Many of you have jobs in which you are required to regularly attend "meetings." Meetings about budgets, or staffing, or strategy, or one million other arcane workplace topics. I would like to point out, to your boss: "meetings," as a practice, are an enormous waste of time.
I am fortunate enough to work in an environment in which daily "meetings" are not required. I sit around and make blog posts. That's about it. It is a very straightforward job. It does not require lengthy consultations with various higher-ups. I am mostly left alone, to make my blog posts. I am not asked or ordered to attend a multitude of corporate "planning sessions," each week, or to have "sit downs" to "discuss the direction we're going in." I work for a company that produces blog posts. I use my work time to produce blog posts. Efficiency is achieved.
In this sense, my job is not so different from any other normal, efficient job. Willy Wonka's Chocolate Company produces chocolate. Some of the workers spend their time making the chocolate. Some package the chocolate, some ship the chocolate, some sell the chocolate. Some tally up the money, some do the payroll, some clean up. What everyone's job has in common is that it contributes to the purpose of the career in question. A chocolate-making Oompa-Loompa need not ask himself, at the end of his day, "What did I accomplish today?" He has a huge pile of chocolate that answers that question.
Assuming you like what you do, and do not just spend your time at work looking for ways to avoid work (if you do, you're doing a great job right now), you want to maximize the time that you spend actually doing your job. You don't want to spend half of your time doing meta-tasks that do not actually contribute to the purpose of why you are there. And—here is a crucial point—neither should your employer want you spend lots of time on tertiary tasks that are not actually your job. Your unmolested efficiency at work is to the benefit of both you and your employer.
If someone wants to tell you something at work, they can walk over and tell you. If they want to tell a bunch of people something, they can send an email. On rare occasions of great import, when something very complex and critical must be discussed and explained to a large group of people, it makes sense to have a "meeting." In that rare case, it is probably worthwhile to sit a bunch of people in a conference room and hem and haw and give a rambling introduction and recap of the situation at hand and explain at length the ins and outs of every last hypothetical possibility of what may or may not be happening some time soon, and then to patiently listen and respond to grindingly repetitive questions from a group of people who were not totally listening. This is a "meeting." It may drag on for 30 minutes, or an hour, or many hours. It should be deployed only when absolutely necessary.
The one thing that you can guarantee that everyone in a meeting is not doing during the meeting: their actual jobs.
Physically gathering a bunch of people in a room (along with more unfortunate lost souls on "speaker phone") and talking to them at length and then taking all of their questions one by one is perhaps the least efficient method of communication ever devised by man. It is certain to produce an excess of unimportant small talk filler to get things underway, an excess of repetition of various points to help those whose minds inevitably wandered, and an excess of time spent answering questions about things that only the single biggest idiot in the room does not understand. Carving a decree onto a stone tablet would ultimately be a more efficient communication tactic than holding "meetings." The biggest idiot in the room could simply consult the tablet with any questions. Everyone else could get on with their work.
So why then are many of our jobs filled with exactly the sort of unproductive meta-tasks like "meetings," that seem to drag on forever to little end? To answer that question, you need to only consider the role of the middle manager. Most big companies are full of em! Middle managers have two main characteristics: 1) They make more money than you; and 2) They do not produce anything that can be easily identified. The middle manager at Willy Wonka's Chocolate Company does not actually make chocolate. He just supervises those who do make the chocolate. And he is paid more than they are. So the middle manager's most important job becomes, in essence, convincing those above him that he is worth his salary. He does not produce anything tangible that he can point to to prove his productivity. So the middle manager produces meetings.
I submit to you that the true underlying purpose of most "meetings" at work is not to inform people of things. It is to demonstrate to the company that the managers and supervisors are doing stuff. Meetings are a visible action that can be taken by middle managers, who do not have the luxury of being able to directly produce something of value to justify their own existence. Ask yourself: who do most meetings benefit? You, the humble employee? Or the person running the meeting, who has publicly shown themselves to be vital to the ongoing operations of the company? Of all of the work meetings that you have endured, how many could have been easily replaced with a simple group email laying out the information at hand, or a brief phone call, or a 30-second personal conversation? Half? Three quarters? At least two thirds, if we're being honest with ourselves. I am not arguing that all meetings are unnecessary. I am just pointing out that most meetings are.
Thousands of collective work hours could be salvaged every year if an average company instituted a policy of only having meetings that were absolutely necessary, rather than having meetings whenever a motherfucker wanted to talk about some shit. If you are an employee whose time is actually valuable, you already understand this. If this idea seems dangerous because you work in an amorphous management job: go make some chocolate.
[Image by Jim Cooke; source photo via Shutterstock]