During Nadja’s prasentation on “The Meaning of Life” at the last IF Forum, I was reminded of all those many wasted hours in my life. The first thing that sprang to mind was the time I spent watching TV and driving a car. There were a few decades in my life when I actually spent a daily average of five hours in front of the TV set and behind the wheel of a car.

If you do the simple calculations, you get 1,825 hours each year if you take five hours every day. With just two decades, the result is that I spent 26,500 hours sitting in a car or in front of a TV set. Mind you, these are rather conservative numbers. Somehow, I find these results frustrating.

And then I remember that, at least after 1977, I also spent more and more time of my professional life in meetings. Many of them were rather unnecessary and unproductive. More often than not, I would have preferred using the time for the projects I was working on at the time.

Neither did matters improve as time went by. In many enterprises, there is still a pathological tendency towards meetings. Far too many of them, taking up far too much time. And since that causes too much working time to be filled with meetings, you will have to make up for it by staying late into the night.

Why do people make so many appointments that last longer than 20 minutes? Competent persons can and must exchange a lot of information in 20 minutes, as well as come up with wise decisions.

Except in practice, it is different. Basically, a meeting should always have been prepared well. Consequently, it has an agenda. Said agenda has to be worked through. And each of the topics usually takes a lot more time than necessary.

Here is how it is often done: four TOP’s (items of the agenda) are to be discussed and decided. Since the issues are difficult, the organizers plan two hours total. Thirty minutes per issue. It was quite hard to agree on a meeting time, because, after all, all participants are constantly on some meeting or other and therefore have a full calendar. Consequently, the meeting will not be before two weeks from now. By the time the meeting takes place, two of the four TOP’s are already obsolete.

Well, now you could think that those TOP’s that are by now obsolete can be deleted from the list. That would leave you with only half the number of issues to discuss. Which means you could reduce the time for the discussion by half. That would be only one hour instead of two – and then you could go back to your work. But, no! In all my time as a participant of meetings, it seldom happened.

No. Mostly, they spontaneously come up with new issues to discuss. After all, we are here now, aren’t we? So now they start speculating and philosophizing. Arguments are brought forth all over the place, but they are seldom well-structured. Some of the participants enjoy rhetorical games, others often suffer when they have to listen to all those verbal arias.

Still others hide under some kind of camouflaged office nap, dreaming of better times and nicer places. It will only get embarrassing when you start snoring. Consequently, all the time that was originally planned to get used up will actually be used up in the end. Mostly, it takes even longer than planned. But why?

Yes, I definitely spent too much time in my life before a TV set and in a car, as well as in meetings. But I will not look back. Instead, I will look towards the future.
So here is what I will do in the future: switch off the TV, cut off driving cars, avoid meetings.

(Translated by EG)

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