Meeting Creep

I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve been in a meeting that stayed on topic and ended on time.

I found myself in a meeting this afternoon that did not meet the above parameters. Even when it was on topic it was excruciatingly inefficient. People repeat themselves and repeat themselves and repeat themselves. It’s as though they don’t believe that you heard them the first time so they’re going to make sure you do.

Or maybe my other theory of meetings is more accurate: people love meetings so they can hear their own voice in a group setting. Personally, I try not to talk in meetings unless absolutely necessary. Otherwise, the pain is prolonged.

Don’t get me wrong, meetings are useless and should be banned. Don’t get me wrong, meetings have their place. Sometimes they’re even necessary. I just think they need to be constrained to the following criteria:

  1. Don’t schedule meetings. They’re generally a waste of time. At the very least, ask yourself if the meeting is needed. Can you accomplish the same outcome with a well crafted email? Or even a poorly crafted email. I’m not picky, just don’t make me go to a meeting.
  2. No meeting should ever last longer than 30 minutes. If you can’t get the work done in that amount of time, then you need time management training.
  3. Meetings should only be held in the late afternoon. Meetings disrupt the work day. It can be very difficult to get back into the swing of things after a boring meeting. At least a late afternoon meeting only disrupts the late afternoon which is a less than productive time of day for most employees anyway.
  4. All meetings should ascribe to the DRY principle. Do not Repeat Yourself. Anyone caught repeating a point they already made should be told to sit in the corner. If people didn’t get your point the first time, that means it was stupid or totally irrelevant.
  5. Meetings should have an extremely narrow topic.
  6. Meetings should never get off topic. This is known (by me) as meeting creep. Nobody cares if everyone in your department got new chairs, you got a new phone, your dog died or you’ve lost weight. All of that and more can wait until your next google chat exchange with your friend two cubicles from yours.
  7. Two people should not dominate the meeting unless doing so will get the meeting over much quicker. Two people talking is called a conversation which can be done over the phone or via email. Don’t subject others to your own conversations. We just don’t care that much.
  8. Finally, the next meeting should never be scheduled during the current meeting. There should be a federally mandated waiting period between the current meeting and the scheduling of a new one. This is also known as a cooling off period during which people can reconsider if another meeting is actually needed. It usually isn’t.

Follow the above rules and you’ll have much happier meeting attendies. If you’re the attendie, try handing the rules list to the meeting organizer. It probably won’t do any good but it’ll make you feel better.

In a future post I hope to provide you with a meeting survival kit in case you do find yourself in a “creepy” meeting that’s gone on too long and doesn’t look like there’s an end in sight. Until then, avoidance is your best defense.

Creative Maintenance

Most of the creative People I know love to do what the title implies and create things. They want to ideate, design and build. Like me, theycringe at the thought of having to maintain legacy entities.

As a programmer, I love designing algorithms, functions and modules. I love solving problems and deploying solutions. But once a program is built, it has to be maintained. That stinks.

Unfortunately, maintenance is a part of life. Everything breaks down. Therefore, everything needs some degree of care. The mower needs repaired, your body needs exercised, cars need their oil changed and clients need follow-up calls.

Like many, I’ve been guilty of viewing maintenance as a boring, thankless task that I don’t want to do. But over time, I’ve come to realize that not only is it essential but it can be fun too.

Creativity doesn’t have to stop at creation. Maintaining your brain child doesn’t have to be boring. If you’re truly creative, you need to figure out a way to bring that creativity to your maintenance duties. Programmers have this built-in. They can write test programs that run every time something in the code changes. If the changes have broken something, the tests point to the culprit.

In the world of geographic information systems (GIS) you often find yourself processing and analyzing ever changing data over and over again. Many GIS analysts solve these maintenance problems by learning Python or other languages and automating the tasks.

What about non-technical fields like sales? A salesman might secure a sale to a new client but the real money is in future sales to the same client. That salesman has to maintain the relationship indefinitely. But that doesn’t have to mean bland monthly emails or phone calls. There are lots of ways to keep contact with someone. Engage them on social media, write a poem for them or invite them to an even. Use your imagination.

Creative people have an advantage in their work. They can make life fun by bringing their talent to bear in all situations. Maintaining things that are already built is a challenge for them to go beyond the initial build and perpetually create.

Set Tiny Goals To Accomplish Anything

I have more project ideas and things to write about now than at any other time in my life. But I can’t seem to get very many of them done or even started. I look through my notes every day and think, this is a good idea. I’ll start on that today. But by the end of the day nothing has happened.

There are three things that seem to cause this:.

  1. The complexity of a project overwhelms me.
  2. I have no idea why I wrote something or why I think it’s important.
  3. I missed my peak motivation time and can’t get myself started.

It’s great to have a broad overview of the thing you’re trying to accomplish. But it can be overwhelming to take on the whole thing at once. I try to get it completed today or I’m afraid I won’t complete it later. I end up not starting a lot of things because I fear not finishing. The irony is that I’ll never finish it anyway if I never start. At least there’s a chance to finish a thinig if you start it.

Instead of getting bogged down in complexity, you just have to sit down and think of the individual steps that it will take to get a thing done. Break a project down into tasks that can be accomplished quickly. If those individual steps seem too big themselves just break them down into progressively smaller chunks until they seem doable. Then start doing them. This even works for projects that don’t have a known outcome or proceedure. Once you start working on something, its purpose and meaning will start to unfold.

Sometimes you just have to sit and think about things. Some of my ideas are just random thoughts, phrases or observations. On their own they don’t go anywhere. That’s when deeper thinking comes into play. My mind generated these ideas for a reason. Now I need to mull them over and try to find connections with the other data lurking in my mind. Once a connection is made, those ideas become something real and actionable.

But even if I can see the next step and it’s small enough to accomplish, I don’t always buckle down and do it. If it gets late in the day I get tired. I do my best work between 5 am and 11:00 am and then again between 7:00pm and 10:00pm. Outside of those hours I’m often tired and unmotivated to do anything that takes real thinking. When I’m at work during the day, I try to schedule my activities so I’m doing planning, programming and design during my peak hours. I try to spend the afternoon hours doing any rote work and attending meetings.

Outside of work hours it’s always a struggle to juggle exerecise, spending time with my family and trying to be creative. I often find myself just wanting to watch TV, read a book or play a game. These situations are almost impossible to get out of. The trick is to avoid getting into them in the first place. Even when I’m tired and unmotivated it’s not too difficult to write a list of things that can be done tomorrow. Then, I set a calendar appointment to do those things early in the morning. Or I plan to do them in the evening so my mind is predisposed to getting things done at night rather than binging on netflix. When I know what I have to do and I have a list in front of me, I move faster and get more done during my peak times.

Ultimately, getting stuff done, for me, means breaking projects down into tiny component tasks, thinking about what I’m actually trying to do and then executing on those tiny tasks early when I’m still fresh and motivated. Now if I can just remember to do this each day, I’ll have no problem.