Getting Real: Toxic Meetings

The 37Signals gang has now made its magnum opus (or whatever the minimalist programming equivalent would be) available on-line for free on the web. If you want to take it with you, you have the $29 hardcopy option or $19 for a PDF.

The basic thesis of Getting Real is that for software, fewer features executed well beats the jack-of-all-trades approach. But as the authors say, their working philosophy has applications even when you’re not building an application:

Note: While this book’s emphasis is on building a web app, a lot of these ideas are applicable to non-software activities too. The suggestions about small teams, rapid prototyping, expecting iterations, and many others presented here can serve as a guide whether you’re starting a business, writing a book, designing a web site, recording an album, or doing a variety of other endeavors. Once you start Getting Real in one area of your life, you’ll see how these concepts can apply to a wide range of activities.

Here’s a sampling of this broadly applicable wisdom, from the essay entitled Meetings are Toxic:

Don’t have meetings

Do you really need a meeting? Meetings usually arise when a concept isn’t clear enough. Instead of resorting to a meeting, try to simplify the concept so you can discuss it quickly via email or im or Campfire. The goal is to avoid meetings. Every minute you avoid spending in a meeting is a minute you can get real work done instead.

There’s nothing more toxic to productivity than a meeting. Here’s a few reasons why:

They break your work day into small, incoherent pieces that disrupt your natural workflow
They’re usually about words and abstract concepts, not real things (like a piece of code or some interface design)
They usually convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute
They often contain at least one moron that inevitably gets his turn to waste everyone’s time with nonsense
They drift off-subject easier than a Chicago cab in heavy snow
They frequently have agendas so vague nobody is really sure what they are about
They require thorough preparation that people rarely do anyway
For those times when you absolutely must have a meeting (this should be a rare event), stick to these simple rules:

Set a 30 minute timer. When it rings, meeting’s over. Period.
Invite as few people as possible.
Never have a meeting without a clear agenda.

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Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 15. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. Emeritus staff of Mayo Clinic. Founder of HELPcare and Administrator for HELPcare Clinic.

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