“Meetings don’t get work done. Meetings create work.”
I’ve said that so many times I’ve almost convinced myself that I originated the aphorism. But probably it came from my predecessor, Jim Sire. (Unless he stole it from someone else.)
It’s true, of course. Most of the time I come out of a meeting with a list of to-dos that I’ve jotted down. Am I able to cross anything off my list when I come out of meetings? No. Certainly decisions were made (we hope) at the meeting, but as far as getting something done, that’s about the extent of it.
Meetings are the butt of many jokes, and deservedly so. Probably 90 percent of all Dilbert cartoons are devoted to meetings in one way or another. Similarly, programmer Paul Graham wrote:
For one year I worked at a regular nine to five job, and I remember well the strange, cozy feeling that comes over one during meetings. I was very aware, because of the novelty, that I was being paid for programming. It seemed just amazing, as if there was a machine on my desk that spat out a dollar bill every two minutes no matter what I did. Even while I was in the bathroom! But because the imaginary machine was always running, I felt I always ought to be working. And so meetings felt wonderfully relaxing. They counted as work, just like programming, but they were so much easier. All you had to do was sit and look attentive.
Meetings are like an opiate with a network effect. So is email, on a smaller scale. And in addition to the direct cost in time, there’s the cost in fragmentation–breaking people’s day up into bits too small to be useful.
Sometimes (not often enough) I come home from the office and say, “Today was a great day at work. No meetings. I got a ton done.” That’s why Graham proposes (as have others) that one day a week be set aside when meetings are forbidden. Not so tongue in cheek, he suggests calling it “Work Day.”
The whole meeting thing is complex, of course. Some things can only be done in collaboration. Morale, personality types, priorities and other factors also come in to play–and much more needs to be said. But let me at least affirm one key idea: Having regular or irregular blocks of uninterrupted time are essential for getting the highest quality and most efficient work done.
I’d say more on that now, but I have to run to a meeting.