Meetings are like a box of chocolates, but not in a good way. Occasionally informative and thought-provoking, all too often they are time consuming, irrelevant and poorly planned. Worst of all, you don’t know what you’re getting until you’re inside the meeting room, having put off other potentially important commitments.
Many meetings are a waste of time. A 2013 survey by Officebroker found that office workers spend 16 hours a week in meetings on average, and deem four of those to be pointless. Over the course of a career, this adds up to around 9,000 hours. You could be wasting more than a year of your life in meetings. Here are some tips for wriggling out of them, and how to make a break for it.
ASK FOR AN AGENDA
Invitations to internal meetings rarely come with a detailed agenda or list of objectives. The organiser may think they’re helping colleagues by omitting an itinerary, or keeping their description brief, but invitees will have a tougher time assessing how relevant the discussion will be to their specialism or position. If the meeting is not mandatory, don’t be afraid to ask the host for more information. You will appear interested and enthusiastic, and you will encourage the organiser to think about the purpose of the meeting, arrange material carefully, and move discussion on in a timely fashion. You are then free to cherry-pick which parts of the meeting you want to attend, coming in halfway through, or leaving after the first item has been dealt with.
BE A “MAYBE”
There is a tendency among office workers to accept every invitation they receive. It may have been sent by a superior or seem interesting at first glance. But don’t fall into the trap of hitting “accept” automatically. Many of us can’t resist this, often because the event takes place weeks into the future, and because it is more convenient to see where it fits around the other engagements on our calendar than to work out our availability ourselves. But “accepting” will indicate to your host that you are definitely coming, and may cause friction if you decline at a later date, or simply do not show up.
Equally, hitting “decline” can send the wrong message, indicating that you think the event will be boring or not worth your time. Seldom used, the “maybe” button (for Gmail users) is a valuable “via media”. It provides you with a get-out clause if you follow it up with an explanation that you might be busy with a mandatory assignment or prior engagement.
Of course, if your team has a shared calendar, you could always fill it with bogus invitations, providing an alibi for your absence. But this is a risky strategy, especially in an open-plan office, where your colleagues can see that you’re not elsewhere.
GET IN EARLY
If you’re interested in the subject of discussion, but short on time, don’t feel that the matter can’t be discussed outside Conference Room B between 3 and 4pm. If you have a useful contribution, contact the organiser beforehand. Bore No More founder Jon Petz has come up with a method for showing the host that you’re engaged with the contents without having to attend the meeting itself.
Speaking to CNBC, Petz recommended sending a response to the host, asking if they have a spare five minutes prior to the meeting. This gives you the chance to share your input. “This also gives you the opportunity to grab a seat by the door for your discreet exit a few minutes into the meeting. You walk out, nothing more than a thankful nod needed.”
A quick getaway may be useful in the short term, but it won’t end the tedium of future meetings, or work when attendance is required. Serious reform will require action on your part.
Take advantage of your company’s anonymous feedback system. Or follow the example of Charles Schwab, by holding meetings where one attendee acts as an an “observer”, compiling a list of what has gone right and wrong in the meeting and entering it into the minutes. If no feedback system is in place, manage upwards. “Encourage your boss and others when their meetings are succinct and productive,” Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant told Business Insider. “Everyone will be thankful.”
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