We have got to stop meeting like this

We have got to stop meeting like this! Between work and my personal life, it seems like I’m always being group gathered for something. I’m all meetinged out.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for meetings with a purpose, but when the only purpose seems to be able to say we met, I start to have issues. And boy have I had issues lately.

Following one especially meeting-dense month, I went back through my planner and discovered I’d been rounded up on 43 different occasions for my “valued input and wisdom,” which I quote from one of the many arm-twisting letters, e-mails, and phone calls of invitation.

With the number of meetings called allegedly for problem-solving purposes, it’s a wonder there are any problems left to solve. Maybe it’s meetings that are CAUSING the problems. Did you ever think of that? I do all the time during endless meetings.

Unnecessary meetings disguised as informational sessions are actually hostage situations where time is the ransom demand. As director of an agency, I’m constantly being invited, against my will and better judgment, to meetings I must attend for political reasons. 

These meetings look like a roll call of who’s who in local leadership. No politically correct leader wants to be accused of not wanting to “partner” with others or to “champion” a noble cause. I resent being invited just so my name can be reflected in the meeting minutes as evidence that I’m a bureaucracy booster. For the record, I am not.

Meeting madness affects not just organizational leaders, but trickles its time-wasting ways down the chain of command. My custodian friend David is forced to sit for hours among his company’s movers and shakers during budget conformance meetings just so he can report on his department’s one revenue line item: The Tampax vending machine in the women’s restroom.

We get mileage out of that one when we (voluntarily) meet for lunch and facetiously plan point of purchase displays to help David improve revenue projections and increase profits. However, the huge amount of time we waste at meetings is no laughing matter.

It’s bad enough to routinely get rounded up for political reasons, but it’s even worse when the nothing to talk about takes even longer than it should. This happens because necessary or not, organizations institutionalize monthly, bi-monthly, or weekly meetings into their by-laws. A meeting to change by-law bondage is one of the few meetings I would happily attend.

After repeated attempts to shorten stupid, shouldn’t-be-held-in-the-first-place meetings, I’ve resorted to the following: Estimating how long I think a meeting should take, then adjusting my participation to that timeframe by either arriving late or leaving early. If I can’t control that my time is going to be wasted, I can at least control how much of it is wasted.

One of the many qualities I respect about Toastmasters International is that it models how to succinctly conduct a meeting. The exactly one hour of time I spend in my Toastmasters meeting each week is an hour well spent.

My husband worked for a company that believed it was the exception to the meeting rule, top brass claiming its employees “just love to attend our meetings.” When budget cuts forced cutting back on the catered food served at meetings, attendance cut back, too. Yup.

Meetings are not inherently evil. But they should be held for the purpose of action, hence the term “action items” that appears on agendas. Too many meetings have become just another ritualistic activity.

I recently wrote that the three little words most people would prefer to hear even more than “I love you” are “You were right.” But if you really want to talk dirty to someone, whisper this three-word phrase into an ear, “Meeting is cancelled.”

That might lead to an overwhelming organizational orgasm guaranteed to require smoking a (banned on company premises) cigarette in the afterglow. “Was it good for you?” frequent flier meeting attendees would ask one another.

“I have never felt anything quite so good,” I would report as I waited for my toes to uncurl: A positively mind-numbing experience, in contrast to the usual butt-numbing sensation of doing perpetual parliamentary penance.

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