Avoiding Stupid Meetings & 10 Things To Do If You Can’t

SUMMARY POINTS

> Protect your time by saying no to pointless meetings 
> Only join a meeting if you’re getting and/or giving high value
> For those you can’t avoid, turn the wasted time into useful thinking 

You have a ton of work to get through before the end of the day.

The deadlines are fast approaching, new work is coming in fast and every time you open email it seems to add something new to your already long to-do list.

Oh, and you have to leave the office on time to go run some errands after work.

As you stare at your calendar, you wonder exactly how you’re going to fit all this work in between the countless meetings.

You ponder which ones you could cancel and come to the decision that you can’t cancel any. You’ve got to go to all of them.

But not because you’re leading them or even a key decision maker.

It’s just the way it is here.

You’ve been invited to each of the meetings by someone senior to you and you’re marked as “required” rather than “optional” for all of them.

How exactly are you supposed to get out of any of the meetings without being seen as either lazy or like you can’t manage your workload properly?

As you sit in the third meeting of the day, watching the clock and listening to your co-worker go on and on about the same point - which, by the way, has no impact on you and your work - you wonder to yourself, “why did I accept this meeting in the first place?!”

You think about all the work you could be getting through instead of nodding and smiling while “decision makers” talk but never make any decisions.

Then, just as the meeting seems like it’s coming to a natural close, someone pipes up with another concern.

Are you fucking kidding me?!

You have to stare at your notebook in an attempt to hide the rays of anger shooting out of your eyes. You’re sitting there quietly, but inside you’re screaming.

Finally, the meeting ends and you rush back to your desk to try to finish everything in time.

As your stress levels rise (in line with your caffeine intake), you keep thinking back to that meeting and how much time you wasted.

You curse the meeting organizer, you curse your co-worker, but most of all, you curse yourself for accepting a meeting that you knew would be a waste of time for you. And for not having the courage to back out of it once you realized it would cause a problem.

You only got a small portion of your work finished for the day. The rest will have to be piled up into tomorrow along with all the new stuff that got dropped in your lap today.

You check tomorrow’s schedule.

Great. Another day full of meetings.

As you rush out the door, you wonder how anyone in your office gets any work done.

Be Smart And Selective About Meetings

It doesn’t matter where you work - it could be any industry, in any job, at any level - chances are, you have way too many meetings.

There are weekly team meetings, monthly meetings, meetings which lead to new meetings and meetings about upcoming meetings.

There are so many meetings that barely anyone has the time to do the work that comes out of these meetings.

And as far as we can tell, this is a pretty universal workplace annoyance.

But why?

And why are so many of the meetings seemingly pointless events where a simple email would have been fine?

Part of the problem is that we don’t trust each other to get things done. Even when tasks have been delegated, we feel the need to check that everyone is doing what they said they would do, in the assigned time frame.

Another issue is our need to be involved. As annoying as all these meetings are, we would feel just as miffed to learn that our colleagues were meeting without us.

So, in an attempt to keep everyone in the loop, we often invite more people than necessary to each meeting. And more people usually means a longer meeting.

Finally, some folks just love to be busy for its own sake. It’s become a sign of importance and success. You’ll often see them bouncing around the office announcing to everyone that they’re soooo busy.

So having zero meetings in the schedule, though it would probably mean higher rates of productivity, would make some feel disconnected and like a bit of a failure.

However, meetings aren’t all bad. In well-organized, meaningful meetings, decisions are made, action is taken and basically shit gets done.

But what percentage of all our work meetings fall into that bracket? 10% or 20% if we’re lucky!

So then, the key is not to avoid meetings at all costs but simply to avoid meetings that don’t serve us.

With such a heavy meeting culture in most workplaces, this can be tricky - but we’ve created a two step system for you to be smart and selective about meetings.

Step #1 - Get The Details

So many of us automatically accept every meeting we’re invited to. In fact, some of us have our calendars auto-accept all meeting invites - that’s sheer craziness. If you’re set-up this way, you must turn it off - like right now.

