Kickstarter Lesson #244: Why I Avoid Meetings

12 February 2018

Have you ever participated in a meeting that felt like it was a total waste of time?

I most certainly have. At the job I had before Stonemaier Games, we had bi-weekly, 2-hour meetings that were mostly dreadful. They were my responsibility, so over time I implemented some strict guidelines on agendas and time limits that helped to a certain extent. However, they still left a mark on me.

As a result, I avoid most meetings (with some notable exceptions listed below). That is, I simply don’t schedule meetings, and if someone asks for a meeting, I usually decline.

I actually think that meetings have a place in business: The purpose of a meeting is a collaboration. This can manifest as a discussion, a test/experiment that requires multiple people, or a personal connection (more on that below).

The problem, I’ve found, is that people often request meetings where they want to report information, not discuss. Or they bring up a topic for discussion that they’ve already decided. Or they just want to meet because it’s a regularly scheduled meeting, even if there’s nothing to discuss. In all of those cases, there are better, more effective forms of communication.

Here’s an example: A company I’m working with recently asked if we could teleconference about a marketing plan for a product launch. I asked them if they were looking to report information or discuss the plan. They confirmed that they were just looking to tell me about the plan, so I asked them to e-mail it to me. I reviewed it, asked a few non-urgent questions, and that was it. No meeting necessary.

It feels a little weird to do this, but I have no doubt that it was a more effective use of time for both of us. That said, I sometimes veer too far in the other direction–I’ve had e-mail discussions spanning days that probably could have been resolved over a 10-minute phone call. Though I rarely regret it, because I process thoughts better in writing, and I like having a written record of what was said (my memory is subpar).

As much as I avoid meetings, though, there are exceptions. Here’s what they are, what makes them special, and why they work:

  • Automa Team (monthly; Skype): Morten provides an agenda in advance, and he, David, and I individually determine which elements of the update need to be discussed. I’ve found this is mostly helpful to make sure we’re on the same page (or, if we’re not, to find common ground) quickly and efficiently.
  • Co-founder (weekly, in person): Alan and I have a weekly meeting time reserved for playtesting and brainstorming at my office. If we don’t have something to playtest or brainstorm, we cancel the meeting. Alan and I are blunt with each other, so having the human element of meeting in person helps us to empathize when our words could come across too harsh in other formats.
  • Personal connection (annual, in person): As rigid as I may seem about meetings, I also understand that there is a human element to talking with someone in real time, ideally in person. So while it’s not strictly an effective use of time in terms of productivity, I carve out time annually at Gen Con and in St. Louis for international partners, distributors, retailers, brokers, advisers, etc.
  • Accountant (whenever they call me): I resisted these meetings for a while, but I’ve become more open to them because accounting really isn’t my strong suit, so it’s helpful to discuss things on the fly until I understand them properly. I have guided them over time to schedule a time to call me instead of calling me out of the blue so it doesn’t feel like an interruption.

What’s your philosophy on meetings? Which types of meetings do you accept, and how do you ensure they’re an effective use of your time?

12 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #244: Why I Avoid Meetings

  1. My entire career is built around meetings. I consult with crowdfunding clients once per week on Skype, and schedule in-person meetings and Skype calls through my work with LongPack. Some meetings are more productive than others, but in general I prefer this to email followups because of how iterative and nuanced the work is. I am a much friendlier communicator in person as well. I reserve writing time as something that is more a zen retreat than anything else. My emails are short and to the point usually and my blogging is time I cherish with a passion as a cathartic release of what has happened in any given week.

    A majority of my meetings consist of nimble adjustments and deep dive education to some extent, rather than management of ongoing plans, so that may be the crucial difference.

  2. It seems like you might be undervaluing the personal connection of just taking some time to chat, whether or not it could have been more efficient via some other means. Now, I still prefer email for almost everything, as my introverted nature just means it’s easier for me, but I do enjoy a good Skype chat as well, even if in invariably turns into non-work related conversations. But, that’s where I tend to form more of a friendship with the person vs. email which tends to more strictly stay on topic.

    However, my time also isn’t so packed that I care about whether or not I’m using it at peak efficiency. I’d dread life if it was about worrying about how every minute was spent, so I tend to be much more freewheeling and open to just spending time with folks.

  3. While I agree that mismanaged meetings are the worst, meetings are necessary in any group environment. To create buy-in, change management, foster inter-department relations, and to cast vision, well-run meetings are key to maintaining clear communication across departments.

