Why We Love To Hate Meetings, But Keep Going To Them Anyway

Given the name of our organization – Stop Meeting Like This – we frequently get asked what people can do to upgrade the quality of their meetings. We provide the usual prescriptions:

  • Get super clear on the purpose and who really needs to be there
  • Manage the conversation so that there is well-distributed participation and to ensure you achieve the outcomes
  • Send a timely recap of key discussion points and action items to lock in progress and avoid the risk of a do-over because everyone forgot what happened

All logical and good advice. Too bad they are asking the wrong question.

Instead of asking how to improve meetings, we should be asking why we don’t (improve them). I liken it to health and wellness. We know what we’re supposed to do… and yet, how many of us get the requisite 8 hours of sleep, eat a diet rich in vegetables, and have a regular mindfulness practice?

My hypothesis for why we don’t buck the bad meeting trend is because meetings can be a brilliant form of procrastination. We convince ourselves that going to meetings is the same as doing work. And since meetings beget meetings, calendars fill up. Voila! The perfect reason why we don’t have time for strategic thinking or long-term (deadline free) planning.

Have you ever started to work on a complex problem only to find yourself lured away by the gratification of a quick email or interesting post on social media? Riding the meeting “train” is pretty much the same thing. It can make a week full of important and deep work easily turn into 30 hours of meetings, 5 hours of lunch and coffee breaks, and 5 hours of impromptu hallway conversations. Then we wonder where the week went…

This approach works great if the goal is to pass the time. But if you’re aiming a bit higher than that, you will have to break the procrastination habit and be a more disciplined meeting goer. Here’s how to get started:

  • Figure out what your highest priority work is for the week – what you really get paid to do
  • Estimate how much time that work will take. Beware the planning fallacy.
  • Schedule time for it on your calendar. Label each block with what you will get done so that when the time comes, you can dive right in. (90 minutes is ideal, but even 30 – 60 is better than nothing. Make meetings fit in around your working time, rather than vice versa. Take a more discerning eye to your schedule and only accept meetings which have a clear purpose and you can make a meaningful contribution
  • In the meetings, stay off your devices. There is no such thing as multitasking. Take pen and paper notes if you really want to remember what occurred.

Using your time differently at work will make your results and your energy soar. While the temptation to procrastinate through meetings is very real, the costs are too.