Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 25;   June 22, 2016: How to Waste Time in Meetings

How to Waste Time in Meetings

by

Nearly everyone hates meetings. The main complaint: they're mostly a waste of time. The main cause: us. Here's a field manual for people who want to waste even more time.
Elephants fighting

One way to shorten meetings is to compile a list of methods for wasting time, and then not do any of it. Since many of us are experts at not doing things that are on lists, this works very well. So I made a list of ways to waste time in meetings. I'm not talking about your run-of-the-mill time wasters, like discussing to death something nobody can do anything about. No, I'm talking about massive wastage — the kind that can be well executed only by a malicious genius or somebody with a serious mental disorder.

Here's an If everyone is familiar with
how we waste time, people
are less likely to do the
things that waste time
example. You're working on a document that's a joint effort of two departments. One passage now reads, "It is likely that competitors will respond with both price reductions and capability enhancements." You decide to propose a revision: "It is probable that our competitors will respond with both capability enhancements and price reductions." To the untrained eye, this proposal is non-controversial. But to the inefficiency expert, it's brilliant. What will follow will be a long debate, maybe even extending into another meeting. Glorious!

Here's a little catalog of general time-wasting techniques for meetings. We'll address virtual meetings next time.

  • Arrive late and insist that the Chair bring you "up to speed."
  • As the Chair summarizes what you missed, pay no attention. You can always ask again later.
  • Insist that the meeting begin only after the late arrivals arrive. This works best if you're one of the late arrivals. No point wasting your own time.
  • If you're the Chair, send the meeting invitation with no clue as to agenda.
  • Deny having received the emailed meeting documents. Ask for them to be re-sent.
  • Propose a change to the order of the agenda.
  • Only after your agenda change has been debated and rejected, announce that because you're leaving early, the agenda change is necessary.
  • Start a heated debate with somebody about something only the two of you know anything about.
  • Start a heated debate with somebody about something only you know anything about.
  • Start a heated debate with somebody about something not even you know anything about.
  • During the meeting, send a high-priority text broadcast to everyone else to find out who didn't mute their devices.
  • Change the subject to something so explosive that nobody can resist changing the subject.
  • Speak in not-so-hushed tones to your neighbor. If he or she is already talking to somebody, interrupt them.
  • If you get a phone call while you have the floor, take it. Step out of the room. If you don't get a phone call while you have the floor, pretend you did.
  • Pay no attention to the discussion. If you lose the thread, ask an unrelated question.
  • Don't bring your handouts with you to the meeting. Suddenly say, "I can't find my copy," rush out of the room, and make them wait.
  • After breaks, return last.

How many of these have you seen in the past week? Next in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: How to Waste Time in Virtual Meetings  Next Issue

101 Tips for Effective MeetingsDo you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!

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Related articles

More articles on Effective Meetings:

A forest glenGames for Meetings: Part I
We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized games. Here's Part I of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we can do about them.
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To save time, or to find a time everyone has free, we sometimes meet during lunch. It seems like a good idea, but there are some hidden costs.
A broadcast-only sporting event during a pandemicSocial Distancing for Pandemic Flu
It's time we all began to take seriously the warning about a possible influenza pandemic. Whether or not your organization has a plan, you can do much to reduce your own chances of infection, and the chances of mass infection, by adopting a set of practices known as social distancing.
A senator rests on a cot in the Old Senate Chamber during a filibusterUntangling Tangled Threads
In energetic discussions, topics and subtopics get intertwined. The tangles can be frustrating. Here's a collection of techniques for minimizing tangles in complex discussions.
An informal meeting geometryPreventing Sidebars
Sidebar conversations between meeting participants waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. How can we prevent them?

See also Effective Meetings and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Balancing talk time and the value of the contributionComing March 29: Virtual Blowhards
Controlling meeting blowhards is difficult enough in face-to-face meetings, but virtual meetings present next-level problems, because techniques that work face-to-face are unavailable. Here are eight tactics for controlling virtual blowhards. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
kudzu enveloping a Mississippi landscapeAnd on April 5: Listening to Ramblers
Ramblers are people who can't get to the point. They ramble, they get lost in detail, and listeners can't follow their logic, if there is any. How can you deal with ramblers while maintaining civility and decorum? Available here and by RSS on April 5.

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