However, because they count towards people’s active working hours, some tend to abuse meetings and hold them just to kill time, delay a decision or prolong a process unnecessarily. Add to that our natural inclination to accept meeting requests (they always sound important) and you have a recipe for idle talking.
The first step to holding better meetings is learning to say no. Reject meetings without a pre-discussed agenda (something easily achieved via email). And even then, run the proposed meeting through a short, 5 minute analysis process. Ask yourself:
- Is my input crucial in this meeting?
- Can this be solved faster via email?
- Are there any chances of misunderstanding the issue at hand unless I talk to people face to face?
- Will this meeting help the group/ company perform better?
- If you were to pay for the meeting’s outcome, would it be a good investment?
- Would you be more efficient/ productive if you skipped this meeting?
The main concerns here are Time & Expected Utility. 30 minutes mean different things for different people.
Paul Graham of Y Combinator speaks of a manager/maker schedule dichotomy. A manager, in his view, spends their working time in 1-hour intervals; due to their role, tasks tend to be varied and ever shifting. They’re used to interruptions, it’s part of their workflow. For a maker, someone who writes/codes/designs/works on an argumentative piece, 30 minutes in a meeting 2 hours after starting work means breaking flow. They’re losing more than just 30 minutes - they lose focus, and that costs hours.
This problem runs deeper. In Paul’s words:
I find one meeting can sometimes affect a whole day. A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But in addition there’s sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I’m slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning.
You can do without most meetings. But those that you do hold… make them count.