Don’t be in a meeting

Despite a bewildering choice of smart (and not so smart) phones, you begin to wonder whether it is worth calling anyone these days. Most of the time you get either a voicemail, or the message that he/she (the object of your desire to communicate) is in a meeting.
Let’s dwell on this ‘Bob/Tracy is in a meeting’ phenomenon. Receptionists say it. Assistants say it. Colleagues say it. They don’t say ‘she’s in the loo right now’. Nor ‘he’s not back from lunch’, ‘on the golf course’, or ‘bunked off early’. Interestingly no one says, ‘he’s actually working now and doesn’t want to be interrupted’. Very few assistants are bold enough to admit, ‘David really doesn’t want to speak to you’.
But this ‘in a meeting’ excuse happens all the time. It suggests a number of things:
Either that meetings are intrinsically important. Or that I’m very important, because I’m in a meeting. Or possibly that this particular meeting is so important that I cannot be interrupted even by spectacularly good or bad news.

It is interesting how many genuinely busy and powerful people will respond to a text – even if they are in a meeting! That suggests to me that most sensible people don’t regard meetings as a bar to being interested in what is happening outside the meeting room.
What do I recommend, having researched the meeting phenomenon pretty thoroughly en route to writing Mote: The Super Meeting?
i. Don’t be in too many meetings, and in particular avoid back to back meetings at all costs. Two meetings in a row, and you waste the second half of the first one worrying about the next one. Three in a row, and you’ll forget everything about the first two, quite apart from being mentally drained in the third one.
ii. Leave messages or instructions for dealing with callers that are a bit more imaginative than the ‘in a meeting’ cliché. ‘He/she can call you back this afternoon’, or ‘Is it important? Because I could get a message to him/her’ would both be a tremendous improvement
iii. Tackle the problem at source by being less compliant in pressing Accept when you get a meeting request. You can always hit Tentative or even Decline. You could Propose New Time. You could also not respond, although maybe that’s a subversive suggestion
There are too many meetings. Meetings have too many people in them, and are inefficient.  Meetings drive us mad and frustrated by making us crazy-busy, and not allowing us to finish our real work in office hours. They destroy our life/work balance, and indirectly rob partners and family of quality time with us.
The next time you are desperate to get hold of someone, and you are told that they are in a meeting, resist the temptation to say, ‘tell me something new’. Reflect on how meeting fascism affects us all, and resolve to not be in meetings so much, and encourage your friends to do the same.
This is David’s October blog for the Marketing Society.
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