Make Boring Conference Calls Fun & Productive

SUMMARY POINTS

> Boring conference calls don’t have to be a waste of time
> Repurpose this time to get stuff done or de-stress
> Shift your mindset and see them as gifts of extra time

As you hold the phone away from your ear, waiting for the noise to die down, you take a look at your ever-growing to-do list and sigh.

For the past 45 minutes, you’ve been on mute, listening to people go back and forth on things which really have very little or nothing to do with you and/or your job.

What’s worse is that there’s only really been about 20 minutes of meaningful discussion and 25 minutes of “hello?” “sorry, can you repeat that?” and the occasional ear-drum shattering feedback that sounds like the days of dial-up internet.

Meanwhile, you’ve got a ton of deadlines, a few meetings and, yet another conference call this afternoon.

The trouble with these conference calls isn’t so much that they’re always completely useless but for every important call that actually adds value to your job, there are 3 or 4 which are long, boring, and you only join because you have a small portion to contribute.

In those calls, you log on, say hello, and maybe say a few things and then you’re pretty much on mute for the next 50 minutes, listening to the conversation to maybe get a few tidbits that are relevant to your job.

While it’s preferable to be a ghost in the background rather than having to actually pay attention, it’s also a pretty annoying waste of time, especially when you’ve got so much other shit to do.

Well, the good news is that this time can be repurposed!

Of course, you can’t mute the phone and just watch Netflix. You do have to be somewhat paying attention on the off chance someone asks you a question (don’t you hate it when that happens?!).

But, even while half-listening, there are other things you can do while the others whittle away for an hour about something that could have been resolved in 10 minutes IRL.

Why Long, Boring Calls Are A Blessing

While it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking any conference calls that don’t really require your presence are a waste of time, this is the wrong mindset.

They’re actually a blessing!

Yes, really! Why?

How often do you get an hour or so in your workday with no distractions?

Anybody who starts to wander over to your desk will see you’re on the phone and walk away.

Anyone who looks in your work calendar will see that you’re occupied for that time.

Any calls you receive will go straight to voicemail and any emails can wait.

This means you have a whole hour or longer, in some cases, to dedicate to actually doing work, not all of the other stuff that is technically work but really doesn’t get anything crossed off of your to-do list.

And if work is relatively under control, this whole hour can be dedicated to play or rest - even better!

So next time you see an invitation where you’re “required” to attend a long conference call and you know you have nothing significant to add, rejoice! That’s an hour of undisturbed time to do (almost) whatever you please.

Make Conference Calls Productive

There’s nothing worse than wasting an hour in an in-person meeting that’s totally pointless for you when you have countless other tasks to take care of.

Avoiding stupid meetings is sometimes hard to do, especially if you’ve been “voluntold” to attend.

The great thing about a conference call is that you can actually complete some of your tasks while still being “present” on the call.

As long as it’s not something that requires 100% of your focus like, say, working on quarterly financials for executive reporting, you can get away with keeping a bit of your attention on the call while you get other shit done.

Here are some ideas to give you some inspiration.

1) Do Shallow Work & Knock Out Emails

Shallow work is the kind of stuff we have to do but it isn’t really at the core of our job. It’s not where we add the most value.

This covers boring but necessary tasks like checking and replying to short-n-quick emails, admin work like scheduling meetings, and organizing lunch for the team meeting.

All of this stuff can be done with little focus and getting it out of the way during boring conference calls frees up the rest of your time to focus on the deep work that you’re really hired for.

So, open up Outlook and start working down that overflowing inbox.

Just remember to mute your phone. You don’t want to be “that guy” that’s making all the typing racket in the background.

2) Start Something You’ve Been Putting Off

Usually, we have a project that we’re putting off because it just seems too big or scary.

We procrastinate because we’re overwhelmed by the task ahead.

One of the best ways to beat procrastination is to just get started. If you have a huge presentation to give, simply open a new PowerPoint and start jotting ideas down.

