Day: July 6, 2017

Unfinished Business

I have often written about my hatred of meetings. I believe what really bugs me is that most meetings in academia don’t actually accomplish anything concrete, let alone all that they supposedly set out to accomplish. This is a common problem with faculty meetings, but it seems broader, and is probably ubiquitous wherever there aren’t clear negative repercussions to poor decision-making that consistently results in unfinished business.

Here’s a recent example: We had a meeting of the advisory board of a journal at a biennial conference in the field. The publisher representative had asked for input before the meeting and I had sent a whole bunch of questions and suggestions. I had also asked that we allot 3 hours for the meeting, because in the past we would always have 1-1.5 hrs and never have enough time to decide anything.

The meeting came and, of course, it was 1.5 hours long. I asked why we didn’t have a longer slot, they said something nebulous about scheduling. In plain English, I figured that the editor who was to run the meeting didn’t want more time devoted to the meeting. We had a very full agenda, as we always do, with many issues that keep showing up over and over. We discussed all those issues (again). Another member and I had a number of suggestions and pushed a bit for votes or some decisive action on several of the items, but all we managed to do was to irritate the editor. He was more concerned with going through the entire agenda than about actually resolving once and for all any of the issues that repeatedly pop up. So yes, we did get to the end of the agenda, with a whole bunch of suggestions up in the air and zero decisions. We will apparently do this again in two years in 1.5 hours. Only next time I might skip the meeting or just keep my mouth shut, because we apparently meet just for show.

I will never understand this attitude. I would much rather address fewer issues but actually resolve them, especially when the meetings are as seldom as once a biennium, than sit and talk about 2x or 3x more issues over and over and over and not get anything done. The latter is a recipe to have someone like me completely disengage, because what’s the fuckin’ point, and life’s too short to waste time like this.

If there’s nothing substantive to meet about,  let’s not meet. But if there is something important to discuss, then let’s move things around and take as much time as needed so we get to the bottom of whatever the problem is. Years ago, I co-advised a student with a colleague, and the colleague wanted us all to meet weekly for 30 min. We did, and if the student was stuck, the colleague listened patiently and then, when the 30 min were done, said “Good job!” to the student, said “Good day!” to me, and was on to something else, presumably another meeting. But I would then clear out my afternoon and spend several additional hours with the student on the board or looking at the code, until we hashed the problem out in detail and the student had a number of very concrete things to try, along with appropriate follow-up strategies. What’s the point of having an advisor (or two!) if you can’t actually get advice when you need it?

If I hate a book, I drop it and don’t look back. If I stop caring about a TV show, I never watch it again. I hate wasting time on anything that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, like business meetings whose only product is unfinished business.