Haupz Blog

... still a totally disordered mix

Meetings, Context Switches, and Flow

2022-06-03 — Michael Haupt

I've always been sure that meetings per se aren't the problem when people complain about "too many meetings" and exhaustion therefrom, but that the problem is actually that many meetings we run are bad. Some reasons:

  • Unclear purpose (why are we having this meeting?);

  • Unclear what each participant can bring to and take away from the meeting (why is everyone here?);

  • Shifting "flight levels", e.g., when constantly moving back and forth between discussing strategic direction and technical implementation detail (what are we talking about?).

Zooming out and looking at the entire day more or less full of meetings, brain research has it that there's another problem (one that's also been known to be an issue due to common sense): frequent context switches. At times, I have days that are packed with meetings, and every single one is about something entirely different. Moreover, there are no breaks between the meetings (or just the ones that are absolutely inevitable for basic biological reasons). After such a day, I usually feel much more exhausted than after a day with a sprinkle of meetings with focus time in between, or one very long meeting that's about one thing only.

We tend to work best in a state of flow. Even the sprinkle of meetings I mentioned above can harm that, because the meetings interrupt focus, and if the focus periods are too short, flow won't happen. I owe it to the reality of my job that I work a lot with others in meetings, but then I'm supposedly on the manager's schedule, not so much on the maker's schedule. (I disagree with the maker/manager dichotomy, it comes across as if managers weren't making, and makers weren't managing ... but that's a digression.)

For anyone, a day with lots of meetings (even with different people) about the same matter can contain a lot of flow: it's the context switches that cause most pain.

Tags: work