If you have a killer proposal to put together on something awesome, open up the Word doc and start listing bullet points.

Most big projects require us to just start with something small - and this is the kind of thing you can do on a call.

Sure, you’ll need deep focus to get the project done but for the starting point you can make more progress than you might think by having a more laid back approach and just letting all the random ideas and thoughts come out.

3) Catch Up On Industry Happenings

If you’re up to date on work, then a long conference call is the perfect time to engage in all that extra stuff you can’t justify spending working hours on when you’ve got deadlines looming.

Read up on the latest industry news, catch up on what competitors are doing or scan through business blogs.

You might even stumble across something that’s relevant to the call you’re on so you can slip it into conversation and sound like a real industry expert - and like you’re actually paying attention. 😉

4) Tidy Up & Organize Your Workspace

While there are plenty of people who see messy desks as a sign of creativity (guilty!), there are studies that prove that a clean and tidy workspace increases your focus and productivity and reduces stress.

Decluttering your cubicle is one of those tasks that just doesn’t seem quite important enough to prioritize during the working day.

But, thanks to the trusty headset, you can actually move around during your call and use this time to clean up your desk area and organize your workspace.

If you can’t move around much, then do some digital decluttering on your computer instead. Get all those random files off of your computer desktop and file them away into the right folders in your hard drive.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can make things more interesting by adding some Feng Shui to your desk organization - by the end of your call instead of feeling fed up, you’ll feel more zen!

5) Do Life Admin Stuff

As if work doesn’t throw enough crap at us, life has its fair share of chores too.

Many of them - doing the laundry, buying groceries, yard work, taking the car to get serviced - can’t be done while you’re at work.

But there are some that only really require you to be in front of a computer with an internet connection.

And where are you likely to be for the full hour of a conference call? Probably in front of a computer with an internet connection.

So, whether it’s paying some bills online, sending out a group message to schedule the next get together or ordering more home supplies, don’t feel guilty about using otherwise wasted conference call time to get some life admin done.

Make Conference Calls Fun

Some days, we’re just not in the mood to work. We’re tired of being productive. If you’re lucky enough to be taking the call in a meeting room with a couple of work BFFs, you can probably help each other out of the inevitable boredom.

But if you’re in a room or at your desk alone, you’d probably just spend your time on this conference call doodling or staring into space.

Both of those are totally cool - but here are some other, more fun ideas that you might not have thought of yet.

1) Play Buzzword Bingo

Some aspects of virtual meetings are inevitable.

There will be connection issues. Someone will forget to put themselves on mute as they annoyingly type away on their keyboard with the dog barking in the background. Someone doesn’t have the presentation or weblink.

Usually, these things are comical for the first 5 minutes and then they just get irritating.

But luckily, you and your cohorts can play online buzzword bingo to make these blunders and clichés just as funny an hour in as they were at the start.

To really squeeze the fun out of the call, you could even share this bingo grid with your work BFFs when they’re on the same call as you and turn it into a competition.

Just make sure you’re on mute when you’re screaming “bingo!”

2) Plan Fun Activities

What better way to forget that you’re glued to one spot for an hour than by planning all the fun things you can do when you’re free!

Take this time to plan your dream holiday. Maybe scan for cheap flights to fav places, organize catch-ups with friends or plan out a realistic solo weekend getaway to detach and decompress from the world.

Planning something fun can help to boost your mood and reduce stress levels, as it gives you something awesome to look forward to.

3) Upgrade Your Love Life

Because we all know that dating at work isn’t the best thing to do, expanding your search to the outside world can be better.

So, if you’re single, this is the perfect opportunity for you to work on your love life.

Dating apps these days are more like games than actual solutions to dating, so swiping through Tinder or Bumble can be a nice distraction from the pointless meeting you’re in.

Just make sure whoever sits behind you can’t see your phone screen! It’s all about holding your smartphone in strategic spots to prevent onlookers.

