Productivity at work and meetings

Recently a coworker lent me the famous book Rework by 37 Signals. Interesting book, a bit sarcastic and pretentious I’d say: many ideas are exposed as the holy truth, like if there was only one way to see things, but some ideas do indeed make sense.

If you don’t know it, that book is about how to manage your schedule at work in order to improve your productivity. Although it’s supposed to be read by entrepreneurs many topics are of general interest. My past experience with YoolinkPro as a startup co-founder also gave me an interesting perspective when I read that book (according to that book we did many mistakes at that time but YoolinkPro is still there and more and more efficient as time goes).

One of the idea in that book that stroke me was that meetings kill productivity, here are the main reasons why:

  • Meetings have a very low information/minute rate
  • Meetings always diverge from their initial plan
  • Meetings are very costy (4 people in a one-hour meeting costs 4 hours to the company)
  • Meetings tend to proliferate (a meeting will lead to a new one and so on)

In my daily job I spend lots of time in meetings, so that part of the book caught my attention. I wondered if I could do things better.

So I should try to kill meetings as much as I can, OK, but what is the alternative? If I need to coordinate a team on a technical subject, if I need to discuss a strategic choice for the company? Looks that most of the “Meeting Killers” vote for massive email usage.

I can see the benefit: emails are processed when you want to so you can group that task in different moments in your day rather than being managed by your calendar. But is that an universal solution? What is the issue we try to fix with meetings?

Well, let’s step back a bit: Why do we do meetings?

We do meetings when we need to share information between more than two people. Actually, a meeting is supposed to give an answer to one or more questions that involves these people. Sometimes, a meeting is also schedulded to take a decision.

Can we do that by email?

Despite the book I’d say that it depends, to me the key here is to answer the question: is that question or that decision blocking someone now ? Can’t that wait a day?

Most of the time you’ll see that it actually can wait a day. In this situations, then yes, I agree an email is better than a meeting. The email should be written very clearly though, it should not be too long (long emails are counterproductive) and should clearly expose the question that need to be answered (or the decision to be taken).

In other situations, I think a meeting is still the good way to go, but again, it should be well defined, should not involve more than 4/5 people and should be limited in time (when the ring bells, it’s over, period).

Another interesting idea to balance the whole “Kill the meetings” thing is to choose a time-frame when meetings are forbidden, it may be all the mornings, or for instance a whole day when you will never allow a meeting to be planed. I think I’ll experiment with that, like for instance, the “no meetings thursday”.

Feel free to share your experiences in the comments, I’m interested to see other point of views on the subject.