Meetings I

I don’t mean to be a Dilbert here, but I want to talk for a few minutes about meetings. They’re on my mind, because for the first two weeks of this semester, I’ve had nine meetings. NINE. I know that in an office environment or the business world that isn’t too terrible, but this is the academy. Roughly, “Mandatory Meeting” translates –especially when it’s surrounded by brusque language, and sent out in email less than 36 hours in advance–“What I have to say is very important, and this is the only time I can say it to all of you. Please clear at least an hour to ensure you have enough time to understand what it is that I have to say.”
I think that’s a worthwhile sentiment, and wonderfully efficient. My wife says things like that on occasion, and I happily listen to what she has to say. It’s usually something about our household or relationship, both of which I want to run as smoothly as possible. Really, I’m totally on board with the idea of meetings. I would clear an entire WEEK to hear Jan Brunvand or Ken Robinson talk about their areas of expertise. But I’ve never had either of those men schedule a meeting with me.
Most of the meetings I’m told to attend are for the faculty of my entire department. The writing center has them too, but our directors there are chill. These meetings are usually in the middle of the morning, or the middle of the afternoon, because that’s when the most people are around. That’s great, but as a grad student I often have to miss them because I’m in class, or I didn’t get enough warning to free up my schedule. Then, a couple of days later come the emails letting us all know that the higher-ups are very disappointed in our poor attendance. Then I start to feel bad about missing something so important, at least until I talk with people who were there.
Usually, we’re called together to review a very specific skill or two. Now, I want you to think back to the last time you had to teach someone how to perform a very specific task. As an example from my own classroom, you could teach someone how to outline an essay. You could tell them about what you include in an introduction, what goes in a conclusion, how many main points you should make if you want to write an essay of a certain length, and how to support each of those points. How long did it take you to read that description? Ten seconds? I needed about thirty to write it. I can teach that in class to a group of two dozen in ten minutes or less. So, being generous, let’s say it takes ten minutes to teach a group of faculty members how to collect papers in a specific format. Are you still with me? See where I’m going?  We blocked off an hour. So that gives me an extra fifty minutes to catch up on reading, or write a post on here, because math. But then the meeting organizers find ways to fill the time. Things like status reports, or old business, or question and answer sessions are a GREAT way to pad out an hour.
I keep saying an hour, but we all know even that part of the meeting process is a lie. There’s travel time to my meeting. If it’s on campus, I can usually get there in five or ten minutes. But it’s mandatory, so I can’t be late. I’ll leave five minutes earlier, just to be sure. That’s fifteen minutes. Then there’s travel time back to wherever, which is usually as long as getting there, so we’re up to twenty-five minutes. But what about the stuff I was working on before? If I work right up to the second when I have to leave, it’s a good day. Usually I’ll finish a chunk of a project a little earlier than that, maybe ten or fifteen minutes before I have to leave. Now we’re at forty. Then there’s however long it takes to get back into the flow of things after the meeting, which is conservatively an extra ten minutes. That’s a total of fifty minutes, plus the original hour allotted for the meeting. Do you realize what that means? That one meeting basically ate up a quarter of my day. Technically, since I’m only a half-time employee, it’s more like half my day. For one, ten minute long idea.
Meetings, man.

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