It’s happened to all of us. You start moving from “point A” to “point B” at work, intending to carry out a task. Then, along the way, you get pinged into a quick discussion with a boss or colleague, you stop at someone’s desk to catch up, or you get a personal phone call that you have to take.

By the time you get back to the task, you ask yourself, “Wait, what was I supposed to do again?” No part of the workday is safe from this phenomenon, especially meetings. Workplace meetings are a polarizing topic, with many employees complaining that they’re too unfocused, too long, or too frequent.

All these complaints can lead to meeting attendees being less engaged before and during a meeting, then more likely to forget action items afterward. A less-engaged meeting attendee is more likely to experience decreased meeting memory, which is a person’s capacity to remember or carry out all the action items and tasks that pile up as more and more meetings occur.

And with meetings eating into a company’s profits and productivity — they account for as much as 40 percent of a person’s productive work hours — a less-than-optimal meeting memory is something employees can ill afford. With a few shifts geared toward developing better meeting memory, meeting details become less likely to fall through the cracks.

Building a Meeting Memory

A typical meeting goes something like this: Before it starts, attendees sit at their desks until the last minute. Then, with a sense of dread, they head to the meeting room and constantly check their devices and worry about deadlines. Afterward, attendees run off to another meeting to do it all again.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many “to do” plans never reach the “were done” stage? Meeting memory is a collective approach to keeping better records as foundations for future action. Not only does this help improve how accurately a meeting is remembered, but it also promotes follow-up on tasks.

How can leaders help employees sharpen their meeting memory and be more diligent and mindful in their follow-ups?

1. Assign pre-meeting homework. In school, students prepare for classes by reading books, working through problems, and studying documents and data. It’s a process that keeps classroom learning moving along and is also relevant for collaborative workspace get-togethers.

Before every meeting, send out content — including a robust, well-defined agenda — to all participants and emphasize that you expect them to have a baseline understanding of all the material before the meeting starts. Not only will this curb disorganization, but it will also allow the meeting to flow better and will create less mental clutter for follow-ups.

2. Take advantage of artificial intelligence. You wouldn’t think twice asking Siri what the morning temperature is or requesting that Alexa place an Amazon Prime order for a case of your favorite bottled water. So why not have AI or other helpful technology present at your meeting so you don’t have to rely on your brain to remember all the chatter?

Software like the Eva — Voicera’s in-meeting AI platform — provides real-time meeting recordings, takes down notes and action items, and then plays back any moments to increase meeting memory. The information can later be organized, edited, and shared, which can help reduce confusion as to who was responsible for what and ensure everyone stays on a fruitful path.

3. Minimize post-meeting meetings. What could be worse than sitting through a 45-minute meeting with your lateral colleagues? How about going back to your department and hosting the second meeting as a postscript? Regrettably, this happens far too regularly to be a joke.

If you have the triggers in place to foster stronger meeting memory, especially the AI component, you can eliminate the need for a good chunk of your post-meetings. Just give your direct reports access to the information they need and allow them to complete their jobs without having to sit through any agonizing post-meeting monologues.

Few people relish meetings, but they’re a necessary evil in the corporate realm. At the same time, meetings don’t have to take huge bites out of your workplace profits or productivity. Take charge of every meeting by plotting out meeting memory tactics to ensure your gathering has all the advantages of teamwork without any unwanted side effects.

Interested in seeing how you can use artificial intelligence to improve your organization’s meeting memory even further? Click here to try our in-meeting meeting assistant, Eva, for free.