Another issue is that a lot of us think that if the meeting organizer has requested our attendance, we should probably go, right? Wrong!

Only you can know whether a meeting is truly worth your time or not.

So stop auto-accepting and take a moment to weigh up the benefit of you attending each meeting versus being at your desk doing some actual work before making any commitments.

It’s difficult to know how relevant a meeting will be when the only information you have is a vague meeting name and an invitee list.

So, it’s important to get into the habit of asking for more info.

Is there an agenda?
What is the purpose of the meeting?
What are the expected outcomes of the meeting?
Is there something specific the meeting organizer wants you to contribute?


While these questions may seem a little direct, they’ll give you a clear view of whether or not you should be part of this meeting.

And, if you make a habit of asking them, your colleagues may take note and start sharing more detail in the meeting invites. Then, everyone benefits.

If no information is given or shared about the meeting’s purpose, simply decline the meeting with a reason reply that there’s no information.

Step #2: Determine & Decide Value

Once you have more clarity on the meeting in question, it’s time to ask yourself two simple questions before making a decision on whether or not to join.

A) Will you get any value from the meeting?

Meaning, what can you gain from the meeting that will help you in your work? Will there be any information, data, updates, changes, decisions, etc. that will have a direct impact on your projects?

The key is direct impact to your work. Whether it’ll help you move your project one step closer to completion, slow or stop your progress or change your plans.

If it has a direct impact, then go ahead and hit that accept button.

If it’s only slightly related to your efforts, roles and responsibilities, then decline the meeting and explain that you’re only marginally involved, but ask to be included in the minutes. This way, you can review it later on.

B) Are you providing any value to others in the meeting?

Sometimes, your presence at a meeting is more for the benefit of others - and it’s good to share and be a team player!

Most all of our projects involve other stakeholders in the company. So, when your project has major changes or updates that directly impact other people’s work, whether positively or negatively, it’s a good idea to share the info.

Of course, if you can do it via a group email, that’s best. Avoid having a meeting if you can - just craft a well-written email summary and attach any relevant docs.

However, there are times when the changes or updates require immediate feedback, discussion, direction and/or decision with all those directly involved. This is when it’s ideal to get the team together.

Alternatively, if you have some knowledge, ideas, experiences or opinions that can support your colleagues or help them move a project forward, then it’s a good use of your time to attend the meeting and share the secret sauce.

Again, being clear on the meeting agenda will give you a good idea of whether or not you have anything meaningful to contribute.

So, as long as you’re giving or receiving value, go ahead and accept that meeting.

Elon Musk’s approach to meetings follows this exact principle of getting/giving value as the decision point.

However, his solution to avoiding meetings that don’t fit the bill is … ahem … unconventional. And, we like it.

VIDEO: Elon Musk on Limiting Meeting Size
YOUTUBE: Elon Musk Sound Bites
LENGTH: 1:29

Summary points:
> Meeting sizes should be minimized
> If you’re not adding or gaining value, just leave
> Walking out of a meeting is not rude

Getting Value And/Or Giving Value = Join The Meeting

The most productive meetings are the ones where you’re getting direct value from the session and where you’re providing direct value to others. These are what meetings are meant for and what all meetings should be like - high value exchange of information.

If it’s only one-half of the equation where you’re not getting any value but are providing value to others, then this is all about teamwork and supporting the progress of the others.

This is where the good office karma kicks in. Because when you help others make progress in their work, they’ll be more apt to do the same for you later on.

If you’re not getting or giving any value then…

No Value = Decline The Damn Meeting!

Don’t be such a wussy about declining meetings. So many of us don’t want to decline meetings because we think it will make us look uncooperative, bitchy or not a team player.

Even after deciding that there’s no value to be gained, many of us would still attend the meeting anyway out of obligation or fear of repercussions.

Three words: Get over it.

Your work performance, productivity and output is what counts, not how others perceive your meeting responses.

