Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 25;   June 22, 2016: How to Waste Time in Meetings

How to Waste Time in Meetings

by

Last updated: March 19, 2019

Nearly everyone hates meetings. The main complaint: they're mostly a waste of time. The main cause: us. Here's a field manual for people who want to waste even more time.
Elephants fighting

One way to shorten meetings is to compile a list of methods for wasting time, and then not do any of it. Since many of us are experts at not doing things that are on lists, this works very well. So I made a list of ways to waste time in meetings. I'm not talking about your run-of-the-mill time wasters, like discussing to death something nobody can do anything about. No, I'm talking about massive wastage — the kind that can be well executed only by a malicious genius or somebody with a serious mental disorder.

Here's an If everyone is familiar with
how we waste time, people
are less likely to do the
things that waste time
example. You're working on a document that's a joint effort of two departments. One passage now reads, "It is likely that competitors will respond with both price reductions and capability enhancements." You decide to propose a revision: "It is probable that our competitors will respond with both capability enhancements and price reductions." To the untrained eye, this proposal is non-controversial. But to the inefficiency expert, it's brilliant. What will follow will be a long debate, maybe even extending into another meeting. Glorious!

Here's a little catalog of general time-wasting techniques for meetings. We'll address virtual meetings next time.

  • Arrive late and insist that the chair bring you "up to speed."
  • As the chair summarizes what you missed, pay no attention. You can always ask again later.
  • Insist that the meeting begin only after the late arrivals arrive. This works best if you're one of the late arrivals. No point wasting your own time.
  • If you're the chair, send the meeting invitation with no clue as to agenda.
  • Deny having received the emailed meeting documents. Ask for them to be re-sent.
  • Propose a change to the order of the agenda.
  • Only after your agenda change has been debated and rejected, announce that because you're leaving early, the agenda change is necessary.
  • Start a heated debate with somebody about something only the two of you know anything about.
  • Start a heated debate with somebody about something only you know anything about.
  • Start a heated debate with somebody about something not even you know anything about.
  • During the meeting, send a high-priority text broadcast to everyone else to find out who didn't mute their devices.
  • Change the subject to something so explosive that nobody can resist changing the subject.
  • Speak in not-so-hushed tones to your neighbor. If he or she is already talking to somebody, interrupt them.
  • If you get a phone call while you have the floor, take it. Step out of the room. If you don't get a phone call while you have the floor, pretend you did.
  • Pay no attention to the discussion. If you lose the thread, ask an unrelated question.
  • Don't bring your handouts with you to the meeting. Suddenly say, "I can't find my copy," rush out of the room, and make them wait.
  • After breaks, return last.

How many of these have you seen in the past week?  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: How to Waste Time in Virtual Meetings  Next Issue

101 Tips for Effective MeetingsDo you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenuQKLUMsVubCpqOpqner@ChacCCvpZbzKGsgliMGNoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Effective Meetings:

Thumb upDecisions, Decisions: I
Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions? How do we choose the right process for the job?
A voteDecisions, Decisions: II
Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions?
Roger Boisjoly of Morton Thiokol, who tried to halt the launch of Challenger in 1986Towards More Gracious Disagreement
We spend a sizable chunk of time correcting each other. Some believe that we win points by being right, or lose points by being wrong, but nobody seems to know who keeps the official score. Here are some thoughts to help you kick the habit.
Balancing talk time and the value of the contributionVirtual Blowhards
Controlling meeting blowhards is difficult enough in face-to-face meetings, but virtual meetings present next-level problems, because techniques that work face-to-face are unavailable. Here are eight tactics for dealing with virtual blowhards.
Stones: many, many stones.Stone-Throwers at Meetings: I
One class of disruptions in meetings includes the tactics of stone-throwers — people who exploit low-cost tactics to disrupt the meeting and distract all participants so as to obstruct progress. How do they do it, and what can the meeting chair do?

See also Effective Meetings and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A meeting held in a long conference room.Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
A dictionaryAnd on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenuQKLUMsVubCpqOpqner@ChacCCvpZbzKGsgliMGNoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.