After the Fact: Proper planning prevents work


“People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.” Dr.Thomas Sowell is a retired professor of economics at Stanford University and undoubtedly knows whereof he speaks. Faculty at any college or university are required to attend a meeting every other day, at minimum. High school and elementary school staff average one meeting a week, sometimes lumped into a 3-day “in-service training.”

If you plan things just right, you can rush from one meeting to another all day, every day while employed by some businesses or services. This eliminates any need to do real work. Which, of course, is the prime reason for having meetings in the first place.

As a necessary part of putting together a “company newsletter” for one employer, meetings became an exercise in getting someone else on the committee to do all of the work. Every one of the almost-dozen who promised to write something for the publication missed the first deadline. One or two reminders later, the whole newsletter was written, edited, illustrated and taken to the printer by three (3) people. That, as I recall, was when the committee chair quit offering free lunch for those who would attend the meetings.

Congress, I’m convinced, is nothing more than a larger committee that spends a great deal more money, has more and better lunches at our expense and accomplishes about the same bunch of nothing.  

Another bit of Sowellian wisdom that supports his perspective on meetings says, “People who have time on their hands will inevitably waste the time of people who have work to do.” Planning a meeting is a good way to ensure whole groups of people will be available to do absolutely nothing along with you when your calendar is blank for an hour or two, any day of the week. It may cause others to shuffle appointments around, but if you can make the topic sound important enough, management will support your directive. In fact, I suspect management at many an organization thrives on meetings to justify the time they would otherwise spend having coffee at Starbucks. If Starbucks had an independent coffee shop. In Alamosa, they probably go to the coffee house adjacent to the Brew Pub or across the street where they can get cookies to go with the coffee.

If only they knew: the coffee at the senior centers is free (though an occasional donation is a nice thing!) And frequently you can sit in on a meeting of some board or another if you feel a need to justify the time you’re spending out of the office.

“At the drop of a hat” (one of my mother’s favorite preambles), I could probably come up with a list of 10 or more topics for a meeting of any group of people. They needn’t be particularly “timely” or even relevant to anything or anyone so long as they sound like something that could lead into additional meetings or a workshop or even a retreat. Oh, and that’s another splendid time-wasting activity that costs even more than the free lunch: the staff or administrative “retreat.” That’s where an exclusive group of people go somewhere out of town to have meetings on even more exclusive topics that are never discussed with the common workers of the organization. Some people justify their vacations on beaches in Hawaii as “retreats.” You know it’s a real “retreat” if the drinks are being served in coconut shells with little umbrellas rakishly tilting over the lip.  

Of course, while these folks are attending their “retreats,” the folks they’ve left in the office are getting twice as much done as they do when being supervised and laughing uproariously at the notion that the “attendees” are going to come back with anything that’ll make a difference in how things are done for the next year. Or the next week, for that matter.

To quote some other unknown philosopher: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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