Tracking boredom in meetings reveals so much. If you’re bored in a meeting, it may be unavoidable—simply part of the job. Or, if you let yourself experience it, boredom may become valuable evidence that you’re in the wrong place at a particular moment. When digital multi- tasking is allowed in meetings, we mute this instructive type of boredom. We entertain ourselves with screen time while silencing an entire category of relevant self-inquiry: Why are you bored? Are you the wrong person to be there? Are you redundant with other peers in the room? Are you just scared to ask not to come?
If you’re sitting in a meeting that feels boring and you abstain from device distractions, you will see your situation more clearly. You’ll either determine that work is hard and sometimes boring but you do serve a purpose in this meeting, or you will determine you’re clearly neither contributing nor benefiting. When the latter happens, take a strategic pause and say inside your head, “SBH” (shorthand for Shouldn’t Be Here).
Repeat this term to yourself privately throughout the portions of any meeting that feels empty. Hearing this message over and over raises awareness and chips away at costly denial. It builds a critical mass of helpful inner discomfort that eventually spurs action. And not a moment too soon—our research shows that a full 30 percent of meetings feel like they fall in the category of Shouldn’t Be Here.
But isn’t it true that some meetings that feel unimportant, really are? Yes. And many meetings feel important (often to those who call them) but in reality, are not. I observed this truth in South America at a kickoff event for a global energy firm doing business in 29 countries. Peru was a treat—full of pleasing sights, except for the cuy (a regional specialty of roasted whole guinea pig sadly presented with absolutely zero effort to make it look less like a guinea pig).
Addressing this group, I asked the audience to take a thoughtful pause and raise their hands to self-identify into descending categories of experienced meeting waste. “Who feels 50 percent of their meeting time is unnecessary?” Up went a chunk of hands. “What about 40 percent? 30 percent? 20 percent?” At this point we’d seen everyone’s hands raised, except for Carl, who ultimately raised his lone, confident hand in my very last category, reporting zero percent of his meetings were unnecessary. It didn’t take long to find out that he was the person who called them all.
“People should be invited to meetings if they bring expertise or insight that’s relevant, hold sole authority to make a decision, could learn from participating, or when they represent a population affected by the meeting outcome.”
We hear more wins from the subtle tool of SBH than almost any other meeting technique. For team members of every level, simple awareness and group review of each person’s Shouldn’t Be Here insights helps us rein in the uncontrolled growth of our meeting patterns. We move from common sense (where we all know many meetings are a waste) to common practice (where we actually cancel or decline attendance at those meetings we don’t belong in). And if too many people are reporting a meeting as SBH, then you know the overall purpose or design of the meeting needs to change.
Meeting organizers, the next call to action is on you. You sit at the riverhead of the additive process that needs to be undone. Before sending invites, take a pause to go through the following steps.
Really think about who is tactically needed at the meeting. Cross-reference the list, and check for inviting people “just in case,” invites that are purely political, role redundancy, “keeping someone in the loop,” or invites stemming from hypercollaboration. Check the calendars you’re about to populate to see if the slot is open. Avoid double and triple booking, and stay curious and neutral when listening to requests to decline.
People should be invited to meetings if they bring expertise or insight that’s relevant, hold sole authority to make a decision, could learn from participating, or when they represent a population affected by the meeting outcome. And publishing open-source notes after the meeting helps us realize we have two choices in our communications: invite or inform. The availability of open-source notes also greatly relaxes the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) of those not chosen to attend, or maybe even changes it to our kind of FOMO (Finally Obtaining More Oxygen).
To put this framework further into action, take an SBH inventory of your calendar looking back, to learn from what you might have done, and looking forward, to see what actions you might take now.
Oh, and if you are Carl, try asking your teams about their SBH insights, and then quietly sit back for a good listen.
Featured in top media outlets such as Forbes, Fast Company, and NPR, Juliet Funt is a globally renowned keynote speaker, tough-love advisor to the Fortune 500, founder and CEO of the training firm, Juliet Funt Group. Juliet is also the author of A Minute to Think: Reclaim Creativity, Conquer Busyness, and Do Your Best Work, a Next Big Idea Club nominee. Visit her at julietfunt.com.