Be really honest with yourself and remember that attending a meeting which doesn’t add value to you or where you don’t add value to others will not only decrease your productivity but it will also up your stress levels. More so than the temporary discomfort of clicking “decline.”

These double-fail meetings where no value is received or given is the ultimate time-suck that millions of us get trapped in. These are the “must avoid at all costs” meetings.

The Grey Zone

What about if a meeting would be of value but it’s just reeeaaally bad timing? We need to be able to prioritize rather than people pleasing to the detriment of our work.

For these kinds of meetings, just have an honest conversation with the meeting organizer.

See if you can:
- Move the date or time of the meeting 
- Be at the beginning of the meeting agenda so that you can leave early 
- Skip the meeting but share your thoughts on email beforehand 
- Get the meeting minutes 

This way you can create value without dropping the ball in other areas.

What To Do If You’re Trapped And Can’t Get Out Of A Useless Meeting

We’re realists here and we get that a lot of us working stiffs can’t just decline any meeting. Most of us aren’t shot-callers or the CEO. So, there are situations where we just can’t avoid pointless meetings.

Sometimes, we’re “voluntold” by our direct boss to attend a particular meeting whether it’s for taking his/her place on topics unrelated to your job or simply because of office politics to show physical presence and/or support to another manager.

Or maybe, it’s an executive level meeting you’re a part of and you can’t just disappear. Although if it was Elon Musk, he’d totally give you props for walking out on him if the meeting had no value.

The point here is that sometimes, we have no choice and we’re sent to meetings that we can’t escape. When this happens, it can feel like a real waste of time - but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to just sit there twiddling your thumbs.

Here is a list of things that you can do in the meeting to make the time worthwhile and positive for you.

Work Related Ideas

1) Get Organized

Use this time to run through your to-do list and prioritize.

Write out your biggest value tasks which you need to complete soon, followed by your less important tasks.

Then, for the major tasks, write down what sub-tasks and actions you can take today to help you get closer to ticking that item off the list.

Sometimes, getting some time out to map out our tasks can be more useful than rushing from one to the other, like we usually do.

2) Get Savvy

Even if the topic of the meeting doesn’t relate to you, there will be something in the meeting that does.

Office politics! Read all about it here.

Take note of the power dynamics at play in the room. Be aware of who in the room should be in your network and plan how best to introduce yourself to them.

3) Brainstorm

We’re in no doubt that there’s a lot of work you could be doing if you weren’t stuck in a time-wasting meeting.

But there’s also probably a lot of ideas and solutions you could come up with if you weren’t constantly working.

Sometimes, when you step away from your desk, thoughts seem to just flow better. It’s a result of changing your environment - like getting that eureka moment while showering, driving, walking, watching TV, etc.

So, use your time in this meeting for some creative thinking.

Maybe there’s a particular challenge at work - or even at home - that requires an innovative approach. Now is the perfect time to bounce some ideas around in your head.

Or maybe there isn’t a specific challenge you have in mind and you just want to let your creative juices flow.

Either way, let your mind wander freely - but make sure to jot down any major breakthroughs so you can come back to them later.

4) Build Your Case

By paying attention to this meeting, you can better argue why you won’t be attending the next one.

Use this time to craft your case of exactly why the meeting didn’t add any value to you or ideas for how it could be adjusted to be more relevant.

Then, present your case to your boss and if things go well, you should be able to bail on those useless meetings.

5) List Your Achievements

This is something that we just don’t do enough of. It does two big things for us.

First, it makes us feel good. Oftentimes, we don’t take the time to self-recognize our wins. The inner critic asshole in our heads is always so quick to put us down. This is our chance to celebrate the wins and offset all that negativity.

Second, by listing our achievements, we’ll have a list we can refer back to during our annual performance reviews. No more wasted time trying to think of all the wins from the past fiscal year.

Wellbeing Related Ideas

1) Boost Your Happy Hormones

Though it sounds super vague and very new age, practicing gratitude has actually been scientifically proven to boost your mood.

And when better to employ some mood-boosting techniques than during a dull meeting you have no intention of engaging in?

