Time is the only truly scarce resource we possess. We should spend it with a level of care befitting its nature. While few of us would ask to borrow money from one another regularly, many of us casually barrage one another with meetings, messages, and quick visits which tax a much more precious commodity. In addition to the high cost of a context switch, interruptions are often the vehicle by which the urgent triumphs over the important. The burden falls to those of us who would interrupt someone to ensure it is truly worth the cost.
While there are many ways to squander time, meetings are by far the most egregious example in most professional contexts so I’ll make an example of them here. Still, I see no reason why these principles shouldn’t apply in every syncronous context.
Creating a meeting should come with a very high burden of responsibility on
the meeting owner, no matter how lightweight your organization tries to be.
Meetings are so costly in terms of time that if it isn’t worth investing a
high level of energy in maintaining their quality then maybe it isn’t worth
having the meeting at all. Meetings should have a clear purpose and be of a
size befitting that purpose, whether it be to make decisions (<10 people), to
have discussions (<25 people), or to disseminate information. They should have
a clear owner who sets an agenda (ideally in advance) and opens the meeting by
sharing what the expected outcomes are. They should share notes in a
predictable place afterwards for dissemination, follow up discussion, and
accountability if decisions or commitments were made. They should actively solicit feedback for how to make a better use of the time.
The people invited to a meeting should be considered with great care. Virtually every meeting should have an agenda that prepares the attendees and drives focus for the meeting. If the agenda isn’t relevant to everyone then it is going to be a poor use of time for someone. Meeting attendance tends to grow monotonically over time; an organizer should feel comfortable removing people from the invite list and people should feel comfortable removing themselves. Anyone should feel free to leave a meeting at any time if they don’t think it is the best use of their time without anyone feeling hurt. Recurring meetings should be set up with a short expiration in mind (< 3 months); when that date passes everyone involved should rigorously assess whether to continue it.
While those of us who create meetings need to respect the maker schedule, the makers should also respect the meetings they choose to attend. If you are attending a meeting you should close your laptop and stay off your phone. If you can’t, then you probably aren’t finding the meeting useful enough to be worth your time.
People say “time is money,” but they are wrong; time is much more valuable. We are each free to spend our own time however we please but we should take very seriously the responsibility we bear for the time we ask of those around us. It doesn’t matter if we are junior or senior, a manager or a maker: some people will find it hard to Say No so we had better be willing to invest to ensure we use their time wisely.