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How to Run Wildly Unproductive Meetings and Waste Everyone’s Time

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The typical business meeting is a fantastic way to switch off, kick back and ponder important topics, such as what to have for dinner.

But what happens when someone threatens this stress-free ride to a quiet nap? What are you going to do when some eager-beaver manager decides to be efficient and organized?

Productivity is on the increase, and this is bad news for all the cubicle workers of the world. Productive meetings can be like an infectious disease within your organization. They soon spread from one department to another and lead to other diseases like “engagement” or “profitability.”

So next time it’s your turn to organize a meeting, make sure you leave all thoughts of productivity at the door. Early detection and implementing these steps will enable you to stamp out the infection of productive meetings and lead your organization back into the pack of mediocrity:

1. Make it difficult to schedule or reschedule meetings

Don’t put personal appointments in your calendar. This way, a high percentage of meetings will need to be rescheduled due to unforeseen non-availability.

If you must decline a meeting invite due to a conflict, don’t supply any details of when you might be available.

2. Invite someone from an external company

Try to invite someone from an external company, especially if you can’t view their calendar. Then you have a good chance of scheduling the meeting during a time when they’re unavailable. This helps to ensure the meeting must be rescheduled to a later time.

3. Schedule during times inconvenient for everyone involved

The best times for unproductive meetings are lunchtime or after 3:00 p.m. on Friday afternoons. Meetings right before extended holiday weekends are also guaranteed to be unproductive.

4. Select the meeting room that makes the least sense for your group

Try to invite more people to the meeting then there are chairs in the room.

Or, if only a few people need to attend, select the largest meeting room available. Inevitably, someone else will have a meeting with a larger group at the exact same time and need to use the same room. You’ll have no choice but to reschedule.

5. Omit necessary details on the meeting invite

It’s best if no one knows what the meeting is about. Give your meeting a vague name and don’t go into detail about the agenda.

This way, it’s impossible for attendees to prepare ahead of time or bring insight that could make the meeting productive.

6. Pick a faraway meeting location

If fewer than half of the people involved work in a different building, it’s preferable to book a meeting room in their building. You’ll ensure that more people will waste their time traveling between buildings to attend and return from meetings.

When scheduling a faraway meeting in a different building, try to pick one that has a long and complicated visitor sign-in process. If all you need is your ID card to get through security, accidentally leave it on your desk. The hope is that you will have to go through the visitor sign-in process, thus delaying the start of the meeting.

7. Start the meeting late

Once everyone has arrived, be sure to spend at least 10 minutes talking about something completely unrelated. Good time-wasting topics include someone’s recent vacation, what you ate for lunch or the results of the last “big game.”

8. Arrive without the necessary documents

If your meeting involves reviewing a document, avoid bringing spare copies for those colleagues who didn’t think to bring their own. Time will be wasted running to and from the copy machine.

9. Be inconsiderate of other people’s time

Your colleagues probably want to start their own meetings late. Allow your meeting to run over to ensure your tardiness to your next meeting, where everyone is waiting for you to get started.

By running over your allotted meeting time, you’ll also delay the start of the next meeting scheduled in the same room. If someone does politely knock on the door, nod, smile and continue with your meeting for another few minutes.

This is a particularly good technique if you’re more senior than the next group of people.

10. Commit teleconferencing snafus

If the meeting involves calling in another party, be sure to forget the contact’s information and phone number.

It’s also helpful if nobody knows how to use the teleconferencing equipment. Even better, schedule your teleconference in a meeting room that does not have the right equipment.

11. Answer your cell phone in the middle of the meeting

If your cell phone rings mid-meeting, answer it right away. The call might be more important than this meeting and will only take a second or two to find out.

Once you’ve told the person, “I’m in a meeting and will call you back later,” give them the opportunity to squeeze in their request anyway.

12. Stay off topic as long as possible

Hopefully you didn’t go so far as to create an agenda for the meeting. If you did, it’s okay; just don’t follow it. Spend at least half of the meeting debating some minor point. Be sure to ignore any critical issues that arise.

Make sure everyone gets an opportunity to talk for as long as they want to, even if they’re repeating the same thing someone else said. It’s important that your no-agenda meeting wastes as much time as possible to keep people from their desks, where they could accomplish real work.

13. Stock up on freshly dried-out whiteboard markers

If you intend to use the whiteboard, replace all of the good whiteboard markers with mostly dried-out ones. The trick is using pens that are faintly legible, but cannot be seen from the back of the room.

Also make sure that more than two dried-out markers are available; that way, more time is spent checking each one.

Above all, be sure to return all dried-out markers to their useless place on the whiteboard ledge. Don’t throw them out! You wouldn’t want the next group that uses the room to have a productive meeting with working markers.

