The productivity trap

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

In my early days of college, I entered a research group. That group met every Friday at noon for — as long as I could see — no apparent reason. There was no agenda prepared and the meetings could go on as long as two hours of people talking and talking about random things. Only sometimes were these things related to research. Another productivity-addicted friend and I worked hard for the next two years to improve their meeting’s system. We put time and subject limits, started pre-decided agendas, and emailed the discussed topics to the group after every meeting. It was a revolution that worked.

Years later, at the first NGO I volunteered at, the nightmare of disorganized meetings came back to haunt me and I saw myself once again trapped in close to pointless meetings. People were always late, we had no plan to follow, people said whatever they wanted (related or not to the topic) in whatever moment they felt like it (including in the middle of other people’s sentences), and the meetings usually lasted three hours.

But before I lost my mind, I realized something: meetings are, of course, spaces to discuss the ongoing work, but they are also a shared moment between humans. They can be a moment to connect and build relationships. And if you think this further, the more intimacy you have with a co-worker, the more productive you’ll be. You’ll know how to talk with them, how they think and react, as a result, and the work will flow easier.

In both cases, even though the people who attended the meetings worked together at these groups, they did not spent the rest of the week together; and I failed to see that these meetings were moments to catch up. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t give up on productivity! We started to have agendas that were also sent afterwards, and we started to check ourselves and get the conversation back to track when it went too far off-topic. And I did interrupt a lot, saying things like: “but about what we were talking…”. However, I did it way less than my head wanted, and it bothered me way less than it used to.

At the first group, I missed the chance to let people connect in a deeper level than work-meetings allow. At the second group, I did my best to fight my urges and even sat through one long explanation about how to properly cook beans. I do believe in productivity and I try to bring it to everything I do, but now I’m learning that the opposite of high productivity is not waste. It’s a chance to get to know people, to connect and to learn from them. And isn’t this the reason for being in a planet with billions of other people?

Edited by Isabelle Jade.

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