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A Sympathetic Nod to Dentists and White Rabbits

Posted by Louise Barnfield on November 17, 2008

I visited my dentist last week.

My appointment was at 7.30am. I always ask for that slot, because it’s the first one of the day! I can depend on it starting pretty much on time, and can plan the rest of my day accordingly … assuming my dentist’s alarm clock goes off, and that his commute from the east bay is kind to him.

After the 7.30am slot, it’s a crap-shoot as to how long one has to wait, depending on how many clients arrived late, and how many appointments run over their allotted time. Dentists, unfortunately, have limited control over both eventualities – it’s not good for repeat business to turn Mr Jones and his abscess out on the street because he’s 10 minutes late – neither is making a poor job of Ms Smith’s filling in order to save time … the latter might lead to ‘repeat’ business, but probably for a different surgery.

I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date!

I sympathize with my dentist!

Recently, I’ve been contemplating my daily schedule, its subtle changes over the past couple of years, and how much my day (and, more importantly, my stress levels) are influenced by meetings, meetings, meetings. My colleagues agree! I have far too many of them – meetings, that is, not colleagues!!

Meetings start late, meetings run late, and I often feel held hostage to seemingly uncontrollable circumstances: late host, late participants, technical difficulties, or, even worse, a completely unnecessary meeting in the first place.

I sympathize with Alice’s white rabbit!

I also realize I’ve become an offender myself…by hanging on to the end of a late-running meeting, I end up being late for the next one. I’m also an offender because so often in the past I’ve bust a gut to arrive at a meeting on time, only to wait until others have rolled up 5 or 10 minutes late, so that now I’m tempted to think: “Well, there’s no point me leaving the current meeting before it’s ended, because the next meeting won’t start on time anyway!” Understandable to many, I hope, but not excusable!

So, enough I cry! I might not be able directly to influence how many meetings are held, or how many of them I’m invited or expected to attend, but I can help myself and others by brushing up my meeting skills!

This is not a new problem. It’s a recurring issue that simply provides new challenges with the evolution of technology.

In an increasingly global workplace, where conference calls have replaced physical meetings as the norm, we live with a number of logistical challenges that are unique to remote meetings, including conflicting timezones, no visual cues, and the temptation (and sadly often the necessity) to multi-task. Worse, back-to-back meetings allow no ‘wiggle room’ – no allowance for comfort breaks, or caffeine refills, or simply to breathe and clear the mind between one topic and the next.

When meetings took place more often in a physical space, it was common to wrap up a few minutes early, to enable folks to pack up and get to their next meeting, and to allow the next incumbents to start on time. We’ve lost that habit.

So, at the risk of condemning myself to failure, I hereby promise:

  • to make an effort to join a meeting on time, or at least as near as damn it. Yes, of course, stuff happens, and sometimes I’ll have a jolly fine excuse for being diabolically late, but I promise not to make it a habit!
  • if I join a meeting late I won’t expect to have the last 15 minutes repeated just for my benefit. Similarly, as a host, I won’t feel obliged to recap every time a latecomer joins…the rest of you, who were there on time, don’t need to hear it again…and again…and…!
  • for meetings involving half-a-dozen or more, I’ll provide web conference details beforehand, in the meeting invite or recorded message on the conference line – another way to avoid unnecessary interruptions and repetition!
  • if the meeting is still going strong with only 5 minutes left, I’ll wrap up the meeting – can we conclude satisfactorily in just a few minutes, or should we plan another meeting to continue? Some colleagues are meticulous about this, and I’m striving to emulate them, though it’s still not easy, especially if some participants (like me!) are determined to get their say!

I’ve printed and pasted to my office wall 6 Tips to Avoid Being Late. Unfortunately, #4 won’t be easy, as I’m more often the ‘bookee’ than the ‘booker’, but they are excellent aims to have in mind!

Though focusing on the arrogance of CEO’s specifically, I’m Late I’m Late I’m Late (posted by Del Jones for USA Today way back in 2002!) is cautionary reading for all of us, suggesting: “chronic tardiness, no matter how innocent, can so gum up the gears of a corporate work ethic, create resentment and hurt a reputation that experts address the topic as if it were a mental disorder.”

Is basic meeting etiquette part of your company policy? Is it included in new hire training, and published as a reminder for old timers like me who need a kick up the proverbial from time to time?

How have you adapted to changing technology and meeting styles? What are your pet peeves?

9 Responses to “A Sympathetic Nod to Dentists and White Rabbits”

  1. Amy Wilson said

    I find the “hybrid” meeting schedule doubly difficult. For example, 9-10 is a live meeting in a conference room, then 10-11 is a virtual conference call (so you have to go find somewhere to talk) and then 11-12 is live and in another building. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

    I try to minimize my meeting schedule as much as possible and provide enough time for thinking and planning. This helps my sanity quite a bit. Of course, I am not as popular of a meeting attendee as you, Louise – with your brilliant accent and witty comments πŸ™‚ So, my advice is “be more boring” and watch that schedule wash away!

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Louise Barnfield said

    Hah, I have an inkling it’s more my product than my scintillating self that gets me so many invites, but I’ll bask in that compliment anyway, thanks Amy! πŸ™‚

    Don’t get me started on the hybrid schedule!…and I could find a whole other blog on hybrid meetings too! Particularly the distorted voices at the far end of the conference room having a (presumably) meaningful discussion that no one on the phone can hear!

  3. Meg Bear said

    Thanks for reminding us all here Louise. I’m, of course, guilty of all those bad behaviors and some more besides. I also promise to try to do better, the primary thing I can do is suggest to people to not plan (or recap) meetings around me as I am sure I cannot really *fix* my scheduling issues.

  4. Justin Field said

    Louise, you’re my hero. And I will hold you to your own promises to yourself in future meetings. Justin

  5. Christine Yokoi said

    Congrats Louise, for practicing what you preach πŸ™‚ as exemplified by the firm meeting behavior today – good for u & good for us. I think the #6 “Slow down” tip is the best one! Here’s an article on multitasking that my friend recently pointed out to me as well, http://tinyurl.com/6qre4u

  6. Louise Barnfield said

    Thanks Justin, somehow I knew I could rely on you! πŸ™‚
    You must know that you are a prime example of my meticulous colleagues referenced in bullet #4. Good on ya, mate! πŸ™‚

  7. Louise Barnfield said

    Christine, on the dangers of multi-tasking, you’ll love the solution along London’s Brick Lane… padded lampposts! Full story here.

  8. puni said

    A subject close to my heart. Effective meetings often look effortless, but really mean someone did serious heavy lifting before the event. My personal faves are single subject meetings that promise to last no longer than 30 minutes πŸ™‚

    HBR’s daily update today looks at getting more from meetings.

    Good topic, Louise!

  9. albertmbankment said

    And I feel it should be noted that your teeth sound lovely down the phone.

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