    1. This is the kind of standardized corporate thinking that encourages a massive drain on productivity. Do you honestly think an hour long interruption to everyone’s day to “cast vision” is an efficient use of resources and actually accomplishes something that a memo could not?

  4. Working as a IT consultant I’ve done all types of meetings.

    Most being what we call are daily standups. Basically status updates and reporting anything blocking from getting things done. Many times not everyone is there and someone is remote so it helps to keep everyone up to date. But they are called stand ups as its supposed to be done while standing so it is short and not dragged out.

    I’ve also done the “meeting” where it was basically a 50 hour conference call that we joined in 12 hour shifts for updating a datacenter and representatives from my company, and the company we were upgrading constantly were on as basically an open conference room while the work was done.

    I think whats most important is that the people that need to be at the meeting are there, have had quite a few where we had them daily, but the key person that needed to be there was not, and they insisted the issue to be addressed would be done so at the meetings. For that one I was assinged a vague task. I sent a summary of what I thought was the issue, the work product for fixing it, and posed several questions to make sure we were on the same page. Sent several follow up emails and brought it up about every other day, and did some verbal reminders. That was back in September, The project ended in November, I still haven’t heard hide nor tail about that issue from that manager.

    Basically its what works for the group and task at hand. People need to be available in some form and be good about communicating. Different styles are needed to get a good result depending on the project, timeline, or the people involved.

  5. I endured so many useless meetings during my work life that it’s a wonder I had any hair left to pull out. So glad to be away from that.

  6. I have a very similar stance on meetings. Especially since I work full time and then take care of my girlfriend and her mom full time after that along with working on my publishing company full time. So my days are pretty filled and when I get requests for a phone call or skype meeting I always encourage to just email it to me. This way I can give it full thought and get back to it at my leisure. It does get kinda frustrating when there is an email lag from working with people in Asia, but thats just how things are. Cant fix time zones. Can only just stay up late hoping an email comes before you fall asleep.
    -Cody Thompson

  7. My day job is as an engineer (I’m Batman by night). I could rant your ears off about meetings. But I’ll give you just one very ridiculous example of a waste of time….

    Endless status meetings every week always tracked dates for things to be done…. Sometimes there simply was such an unknown with the action that it had no date that could be determined at that time. Unsatisfied with “TBD”, management required us to begin providing “A Date for a Date”… in other words, a date when we would know a real date. Face, meet palm.

    After several minutes contemplating my career choice, my mind wandered off onto much more productive territory- game mechanics, design, publishing, testing, artwork.

  8. Working in academia I’ve come to have a very similar view of meetings that you do. My least favorite part of meetings is when people talk, just to hear themselves talk. In a job where we are paid to “profess” (professor), my dear colleagues are all too happy to put in their two cents (compounded every second).

  9. ” sometimes veer too far in the other direction–I’ve had e-mail discussions spanning days that probably could have been resolved over a 10-minute phone call.”

    For something complicated to understand or something I know might come across as harsh I use WhatsApp or record audio and email it. You get the benefits of an email in a fraction of the time of an email would take to read and write, and you get your friendly tone heard which reduces the chances of a harsh sounding misunderstanding.

  10. Jamey,

    As both a military officer and a senior civil servant, time ois precious…but, I’m also an extrovert, so if there’s a chanc3e to get together and discuss, I’m all about it. However, in a world (that sounds so much cooler when it’s said by the three pack-a-day smoker who does movie trailers) with e-mails, texts, Skype, and myriad other platforms (Google Hangouts, Slack, etc,), “meetings” really don’t have much of a place in business anymore. However, and I’ll simply reiterate what Chad mentioned earlier…there’s definitely a personal connection that you abandon when you cancel a meeting. Remember, you may not want the meeting, but the person on the other side of the relationship may need that meeting as that’s the best way in which they express themselves. I’ve worked with a lot of folks over the years and finding someone who can articulate clearly and concisely in both verbal and written form is as rare as a unicorn. Anyway, just something to consider the next time you want to cancel a meeting…maybe make it shorter (for your needs). but still conduct I (for their needs).

    I’ll leave you with this quip from my first base commander (a Colonel) when I was a wet-behind-the-ears Lieutenant. “Lieutenant, any meeting over an hour should be catered.”

    Cheers,
    Joe

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