Meetings take up time, cost money and are generally a pain right? So what better than to quantify them and prove to myself they are useful? Looking back at my activities last year, I wondered how many meetings I had, how much time they took, and what I got out of them. The simple answer to the first two questions is 363 pages of notes and an estimated 100 hours. For those interested, the more complicated answer follows.
How did I do it?
In the index that I keep of my logbooks, there are stretches of repetitive keywords that normally refer to meetings (see Figure 1). I went through the index of each logbook from last year and simply selected the sections related to meetings and tried to categorize and quantify them.
I only counted meetings that lasted two pages or more. I have a lot more meetings, but mostly shorter, and I don’t really consider them super important per se (otherwise I could consider that my whole life is a meeting!). I then gave a name or title to each meeting and summed up all the pages I had written on it and graphed the meetings per day over the year (Figure 2).
I had two peaks of meetings in April and October 2015, which both corresponded to conferences. So yes, I included both conferences and meetings. In total in 2015 I attended six conferences (114 pages) and most of the remaining meetings revolved around six projects (155 pages). I wrote the most at a conference on Aquaculture and then another one on Quantified Self. Quantifying the number of pages per research project was nice, since it really reflected how important each project was over the year. For example, if I had more of a leadership role, the number of pages per year was around 30 pages, and if I was less involved, only 15 pages per year.
The only other thing that jumped out at me from this quantifying task was the location of the meetings. Most of them were close to home (63%), in my home city, but four were meetings or conferences in other cities in Spain and another four outside of Spain (Figure 3). Interestingly, those meetings outside my normal radius get a lot more notes, almost three times more (6.7 pages/meeting in Madrid, compared to 16.3 pages/meeting outside Madrid and 17.3 pages/meeting outside Spain).
To estimate how much time I spent in meetings, last week I timed how long it took me to write down 10 pages of notes during a conference (16.5 min per page). I then multiplied that average by the total number of pages written last year during conferences and meetings (363 pp), to get 99.8 hours. That does not sound like very much, but again, I didn’t include all the smaller ones.
What did I learn?
Even though I write lots of notes during meetings, I have this strong negative feeling related to going back to those notes and doing anything more with them. I often look at my notes from a meeting before going to another meeting about the same topic, but I rarely write them up or summarize them. How rarely? Well, I wrote minutes in a Word doc for about 9 meetings, and mostly because I had to. Therefore, although I spend about 100 hours in meetings, it’s almost like a one time thing, and I only spend around 9-10 hours writing them up “properly”.
I once read that important meetings should include a maximum of about 7-8 people and three key people/roles; a scribe, a time-keeper and another who moderates. I read that about four years ago in a book I bought on impulse in London City airport, after a so-so meeting, entitled Brilliant Project Management (S Barker and R Cole, 2007). In several meetings I’ve suggested we allocate these roles – to no avail. It seems no one wants to take meetings too seriously. Possibly the easiest is to designate a scribe, but tougher to designate and later respect a moderator or a timer-keeper, and to keep those separate. Will have to work on that this year.