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Meetings, @&!!$*@ Meetings!

Meetings, @&!!$*@ Meetings!

In the list of activities that waste time and cause worthless frustration at work, meetings rank near the top, just below performance appraisals and preparing budgets.

There you are, stuck in a meeting you don’t want to attend, thinking of all the work piled up on your desk, while you half listen to someone droning on endlessly about a topic you have no interest in. When the meeting finally ends, less than half the agenda has been completed and everyone gets out their calendars to arrange yet another time to meet.

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Worse still, many meetings seem never to result in any clear decision at all, leaving you wondering why people came together in the first place. Some people spend most of their normal working day in meetings of one kind or another. The only time available to do their own work is either very early in the morning, before the first meeting is scheduled, or late in the evening when they should be relaxing at home.

Why do organizations allow such a continual waste of time and energy?

The first reason, I believe, is simple: rampant distrust.

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  • Top executives don’t trust their subordinates to be competent enough to take full charge of important projects. They therefore require them to involve others in their decisions, in the belief this will guard against expensive errors.
  • Powerful colleagues don’t trust one another not to undermine their position in some way, so they insist on being “kept informed” before decisions are made—usually by demanding a meeting is held, then sending a subordinate who can stop unwanted progress and report back on suspicious activities.
  • Departments trust other departments even less. Same result, times ten.
  • People in general don’t trust others not to say something bad about them behind their backs, so they want to be there to defend themselves. (It’s a waste of time. People will always bad-mouth you, if they want to. They simply find another occasion when you aren’t there.)
  • Auditors don’t trust anyone (except themselves) with money, so they require decisions on expenditure to be made in committee, where others are always watching—often jealously. (It didn’t work too well in recent high-profile corporate corruption cases, did it? And weren’t the auditors involved in those shenanigans too?)
  • It’s always been that way. No one wants to take the risk of doing things differently, because they know there is one area in which they can trust others without question: to pile all the blame on them if anything goes wrong.

The secondary reason is less negative: a belief that many heads are always better than one.

This has some truth when it’s a matter of generating ideas. If the purpose is to get something done, many heads just about always slow things down. It’s amazing how easily a group of people can find delays and problems if they put their collective minds to it.

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Then there’s a earch for consensus: that over-worked concept that appears to produce decisions to everyone’s satisfaction; while usually ensuring the only decision possible is one that offends nobody—because it’s harmless, conventional and unlikely to work anyway. Consensus is nice to have, but it’s rarely essential. If the proposed action is new and unfamiliar, it’s unlikely consensus is even possible in advance.

Many meetings may be unavaoidable, but here’s how to avoid adding to the plague of meetings yourself:

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  • There are only three genuine reasons for a meeting:
  1. You wish to gather ideas and thoughts from those present.
  2. People have concerns about some topic and you are ready to answer them in person and immediately.
  3. A group of people wish to come together to celebrate a success or support one another in adversity.
  • If you have any other reason for holding a meeting, choose a more appropriate way to communicate. For example, merely passing information is typically better handled by memo, e-mail or some other document. If you can’t—or won’t—answer questions right away, collect questions by interview, in writing, or by telephone, and answer them only when you’re ready.
  • If any of these are your true reasons for holding a meeting, cancel it immediately:

    • You always have one. (Now’s the time to stop.)
    • You think people like to have meetings. (Sorry. They don’t.)
    • It’s a good way to set priorities and get everyone motivated. (It isn’t.)
    • It builds team spirit. (It doesn’t.)

    Meetings can be useful, but only if they’re held for good reasons (see above), are well managed, and last not one second longer than is absolutely necessary. In any other circumstances, they’re more likely to be a blight on everyone’s day. Give them up. Everyone will thank you—except those few who like to interfere in other people’s jobs as an excuse for not getting on with their own.

    P.S. Public and academic bodies are even worse. Only a public body could invent the Steering Committee, to oversee the Working Party, which discusses the eventual reports of one or more Study Groups, which first receive input from a series of sub-committees, which base their findings on expert staff reports almost none of the members understand fully anyway.

    Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.

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    Last Updated on December 17, 2018

    Read this and stop feeling overwhelmed…for good!

    Read this and stop feeling overwhelmed…for good!

    We live in a time of productivity overload.

    Everywhere you turn are articles and books about how to be more productive, how to squeeze 27 hours of work out of every 24, how to double your work pace, how to do more and more all in the name of someday getting out of the rat race. Well this is about the side effects of those ideas. If we aren’t multitasking, we feel lazy. If we aren’t doing everything, we feel like we’re slacking. We compare ourselves to others who we think are doing more, having more, getting more and achieving more, and it’s driving us crazy. We feel overwhelmed when we think we have too much to do, too much is expected of us, or that a stressor is too much for us to handle. And we respond by lashing out with emotions of anger, irritability, anxiety, doubt and helplessness.

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    This season especially is the most stressful time of year. Between the holidays, final exams, family gatherings and general feelings of guilt that it’s the end of the year, it’s easy to get overwhelmed thinking of all the things you still need to get done. But if you use these tips, not only will you get the important stuff done, you’ll keep your sanity while doing it!

      Is this you?

      Change your thought pattern-stop thinking negatively

      When you feel overwhelmed, the first thing you do is start thinking negatively or begin to resent why it’s your responsibility in the first place! The first thing you have to do is to stop! Stop thinking negatively immediately. Instead, focus on the positive. If you’re stuck in traffic, think of how great it is to have some time to yourself. If you’re rushing trying to get things done by a deadline, think how lucky you are to have a purpose and to be working towards it. If you’re stressing about a final exam, think of how fortunate you are to be given the opportunity of higher education. After you’ve changed your thought patterns, you must then say to yourself “I can do this.” Keep saying it until you believe it and you’re more than halfway to ending feeling overwhelmed.

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      Take a deep breath/change your body posture

      When you’re stressed certain things happen to your body. You start to breath shallowly, you hunch over, you immediately tense up and all that tension drives your feelings of stress even more. Relax! Straighten your posture and take at least ten deep, cleansing, breaths. Force yourself to smile and do something to change your state. It could be as simple as giving yourself a hug or as silly as clapping your hands three times, throwing them up in the air and shouting “I GOT THIS!” Think to yourself, how would I sit/stand if I had perfect confidence and control of the situation?

      Focus on right now

      Now that you are in a better state of mind and are no longer thinking negatively, you need to focus on the here and now. Ask yourself this question: What is the most important thing I have control of and can act on right now? Keep asking yourself this until you have a concrete next step.

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      Take Action

      Now that you know what’s most important and what to do about it, do it! Start with the first step and focus on getting that done. Don’t worry about anything else right now, just on what your first step is and how to get it done. Once that’s done with, determine the next most important step and get that done.

      Let go of what you can’t control (the gambler’s theory)

      Seasoned gamblers understand the importance of due diligence and knowing when to let go. The Gambler’s Theory is that once your bet is placed there is nothing you can do, so you might as well relax and enjoy the process. The time to worry is when you’re figuring out the best odds and making the decision of what to bet when you can actually take action. I used this one a lot in college. After an exam, there is absolutely no point in stressing about it. There’s nothing you can do. And the same goes for feeling overwhelmed. If you can do something about your situation, do it, focus and take action. But if you’ve done what you could and now are just waiting, or if you’re worried about something you have no control over, realize that there’s no point. You might as well relax and enjoy the moment.

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      yoga-422196_1280
        Relax and enjoy the moment

        Stop feeling guilty

        Finally, stop comparing yourself to others. If you are at your wits end trying to keep up with what you think you should be doing, you aren’t being fair to yourself. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t strive for improvement, just don’t go overboard because you feel like you have to. Only you know what’s really important to you, and your personal success journey so focus on what your top priorities are, not someone else’s.

        Everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes. The important thing is to realize it’s normal and that you can do something about it by taking focused and deliberate action. Happy Holidays!

        Featured photo credit: Stress Therapy via flickr.com

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