I read another of Harvard Business Review’s inimitably intellectual and brilliantly informative articles the other day. It was called, “How to Get Out of a Meeting You Know Will Waste Your Time“. Its thesis was this:

You can often predict which meetings will be unproductive from the moment you receive the invitation … Some of these you can dodge, but others are much harder to escape — especially if the invitation comes from your boss, a key client, or an influential colleague.


It went on to offer five ways (which it called strategies) to duck offending assemblages. To summarize:

  1. Get clear on which meetings really are important to attend.
  2. Make it more difficult for the meeting requesters.
  3. There was no #3. [The author couldn’t count, didn’t count, or didn’t read the piece after cranking it out. My guess is #3 would have been the best one.]
  4. Suggest a minimally invasive compromise.
  5. Make your boss or colleagues aware that your time is a zero-sum game.

Another Idea

I know we’re not all the same. And I know we have to leave room for diverse styles and myriad approaches to things. But I find it helpful to write write a script and keep it handy for the times at which I get invited to meetings that are unnecessary, ridiculous, absurd, or glaringly apparent wastes of time for any number of reasons.

It’s not actually necessary to go to that kind of trouble, though. Some people might find writing a script as big a time-waster as going to a meeting. In lieu of a script, you could use a few note cards. A slide or two might suffice. Or you could just stick a few Post-It notes around your office to remind you of your talking point.

Regardless of the content aid you choose, these are three most important things to consider doing before you respond to the offending invitation:

  1. Gargle. I like to use warm water with a little salt in it. Honey makes the tincture a little too thick, which makes me sound like I’m talking with a mouth full of marshmallows. The astringent qualities in lemon constrict my larynx, making me sound like Betty Boop on helium.
  2. Practice. I like to rehearse in front of a mirror. And while I don’t like to read what should come across to the meeting requester as a spontaneous response, you can cheat a little and memorize your response if you want to.
  3. Enunciate. I make it my sole mission to clearly accentuate every syllable of my response because (A) I don’t want to be misunderstood, and (B) I don’t like to repeat myself.

With 1 though 3 under your belt, this is the only response (strategy) you need for any invitation to any time-wasting meeting:


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