We’ve collated plenty of ideas on how to practice gratitude in this article, but a super simple way is to just write some gratitude notes in your notebook. Write a series of sentences, always starting with “I’m thankful for…”

By the end of it, you may even be thankful for the meeting you’re stuck in.

2) Meditate

Not all meditation requires you to sit cross-legged on the floor and chant “ommmmmmm”

There are incognito meditation methods that you can do without anyone realizing that you’re taking a mental breather.

At a super basic level, you can simply look at the presentation up on the screen or whatever document or even your notes and just breathe deeply. Mentally count your inhale and exhale breaths with short pauses in between.

It’s easy to do and won’t attract strange looks - and will hopefully keep you from thinking about all the work you could be getting done if not for this dumb meeting.

3) Be In The Clouds

Back in school, daydreaming used to get us in trouble.

But now it turns out that positive daydreaming is actually good for us.

One study by Santa Clara University even found that it increased levels of hope and life purpose. The study participants who daydreamed about a particular goal were further along in achieving it than those who didn’t.

Or alternatively, you can just zone out and let your mind shut-down and unplug from the matrix. Beware though - only do this in larger meetings because it’ll be way too obvious in smaller groups.

4) Get Artsy

Another activity that could once lead to detention is doodling.

Oh how wrong our teachers were!

Doodling has actually been proven to improve creativity and aid in remembering information.

A study by the University of Plymouth found that where one group of participants was allowed to doodle while receiving information and the other group was not, the doodlers remembered 29% more information.

So at least with this option, you won’t get caught off guard if someone decides to ask you a question in the meeting.

5) Eye Exercises

Sitting in front of a screen all day can really take its toll on our eyes. Digital eye strain, as it’s known, can give us dry and itchy eyes, headaches, and blurry vision to name a few symptoms.

Most of us are so used to these sensations that we don’t even notice anything is wrong or we simply ignore it and get on with our day.

A meeting you’d rather not be in provides the perfect opportunity to counteract some of this stress on your eyes with a simple exercise.

It’s called 20/20 - nice and easy to remember so you’ve got no excuses!

Every few minutes during the meeting, avert your gaze to something 20 feet away and look at it for 20 seconds. Then bring your focus back to the presentation or document.

This will allow your eyes to focus on something other than what’s directly in front of your face. It exercises your eyes to focus on more distant things. If you want to incorporate this into entire work day, check out this article for more info on counteracting eye strain.

Using these tips, you can at least make good use of the time you’re spending trapped in an irrelevant meeting - so not all is lost.

But if none of the above works, and you happen to be pregnant...

VIDEO: How to Escape a Boring Meeting - The Office US
YOUTUBE: The Office US
LENGTH: 1:37

Summary points:
> A read-along meeting of corporate policies is like being part of C-SPAN 
> This is a prime example of when to use trapped tactics 
> You can only pull-off breaking your water once 

You’ve Got The Power!

Sometimes at work, we can feel really powerless. You’re assigned projects, provided direction, told what to do, etc. There’s very little in the way of freedom to decide.

It feels like other people have control over us and there’s nothing we can do about it.

We sit quietly in meetings, knowing we don’t need to be there but somehow we are.

The resulting effect is that our work doesn’t get done as quickly or efficiently, leading to more undue angst. And, quite frankly, sitting in boring meetings and saying nothing is draining!

We feel even more stressed out, tired and demotivated than before, and we feel powerless to do anything about it.

But you can take back your power!

With the right tactics, you can make pointless meetings a thing of the past.

At the very least, any time spent in meetings that don’t serve you will at least be focused on more productive pursuits like practicing gratitude, brainstorming and planning out your tasks.

This approach to meetings will help you to feel more in control, improve your time management and have the added bonus of making you more assertive at work - a prime characteristic for future leaders.

So, next time that meeting invitation pops up on your screen...stop!

Don’t click accept right away. Learn to say no and decline meetings when you’re not getting or giving any value.

It’s that simple. Don’t you feel more in control already?

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]