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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 October 15, 2018

    How to Calm Down When You Are Overwhelmed: 7 Quick Ways to Try

    How to Calm Down When You Are Overwhelmed: 7 Quick Ways to Try

    Do you sometimes feel that you add items to your to-do list faster than you tick them off? Do you spend most of your day worrying about your lack of time?

    The truth is, no matter how much we love our job, or how productive we believe we are under stress, there comes a moment when the pressure rises above boiling point. The sheer number of urgent tasks multiplies in a geometric progression. New possibilities no longer sound inspiring, they sound overwhelming and equal more work.

    If that’s where you are right now – keep reading! If not, it doesn’t mean you should wait until you get there to learn how to cope with a demanding work schedule and how to calm yourself down quickly when you feel overwhelmed.

    Here are 7 quick and easy tips on how to calm down when you are overwhelmed:

    1. Let go of a few activities

    Yes, it’s that easy! Take a look at your to-do list and ask yourself, “If I don’t do it today, will it matter a month from now?”

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    Not every urgent task is important. Just like not every important, high pay-off task is urgent. The best way to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed and to manage your time is to know the difference between the two and learn to simplify your life by getting your to-do list down to three big tasks.

    2. Take deep breaths to calm down

    This advice sounds so simple it’s often overlooked. But it works better (and faster) than any other relaxation technique out there.

    There is a direct connection between our emotional state and breathing. An anxious, frustrated or overwhelmed person breathes as if they have just finished running a marathon. A calm person breathes differently. Their breathing is deep, slow and steady. So when you have a panic attack, the best way to bring your heart rate down and to regain your cool is to change your breathing.

    Try this now:

    Take a slow, long deep breath in, filling your lungs with air and expanding your diaphragm. Hold your breath for four counts and then slowly release the air through your mouth. Repeat four times and notice frustration and the feeling of being overwhelmed dissolve with each long exhale of these calming breaths.

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    3. Make “Just one thing” your mantra

    When we feel overwhelmed by the amount of tasks on our to-do list, it’s easy to enter the ‘deer in the headlights’ state. You see deadlines approaching directly towards you, and you know that something has to be done about them, but you just don’t know where to start.

    The best way to get your mind out of an ‘inactivity trance’ is to create momentum. This is what makes the “Just one thing” mantra so powerful. It helps to change our expectation that everything has to be completed right now, “or else.”

    Next time you feel overwhelmed make grabbing a cup of coffee your “Just one thing.” You can do it, right? Then come back, pick one of the smallest tasks on your to-do list and tell yourself you’ll do just that one task. This is your next “Just one thing” that you will concentrate on until it’s complete. After that you can move on to the next task and so on.

    It’s not “One thing at a time.” Saying this implies that there is a huge line of other tasks waiting to get done and that’s not the message you want to keep repeating to yourself. Learn how to focus here and stop getting overwhelmed.

    4. Reduce the multi-tasking and multi-thinking

    It’s been proven that multi-tasking is very inefficient, to the point of dumbing us down (more than smoking marijuana does). The same is true for multi-thinking, when your mind frantically jumps from one thought to another, trying to focus on and analyze several things all at once.

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    Fortunately, there is help. A few minutes of meditation or brainwave music is all it takes to start feeling more relaxed, more creative and less overwhelmed.

    5. Get moving

    Any exercise you engage in – be it walking or dancing to your favorite beat – helps to release endorphins, the ‘feel-good’ hormones, through your body and to clear your mind.

    Staying active also increases your productivity, enhances your ability to combat stress and anxiety. It also helps you to release the tension, boosting your mood and changing the thoughts that induce the sense of being overwhelmed.

    The best part is you don’t have to spend hours in the gym to get the mind-soothing benefits of exercise. Even as little as 15 minutes of dancing or jogging can go a long way towards making you feel better and staying calmer.

    6. Change your surroundings

    We all need and deserve to take vacations from work woes and family responsibilities. Unfortunately, spending two weeks lazing on a beach, toes in the sand and a Mojito in hand, is not always an option. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t take short ‘vacations’ from work stress and the technology buzz.

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    Go outside for a few minutes and enjoy the sunshine. Stop at a park instead of driving straight home from work. Sometimes changing your surroundings and ‘spicing up your routine’ is all it takes to change your perspective on things and find creative solutions to seemingly complex and overwhelming problems.

    7. Get some pet therapy

    Studies have shown what most of us already guessed – our pets can be a great help during stressful moments. Simple actions such as petting or playing with your dog or cat can lower high blood pressure, boost your immune system and boost your mood.

    Besides, pets can make the best conversation partners to share your frustrations with. They listen, they love you unconditionally and they never talk back or say, “I told you so.”

    Final thoughts

    Don’t wait for stress to hit you to start practicing these quick ways to calm down when you are overwhelmed. The best way to enjoy a worry-free life is not to push yourself to the limit of being overwhelmed and frustrated.

    Featured photo credit: Dardan via unsplash.com

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