throughout the last quarter?
  • Look for open blocks: How many days contain two or more hours of meeting-free, open working time?
  • Find the norm: How does your calendar compare to those of other team members? Maybe you’re in too many meetings, or maybe it’s a team-wide issue.

“I’m so busy, I have to multitask.” When we’re constantly behind on emails or other tasks, we tend to use meeting time—or precious Deep Work time—to catch up. Unfortunately, multitasking comes at a cost.

  • Consider the “why”: Are you multitasking because your to-do list is overwhelming, or simply because meetings aren’t relevant to you?
  • Think in the moment: Next time you find yourself flipping between ten different tabs, reflect on the root cause of this hyperactivity. Would it be helpful to learn about better organization or delegation?
  • Look at the trends: Some weeks are simply busier than others, but a persistent pattern of multitasking usually indicates something other than busy days.

“I don’t have time for what I actually want to work on.” When business priorities shift or bandwidth gets stretched, developers lose time to explore passion projects or higher-level goals.

  • Make a list: What are all the projects you’ve worked on this week? This month? This quarter?
  • Notice themes: Perhaps a business-critical product launch has consumed the past several sprints, or you find that you consistently get tasked with fixing bugs. How often are fire drills pushing out other deadlines?
  • Connect to career goals: Where do you hope to spend more time? What skills would you like to acquire? Is there an area of the business you aspire to support?

While every week is different, managers and direct reports can more effectively reflect—and plan ahead—with deeper thought behind 1:1s. By having the data, you can back up feelings with facts. For more guidance, look to The Uplevel Fool-Proof Guide to Effective 1:1s.

Let us do the heavy lifting. Interested in how Uplevel can empower you with data? Schedule a demo.