The Conversations Not on Your Calendar

Scheduled meeting FoMo.

November 2, 2016

My life sometimes feels like a series of incidents where I discover new things that turn out to be blindingly obvious to everybody else.

My latest "discovery” is about conversations.  

I’m learning that the most important work conversations that I have do not take place in scheduled meetings.  

These are conversations that happen on-the-fly. Conversations where someone comes by my office to chat, or I go to their office. Conversations that take place before or after scheduled meetings, or while traveling together to a professional conference, or while grabbing a coffee together.

It would have made my career infinitely more productive if someone had told me this years ago.

Why I’ve spent the majority of my 20 year career at the intersection of learning and technology mostly in scheduled meetings I’ll never know.  

If I had know just how low-yield regularly scheduled meetings are, and how impactful casual conversations can be, I would have declined many more meetings.

If I had truly understood that there is an inverse relationship between the number of people attending a regularly scheduled meeting, and the quality of that meeting, I would have happily improved the meeting quality by absenting myself from the conversation.

What if Microsoft released a new feature in Outlook that shocked the computer user if their calendar got too full of scheduled meetings? Maybe shocking is too extreme - not sure how that would work through the keyboard. How about if the computer just froze until the user deleted enough meetings to guaranteed a reasonable chance that they would be available for ad hoc conversations with colleagues?

You understand that we do this to ourselves - right? That there is something broken in our psyche that causes us to overschedule our days. We do this because we think that business will signal productivity and value.  We are too polite to cancel standing meetings.  We think that our presence at some discussion is irreplaceable. We have the academic professional version of FoMO - fear of missing out.

Guess who’s reliably available for unscheduled conversations? Remote employees. People who work at home. Anyone who telecommutes (do we still use that word?) a few days or more a week.  

These people are in less scheduled meetings, and therefore more available for unscheduled conversations. The odds are very good that they are already working productively on their computer, and are therefore available for a quick video call.  Nothing beats FaceTime for super-quick long-distance conversations.  I’d rather talk to someone on FaceTime than face-to-face, but maybe that’s just me.

Anyone want to chat? 


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