Are meetings real work?

This week has been a busy one. I had several deadlines — some of which I deliberately committed to, because otherwise, I don’t move my ass. So, I pushed all meetings to today (Thursday) to give myself time to write in the first three days of the week.

Therefore, today alone, I have six scheduled meetings as well as a couple of calls I need to return that I haven’t put on the calendar.

Adding all meetings as tasks to my project management tool and it looks a lot more productive than before. #okgoing

— Ranjani (@_tharkuri) July 7, 2020

Now, you’d understand why I’m asking the question, “are meetings real work?”

The short answer is, “of course they are”.

But the truth is more complex than that, isn’t it? Meetings don’t feel like real work because there are no ‘outcomes’. Let’s say you’re a writer. Writing an article feels like work because that’s what you’ve told yourself your job is — “I’m a writer, I write”. You measure yourself — even if sub-consciously — by the amount of writing you got done.

But no one ever measures themselves by the number of meetings they go to (salespeople kinda do?). Meetings are a means to an end, and often, not the best means at that. Because people set meetings for all the wrong reasons:

  • Boss wants to know if the team is really doing any work.

  • Client changed their mind about what they need done, so wants to re-brief you.

  • Client brings the entire website team — writer, SEO, designer, developer, animator, their minion, minion’s minion, etc. — and has “weekly check-ins”. Absolutely no one in the meeting takes ownership and we all spend an hour each week nodding in various directions.

  • The team isn’t working well together, so let’s call an all-hands and hope they talk to each other, instead of speaking to them individually and understanding the problem.

  • Manager has a spark, wants to talk to someone, but has forgotten all about it by the time the meeting happens.

And then there is the problem of meetings peppered through the day. I start my day at 930am but have a call at 10am — in essence, I spend 930-10 worrying about the 10am meeting. And then I finish that and step out for coffee but figure I’ll take a long-ish break because I’ve another meeting in 45 mins. By the time it’s 6pm, I’ve had three meetings and lots of worry breaks. Phew!

All of this is fixable, except the one problem I’ve seen has no solution: Inability to speak the truth unequivocally.

  • Client won’t say, “I have only 8k”, will instead say, “Covid and economy and budget and other agencies and better writers and blah blah, what do you say?” I’ll say “12k, please”.

  • They won’t say, “this is not the point we want to make, write this instead”. They’ll tell you the whole story all over again from the beginning and you’re thinking, “isn’t that exactly what I’ve written”.

  • Freelancers won’t say, “Please stop, I’ve got this. I’ll go write now, we can review again later, if I have misunderstood”. Instead, you’ll stay polite and listen to the client go on and on and on.

  • Businesses won’t say, “please clear the invoice before I can do anymore work. Instead they’ll go cashflow and work and invoice and salaries and trust and faith and relationship….”

The one thing that has helped me do meetings better (more for myself than for my team, to be honest) is ask the question: What do I want at the end of it? If there is a goal, I send an email mentioning it — “In today’s meeting, I’d like an approval on that case study, please?” and insist it’s discussed. If no goal, I either don’t go or go for the fun of it!

Not that all meetings work out for me. Only that I can now tell much in advance which ones will be waste and which ones not. You live and you learn.

P.S: You do know you can say no to meetings, right? And not answer unscheduled calls?