Death by Chocolate? How About Death by Meeting?

Managing Meetings | New Faculty

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As a new faculty, everyone wants you. They want to meet with you. They want your time, they want your ideas, they want you physically to be in their presence  they want you virtually, they want you……and all I wanted to do was crawl in a hole of survival to make it from Monday-Friday in one piece. Being new to faculty life can be the ultimate high and the ultimate low for the first year. There are countless opportunities for service, new research, teaching, advising, and social opportunities. If you’re like me, by Thursday night, you need a nap that lasts 12 hours, and another half day of couch/coffee to recover for the following week. Socializing has moved to the bottom of the list.  In fact, I’m the woman who says, “One drink” and I actually mean it.

Since returning to academia after being “out there,” I’ve grown to hate meetings. I have found a direct correlation to my feelings about meetings to the amount of coffee or sweets I consume.  I really hate them. They make me want to stab myself in the eye with a pencil. I even hate things that feel like meetings but have some random other nugget like “let’s get coffee and chat” attached to them.

I had started a post a long time ago about how much I hated meetings and incidentally, HBR ran a piece about why meetings suck and I jumped on board and combined some posts. HBR wanted their readers to know that meetings suck. I’m here to affirm that they suck in academia too. Some days, there’s nothing like a whole bunch of educated windbags all with egos the size of California to just rub your day the wrong way (CA, i love you). Other days, wonderful things happen in meetings, true collaboration takes place, and you walk out feeling like, “hell yeah, let’s rock this puppy!” Unfortunately, my ratio of “omg, i wantodie” is much larger than “hell yeah, let’s do it!” and it’s usually because the meetings lack leadership, focus, and goals.

I’ve stopped going to meetings unless I know it’s something I need to do. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t jumped ship. I stil have my weekly set of meetings, but I’ve started to plan more diligently about them:

  • I plan them (or as many as I can) on the same day. I already feel like they’re a time suck, so why not just get them all out of the way. 
  • I set clear guidelines with the people I’m meeting with. “I have one hour to dedicate to this.” It might sound a little bitchy, but you know what? We’re all busy and unless it’s some barn burning research going on, I’ve got an hour for you and that’s it. If you can’t spit it out in an hour, then you need to get your shit together and communicate. 
  • I walk out. Yup–I do it. If it’s cutting into my time, it’s not productive, and I think it’s draining my day, I excuse myself. I usually leave half hr. gaps between meetings in order to travel or clear my head, but sometimes, I just leave a really unproductive one and move on. Even if I don’t have another appointment, I just leave.
  • I quit apologizing for turning someone down. If it’s something I want to do, I reschedule, but sometimes, I simply say, “thanks but no thanks” and move on.
  • I’ve started saying no. My mantra of being less generous with my time is going well, three months in, and I’ve gone to a few meetings and come out thinking, “well, what the hell did i just do that for?” If I can’t come up with a good reason, I don’t go back. I don’t care how good the snacks are. Odds are, I can make something better anyway. The projects I can think of that I walked away from aren’t really causing me to lose sleep, nor am I filled with regret about backing out. 
  • I’ve stopped taking most meetings later in the week. I’m pooped. The odds that I say or do something totally dumb increases. Is there still an occasional Friday afternoon meeting that can’t be avoided, sure. But for the most part, I’ve started to schedule my calendar to avoid those later afternoon, late week meetings. 

When I’m the one asking for a meeting, I do the following (grad students, listen/read up!!!)

  • I send an agenda–sometimes it’s detailed, sometimes it’s bullet points
  • I send any supporting documentation that needs to be discussed or reviewed.
  • I stipulate a time frame.
  • I’m on time, even if no one else is.
  • I end on time. (or early)
  • I don’t overdo the small talk. We’ve got shit to do.
  • I dominate to steer the conversation if I need too.
  • I’m not afraid to wrap things up and/or follow up via email if there are unresolved items. Sometimes, you are doing good work and you do run out of time, take it to technology to help you out, but don’t be annoying. 
  • I keep notes for later. If it is a good meeting and there’s a lot of good stuff going on, I need to revisit it. Others will also want a synopsis as well, this is a great way to help your brain recall it and others will appreciate it.
  • I stay off technology (unless it’s via skype) meaning, no emailing, facebooking, etc…I wanted an hour from you, I’m going to be respectful of it.

What would you add or delete to the list? How would you tell other new faculty or grad students to begin managing their meeting mantra now before it gets ahead of them like laundry? How do you deal with the time suck part of your professional life that can also be called “meetings?”

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One thought on “Death by Chocolate? How About Death by Meeting?

  1. Ellen says:

    Awesome checklists – I abhor meetings!

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