Meetings can be the best type of work.
Most people hate meetings. We’ve been indoctrinated with the belief that meetings take us away from our “real work.”
In this post, I share a belief I have about the world that others don’t realize. It is that meetings can be the best type of work.
People give much ado over “deep work.” But leave me to myself for a long enough time and I withdraw into procrastination and self-loathing.
And the antidote to that? Meetings. They make work more fun. They make it easier. And they produce better work.
Meetings make work more fun
For months, my friend Jezze and I have been talking about our Coaching Project. We want to explore coaching solutions to challenges East Asians in their early to mid careers experience when working in Europe or the US.
At first, we gave each other homework to do asynchronously. After all, asynchronous = productive, right?
Like most personal projects, it was near the bottom of our bottomless todo lists.
On my own, rescheduling this task day after day after day, the Coaching Project felt like an obligation that kept getting heavier and heavier. I was Atlas holding up the celestial heavens for eternity.
Instead of weekly homework and monthly meetings, we decided to do… Guess what? Meetings. Weekly meetings. Half discussion and half online coworking session. As a result, we finished several weeks of procrastinated work on a one hour meeting.
Most importantly, the meeting reminded us of the reason we decided to work on this project in the first place: To work on something fun together.
They make work easier
Meetings unblock people technically and creatively, saving hours of hardship and frustration.
At work, one productivity killer is getting stuck with some technical voodoo.
For example, “opsctl,” our command line tool for operational daily business, hates me. It refuses to update. It keeps asking for my password. It insists that I did something wrong.
Like a good colleague who avoids interrupting the engineers, I Read The Fucking Manual. I spend hours willing this tool to submission, up to the point when I declare that computers suck and they should die.
Finally, I concede. I get on a call, “a meeting,” with a colleague. Within minutes, we find that the fucking manual is not updated. Plus, there is a bug in opsctl. If only I had gotten on a call earlier, life would’ve been way easier. An existential crisis could’ve been averted.
They produce better work
Finally, meetings produce better work. This is especially true if your work is complex and constantly changing. Your colleagues see what you don’t. And you them. You bring your beginner’s eyes, they their experience.
We calm each other down and remind ourselves this isn’t rocket science. A baby doesn’t die every day we don’t finish before our arbitrarily tight deadline. We help each other keep going when all we want to do sometimes is just merge the thing and hope for the best.
As Al Pittampalli writes in Read This Before Our Next Meeting,
Meetings matter. In simple organizations, not so much. In industrial organizations, not so often. In organizations that don’t have to wrestle with change, not at all. In our organization, though, and in modern organizations everywhere, meetings are the lever that allows coherent motion.
Death, taxes, and bad meetings
Don’t get me wrong. Along with death and taxes, bad meetings are a constant in this world.
While there are many resources on how to turn bad meetings into productive ones, here are some basic principles:
- As a meeting organizer, spend more time (1) preparing for the meeting and (2) following up on action items, than on the meeting itself. Even spending two minutes to write what you want to accomplish and three to five points as an agenda goes a long way. Do this before you send a meeting invite.
- As a meeting attendee, always, always ask what the purpose of the meeting is and what your contribution could be. Never attend a meeting with no stated purpose.
Meetings are neither good nor bad, but preparation makes it so. So, go forth and have good meetings!