I rely on Google Calendar to tell me where I am supposed to be, when and with whom.
When the service collapsed for an afternoon last month, it felt like a teachable moment.
For a few seconds, I panicked. Then, I realised that with all the meetings gone, I was free to do some real work.
I know I’m not the only person who loves to hate meetings. Will There Be Donuts?, a book by David Pearl, skewers the “Wagner meeting” (of epic length), the “mushroom meeting” (appears suddenly, multiplies rapidly) and the “Stonehenge meeting” (it’s been a fixture for ages but nobody knows why).
Yet Mr Pearl also acknowledges that ineffectual meetings often suit us.
Boring meetings make us feel interesting by comparison. Long meetings pass the time. Indecisive meetings postpone painful choices.
Meetings frustrate when they reveal painful disparities in power.
For subordinates, meetings are often the things that get in the way of doing their job. For the person with the power — the manager — meetings are the job
The manager can even offload the scheduling on to her secretary. No wonder some staff feel resentful of meetings while their managers are oblivious.
That said, the relentless democracy of a meeting where everybody must be heard is a kind of torture in its own right. Never-ending consultations are a good way to ensure that nothing ever happens and nobody has to take responsibility.
Oscar Wilde never said that socialism “would take too many evenings” but if he’d met UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, he surely would have.
Some meetings are to transfer information, some to allow discussion and some to reach a decision or resolve a problem.
There are committee meetings that exist to satisfy some rule or regulation. I am on such a committee, and find it useful as a reminder not to sign up for any other committees.
Then there are the meetings that exist purely for the sake of meeting. Don’t dismiss them; there’s nothing wrong with consenting adults enjoying a coffee break together.
There doesn’t always need to be a reason.
But nothing undermines a meeting more than a lack of agreement as to why it’s happening.
I know a school that invites parents in for curriculum meetings. The teachers think they’re explaining their approach to the parents; the parents are under the misapprehension they’re being asked for their input.
Nobody goes away happy.
Yet despite all the well-justified complaints, there are many situations in which there’s simply no substitute for a meeting.