Why I Hate Meetings

With rare exception, I find business meetings that involve more than five people, especially those not devoted to a specific task, an infuriating waste of time.  Paul Graham nails down why in a way that had previously never occurred to me:

One reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they’re on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more.

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.

There’s much more to the article, which I commend in its entirety.  Also problematic is that many of us who do creative work have peak periods during which we’re most efficient.  Meetings that occur during those peak periods call kill a day’s productivity.

via Jason Kottke

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I used to refer to this as batch mode and multi-task mode. Managers cannot function in batch mode, too many different things going on and if you allow any one of them to dominate your day you are doomed. Many “creative” people chafe at multi-tasking, though occasionally this is just a rationalization for procrastination. I do concur that it is easier to do most tasks in a batch mode. Good managers put their people in a position to be successful. Good “creative” people recognize that there is a world beyond their blinders.




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  2. This is a very astute observation–and it is utterly true that I can have a whole day’s worth of serious productivity shot by a few poorly timed meetings and/or errands. It is very difficult o start/stop/start/stop writing/thinking-intensive enterprises.




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  3. Triumph says:

    Meetings are a great time to experiment with drugs.




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  4. Exactly! I have four meetings over the course of the next three days and it destroys three days of work.




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  5. Grewgills says:

    One of my favorite demotivationals.
    Meetings, because none of us are as stupid as all of us.




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  6. Drew says:

    LOL

    Now pour on, like a Gattling Gun, a day’s worth of phone calls and emails from a dozen principals and their lawyers…………..and you have the deal business.

    “Productive” work get done from 9- 12 PM.

    Enjoy.




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  7. One of my early bosses told me his father-in-law had told him that careers aren’t made from 9-5.




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  8. tom p says:

    Amen.

    My father, who was a mid level manager for Monsanto ALWAYS worked evenings and most saturdays and some sundays. Why? It was the only time he could get any work done.




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  9. Davebo says:

    The ultimate waste of time are meetings to discuss/schedule upcoming meetings.

    To make it worse, with consultants.




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  10. Grant says:

    I’ve always maintained that meetings are for lonely people that can’t make decisions!




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  11. Lucy Cole says:

    I work in scientific research, and 20 years or so ago, there was little in the way of formal management, with the vast majority of people working in the lab, and conducting any supervisory responsibilites on top of that.

    In the last decade or so there has been a monumental shift towards creating multiple tiers of management. Very significant numbers of people now do nothing other than oversee (very loosely) the work of others. Sometimes as few as just one ‘other’!

    The upshot is that all the work is now done by a relatively small percentage of the workforce, while the remainder find excuses for endless meetings so they’ll never have to go back to being a grunt at the metaphorical coal-face ever again.

    Not only are the lower orders now having to manage a vastly increased workload – they’re also having to squeeze in endless pointless meetings, so that management have something show for their time in the office.

    Meetings – the bain of the 21st century workplace.




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