If you’re married, use this time to plan out something special. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. A lot of times, all it takes is a small little gesture or treat to really spark some fresh love between the two of you.

4) Play Classic Solitaire

Remember when we were younger and computers were new and we all, somehow, had time to sit and play Solitaire for hours?

Yeah, that was a long time ago.

Now all the games are on our phones and dedicated gaming computers. They’re much more fancy and complex too - and we’re all too busy to learn how to play them.

Well, sometimes the old stuff can be the best stuff.

Give yourself a blast of nostalgia by playing old school Solitaire online during the call.

There’s nothing new to learn. You already know the rules. And, it only requires a bit of focus and won’t take your mind completely away from the call.

You’ll be surprised how addictive it is even after all these years.

Make Conference Calls Relaxing

Has the idea of taking a nap during a boring conference call ever occurred to you?

Yeah, us too.

Unfortunately, even though people on the call can’t see you sleeping or hear you snoring (if you muted your phone), the others in the office can easily see that you’re dozing at your desk.

But some days, what you really need is a chance to switch off and recharge. And while we definitely wouldn’t recommend actually crawling under your desk and drifting into dreamland, we have some ideas that are like the next best thing.

1) Calm Your Crazy Mind And Meditate

Sorry, this isn’t where we say you can get away with lying down under your desk and listening to a calming guided meditation. You do still need to be able to half-listen to the call, on the off chance you need to respond to something.

But you can do some awesome meditations while keeping your ears open for your name being called out.

Try watching some relaxing naturescape videos on YouTube with the sound muted, or practice some simple breathing exercises. Another idea is to tap into your other senses; what can you feel, smell, taste, see?

Newbie to meditating?

Read through our newbie’s guide. It’s got a bunch of easy meditations to get you started.

2) Get Artsy & Creative

Sketching, doodling and coloring are all great ways to relax through creativity.

More specifically, coloring intricate shapes and designs do wonders for reducing stress. This study published in the Journal of American Art Therapy demonstrated that coloring mandalas (geometric shapes) significantly reduced the anxiety of stressed out college kids and induced a meditative state.

With mindfulness going mainstream now you can find adult coloring books everywhere!

Here’s a great resource that has a variety of free adult coloring pdfs that you can download and print out before jumping on a conference call.

The only other thing you’ll need is a colored pencil set at your desk.

Then, you can zone out with some coloring while still having a portion of your mind’s attention on the call.

With this kind of set up, any long boring conference call will turn into a meditative coloring sesh! 

3) Practice Gratitude & Build Up Good Karma

When you’re 45 minutes into a conference call, it’s typically not a time when we’re likely to be feeling particularly grateful.

But taking some time to focus on what we’re thankful for can actually help us get through even the most boring of calls.

Gratitude has been coined “nature’s antidepressant” for the effects it has on our mood and overall well-being.

This study from the Kettering Medical Center in Ohio along with many others shows that there’s an association between being grateful and your overall well-being. So it’s a powerful exercise to practice whenever we have some free time.

And there’s lots of free time in a pointless conference call!

Simply grab your notebook and start writing down everything you feel grateful for - from the fact you have the ability to hear (even if you’d rather be hearing anything other than Paul asking if everyone can see his screen for the hundredth time) to the money you earn from your job which helps you provide for your family.

Writing it down is the key here. Just thinking about it, while good, isn’t as impactful as physically writing it and reading it.

Or, you could share the love by sending quick little emails of gratitude to your coworkers who’ve been particularly helpful or supportive. It’s a simple trick to triggering happiness at work.

4) Daydream The Right Way

Daydreaming has long been demonized as the pursuit of lazy and unintelligent kids.

But, as adults, it can actually be a useful tool for relaxation as well as stimulating creativity and helping us to solve problems. That is, if we do it in the right way.

Luckily, a long conference call provides the perfect environment for this kind of daydreaming.

To engage in Positive Constructive Daydreaming (PCD) during a call, you should:

> Put your phone on mute.

