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Meeting Survival Tips

We’ve all been there. The meeting that lasts way too long, the training that gets derailed by side discussions. We’ve all endured the frustration of knowing we could be more productive by being elsewhere. That instead of sitting around discussing how to accomplish our work, we could be at our desks getting it done!

For better or worse, we’re stuck with it. Meetings make the government world go round. Mind-numbing seems to be the status quo. What’s a hard-working, go-getting employee to do?

Thankfully, there are many ways to escape the doldrums. They allow you to still pay attention while feeling productive – or at least not feeling like you want to run out of the room screaming.

Do some future planning. Have a big project coming up? Take a few moments to lay out a course of action, to-do items, and maybe even a brainstorm or two. How often do we have a block of time when we won’t be interrupted by the phone?

Create a to-do list. It seems to me that just when my brain is reaching full stagnation, that’s when I suddenly remember all the little things I should be doing instead. Jot them down so you don’t forget.

Update your planner. Sometimes we note appointments on our monthly pages, but not the weekly or daily sheets. Meetings are a perfect time to make sure everything matches.

Daydream. Ok, so this one doesn’t really let you pay attention so well – but who cares? It’s better than the aforementioned screaming.

Write poetry. Sound corny? Haikus have saved me many times. Not only do they let me vent my frustrations (like saying what I would never dare say aloud), they also provide zen release! Haikus offer a simple structure (5/7/5 syllables) to get you started, but whatever style suits you – go for it. It’s like journaling, but more meeting-friendly! (Homeric epics not recommended).

Work, surf, or chat. Jacked in? Take care of some work-related research or instant message distant coworkers. You might even be able to work on a document or two. (I’m posting this during a meeting right now!) Warning: you must be very slick at this method to avoid getting in trouble.

The key to any of these is to do them in a manner that does not disrupt the meeting or make you look like you are completely blowing it off. If you aren’t good at mental multitasking, you should probably just pay attention to the meeting. But if you are able to tune in to the discussion and also do something else, then by all means go for it. Management won’t like it, but you can tell them it’s better that the post-traumatic stress you’ll acquire otherwise!

You won’t be able to escape meetings, but maybe you can make them bearable. Just remember one thing:

Lengthy discussions
Stretch on endlessly for hours
Sum up, then repeat.

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Great post. I love it because it deals with the issues we face everyday. I particular make a lot of to-do lists. I find it a good time to create them as my mind is in a good place. Whenever I come back from conferences, I have pages of to-do lists based on new ideas and just the time to write to-do lists when panels are slow.

Emma Dozier

I actually enjoy meetings occasionally. I am obsessed with the brainstorming process, and I like to here everyone else’s ideas. Also, as a contractor, I often feel OUT of the loop until someone happens to invite me to a meeting. Then – voila – I can bring more strategy to the rest of my team.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good, productive meeting. When they happen, they are GREAT. I’ve just seen way too many that aren’t run efficiently, don’t have an agenda (or the agenda isn’t adhered to), drag on, etc. I’m glad you have had a different experience!

And really, the key to having those kinds of meetings are a clear agenda (ahead of time!) and good facilitation. With those two, you can’t go wrong!