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 timeexample. 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.
Do 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!
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
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- Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but
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process for the job?
- Favor Symmetric Virtual Meetings
- Virtual meetings are notorious for generating more frustration than useful output. One cause of the
difficulties is asymmetry in the way we connect to virtual meetings.
- The Opposite of Influence
- The question of why some people are so influential has a partner question: why are others largely ignored,
or opposed, even when their contributions are valuable?
- I Could Be Wrong About That
- Before we make joint decisions at work, we usually debate the options. We come together to share views,
and then a debate ensues. Some of these debates turn out well, but too many do not. Allowing for the
fact that "I could be wrong" improves outcomes.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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