Picture this: it’s monday morning, and you need to schedule an urgent meeting with James. A few mouse clicks and a fist pump (optional) later, you have successfully laid claim to an hour in James’ half-empty smorgasbord of a calendar. Meanwhile over at his desk, brows knitted and shoulders raised, James is fretting to fit two other meetings into his schedule with rising concern for what his week will end up looking like — yet somehow ends up accepting your meeting request.
It’s an odd thing, our relationship with meetings: when I ask people whether they feel as if they attend too many meetings, the answer is invariably yes. Why is that? We’re all reasonably intelligent people, and at least vaguely aware of the fact that work takes place both during andbetween meetings. Yet time and again, we favour meetings over the work that takes place in between them — which leads to a world of hurt.
Have you ever accepted a meeting, only to realize shortly thereafter that you ought to have known better? Good. Now hold on to that feeling, and let’s try to find out what possessed you.
Why we accept meetings we ought to refuse
Basically, there are two ways to conduct work: solo (read: tasks you execute on alone), and collaborative (read: meetings, mostly). Combined, tasks and meetings represent our total workload — and therein lies the rub. Your calendar lets you easily and precisely manage and quantify meetings, but what about your tasks?
Solo work, which takes place in between collaborative work, is extremely hard to manage. Almost everyone lacks the appropriate tools and training to collect, organize, prioritize and execute tasks in an efficient way — let alone quantify them with any sort of precision.
Without a functioning task management system, your tasks are about as organized as a heap of books lying on the floor: you only have a guess as to how many there really are, and every time you finish one you leaf through the most easily accessible ones to figure out which one to tackle next.
Without a functioning task management system, would you say that you make sound judgements about whether or your combined workload allows for another meeting? I fervently hope you’re shaking your head by now, because if not you need to start reading from the top again until you do.
It’s also about feelings
There’s also a second reason for why we say yes to meetings we ought to decline, which has less to do with structure and more with psychology. Briefly put, humans are conflict averse and inclusion prone. Ask us nicely, and this twofer ensures most of us will default to a ‘yes’.
To combat binge meeting disorder, first open your group calendar of choice. Then create an all-week meeting (marked as Free and Private, to hide it from prying eyes) with the following subject: People are remembered by how much they achieve, not by how busy they are.
And you know what they say about how much gets achieved in meetings…