14. Mark “Do Not Erase” beside your useless whiteboard notes

Draw a circle around your scribbles and write DNE (Do Not Erase) to prevent the whiteboard from being used for the next six months.

15. Avoid taking minutes or notes

Don’t record minutes for the meeting if possible. If minutes are mandatory for your organization, then it helps to rotate the minute-taking around the group to ensure the task is inconsistent from week to week.

16. End the meeting without action steps

For a meeting to be truly unproductive, no new information or solutions should be presented. When the meeting ends, all attendees should have no idea as to what they are supposed to do next. So, make sure no actions are recorded or assigned to anyone.

Are you willing to be the person who prevents productive meetings? Do you have the strength to suffer through unproductive meetings and stop your organization from growing?

Will you take a pledge to honor and uphold the principles of unproductive meetings? Stand up and be counted and prevent your company from being dragged into this brave new world!

Richard Perfect is a blogger and software developer with a penchant for sarcasm who is leading a crusade against endless meetings that achieve nothing. You can find him on Google+ and check out his blog The Decision Wall, which helps teams make the right decisions without dragging them through time-sapping meetings.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

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  • http://www.bizsugar.com/ Heather Stone

    Hi Richard,
    Wow, this makes me laugh. Unfortunately, that’s because it’s only too true. I’m sure all of us have attended meetings that follow the above tongue-in-cheek advice. Thanks so much for sharing this post with the BizSugar commuity.

  • http://twitter.com/perfect_richard Richard Perfect

    Thanks Heather, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Hopefully the next time you get stuck with a dried-up whiteboard marker at least you’ll be able to smile :-)

  • Guest

    I am always amazed at how unproductive meetings are. I especially like #16 Action Steps. I use Actionplanr http://actionplanr.com/to build in the action steps for each person and then email it to them.

  • http://actionplanr.com/ Brenda Horton

    Awesome post! Love # 16. I use Actionplanr http://actionplanr.com/ to create action steps for each person and then email it to them.

    • http://twitter.com/perfect_richard Richard Perfect

      (& @Guest) ActionPlanr looks interesting, I will have a look at that.

  • Guy Greenbaum

    It’s cathartic to see someone lay this out loud. Seriously people, get it together.

    • http://twitter.com/perfect_richard Richard Perfect

      Heh, that’s a good one. Bring an iPad to a meeting also seems to be popular these days.

  • Michael

    You forgot two: 1. Make sure to add critical attendees 30 minutes before the meeting is due to start and move forward with the meeting when they are no shows. This will guarantee another meeting needs to be scheduled on the same topic. Do this consistently to maximize the number of times you need to meet. 2. Accept meetings even when you have a conflict and decide on the fly which meeting to attend.

    • http://twitter.com/perfect_richard Richard Perfect

      I like it. Or even just 30mins before a meeting reschedule to another time, that way at least half of the people will show up anyway because they won’t have gotten the update yet.

  • Rovanda

    I think “Refuse to provide an agenda, even when asked.” should have a number all to itself. And then there’s the ever-popular “don’t check the attendees’ calendars even if you can,” “Don’t schedule a room in advance so your group has to wander around looking for someplace open,” and “Listen attentively but never, ever retain what you’ve been told.”

    • http://twitter.com/perfect_richard Richard Perfect

      And of course if you listen carefully, but never actually write anything down everyone will have a slightly different memory of what was actually decided (if they remember it at all).

  • RedStapler

    How about “don’t learn how to schedule a meeting” in the first place? How many times have people scheduled meetings with you using Outlook where even the room itself is already booked? When the invariable knot of people are found standing outside the occupied room the organizer gets immediately defensive or looks aghast: “you’re supposed to do…WHAT?”

    • http://twitter.com/perfect_richard Richard Perfect

      Yeah – sometimes I’ve seen things where you use a different system to book the meeting rooms and that always catches people out and the room itself gets double-booked.

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  • Gloria Ramsbottom
  • Rhys

    So true. Here are a couple I have learned from present and past colleagues;

    1. Schedule a meeting with lots of invitees, then don’t turn up to it. Instead, 5 minutes after the meeting should have started, and the attendees are wondering whether they are in the right room, send a reschedule for another day. Then go out to lunch. When the rescheduled meeting day rolls around, rinse and repeat.

    2. If anyone in your organization is actually managing to accomplish anything, especially if they are on the critical path of some major project, invite them as required attendees to meetings that appear to be related to what they are doing but are actually completely irrelevant. With luck, and hints during the meeting that you are “just about” to discuss the issues of relevance to them, you can waste at least a half hour of their time during which they might otherwise have achieved something, before they realize and leave.

  • http://www.humorthatworks.com/ Andrew Tarvin

    Don’t forget that all presenters should read all of their slides and you should schedule a fire drill in the middle of your meeting if possible.

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