> Turn your attention inwards (you can use one of the meditations mentioned earlier)

> Do something low-key like coloring or doodling to keep your mind somewhat “occupied” while listening to the call.

> Let your mind freely wander on positive things.

At first, your mind will race around with a million other things going on in your life - things that are stressing you out, things you need to do at work or home, things about your relationship or family, etc.

The key here is to let it run through those thoughts, but like a dog on a retractable leash, you want to bring your mind back to thinking about positive things while doing something low key.

5) Hum Your Fav Tunes

Singing and screaming have both been shown to reduce stress - but another way to do this is through humming.

As long as you’re not in an open plan office (obviously!) you can easily engage in humming while still being able to follow what’s happening in the call.

The act of humming - like chanting and singing - creates a resonance, a certain vibration within the body that is linked to reduced stress and increased wellbeing.

Humming can even be found as part of certain meditative practices, and is one aspect of the “om” chant in yoga - and this chant has been shown to have a positive effect in the treatment of depression.

So next time you’re stuck on a call, hummmmmm to your heart’s content!

These are just a handful of ideas to get your creative juices flowing when it comes to figuring out how to make better use of unnecessary calls. There’s a world of possibility - your time doesn’t have to be a waste!

Practical Tips for Long, Boring Calls

Even with all these ideas to keep you occupied, there are a few practical tips to consider to keep you safe, healthy and less annoyed throughout your conference call.

Get A Headset - As mentioned earlier, get a headset so that you don’t have to sit with your neck craned over holding the phone against your ear for so long. This also frees up your hands and gives you the ability to move around.

Mute Your Phone - Whenever you’re not speaking, keep yourself on mute. This is considerate to others as it eliminates any unwanted background noise but - more importantly - it keeps you out of trouble if you’re busy humming or screaming “bingo!”

Stand Up & Move - Every 10 minutes or so, stand up, stretch and then sit back down. If you’re taking the call in a meeting room, walk around the room every so often.

Bio Break Beforehand - Don’t be afraid to go to the restroom during the call. You probably won’t miss anything if you’re quick. Or even better, take care of your bio breaks before the call starts.

Change The Scenery - Taking the call from a small meeting room or breakout area can make a nice change from sitting at your desk all day and it will give you more privacy.

Don't Eat - Despite the urge to eat, which is driven by boredom, it’s best not to eat during these calls so that you don’t annoy others with loud chewing sounds or smelly food in the office - and so you don’t get caught with your mouth full when you’re asked a question.

You’d think that most people would know about common conference call etiquette. However, it’s sadly not true and this little 3-minute vignette humorizes it really well.

VIDEO: Conference Call in Real Life
YOUTUBE: Saatchi & Saatchi New Creators Showcase
LENGTH: 3:25

Summary points:
> All too real and funny for us office folks
> Conference calls will never be without issues, ever
> No call would be complete without typing sounds, barking dogs, bad connections

Boring Conference Calls Are Free Bonus Time!

A lot of stuff at work has the potential to get us down.

And a lot of the time, it’s up to us to reframe our mindset and see how we can turn these issues or challenges into positives.

Yes, conference calls can be long and boring.

Yes, sometimes they’re not even relevant to you.

But don’t be that one person in the office that’s always bitching, complaining and bringing others down.

Keep a positive spin on things.

Think of them like expenses at work.

When we have to fork out our own money to pay for work-related items, it’s a drag. Then we have to go through the whole procedure of claiming it back, and who knows how long it will take before that money actually ends up in your account!

Bummer.

But another way to look at this is like a savings account.

Every so often, you get this sum of money from work aside from your salary and it’s probably been ages since you actually incurred that expense. So really, it’s like bonus money, awesome!

Think of conference calls like this. A bonus hour to yourself that you weren’t expecting to have.

So the next time you get invited to a conference call that you can’t escape from and that mostly doesn’t need you there, the question is - what will you do with this wonderful gift of extra time?

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]