Close to 85% of your job might be meaningless

I feel like just diving into the deep end here, so let’s start with this quote:

Cross shares the opinion that a collaborative organizational structure can be a drain on people’s time and resources: people can be “emailed to death and meetinged to death.” He cites a statistic that most knowledge workers and leaders spend 85% or more of each week on email, meetings and on the phone, which suggests there’s little time left over to perform individualized tasks.

Not surprising. There was a story a few years ago about a company (health insurance, I believe) where one weekly meeting took up 300,000 hours (yes, 300,000) of manpower per year. You could argue that’s mostly admins and middle people getting slide decks and bullet points ready, but that’s still 300,000 hours. Say you work 40 hours a week and take 4 weeks vacation. That’s 40 x 48, or 1,920 working hours in a year. That means this one meeting took the time of 156 full-time employees in a year to manage.

Meeting’ed to death, indeed.

We all know the deal with email by now, too. (I hope.) It’s a giant circle jerk that frequently confuses people, runs people in new directions, and really only exists to underscore the existing power dynamic anyway.

And yet this is what we’re spending 85% of our time on, in a supposed Knowledge Economy?

But aren’t emails and meetings a form of work?

Yes, but key word is “form.” They’re not actually work. Oftentimes they’re just poorly-structured ways of discussing work, not actually doing it. In some companies, you can make a nice chunk of change for yourself simply by sitting in meetings and answering emails all week. You do legitimately nothing except periodically offer a viewpoint on something. We all know at least one person like this. He/she probably just popped into your head. I can think of 10 off the dome.

EMails and meetings are often necessary, sure. But they can both be managed so, so, so much better. Here are some ideas.

The real culprit, though, is…

… this idea that collaboration is imperative for innovation.

This is a tricky, muddy area. But let’s take a stab at it.

Collaboration is important because (a) work is much more global and (b) tech now touches every department. You are going to need to collaborate with others outside your little domain/silo. That’s unavoidable.

The constant focus on collaboration, though, is flawed. A few reasons:

  1. It can feel very forced.
  2. Some (many?) people honestly don’t want to collaborate.
  3. We all end up answering to multiple bosses and stakeholders, some of whom we don’t even understand the role of.
  4. It leads to more meetings (“Gotta get everyone on the same page!”), which takes time away from actual work.

So why did we get so hard for collaboration?

From that same article I linked at the top, check this out:

Yet collaboration has long been touted as a key to success. Steve Jobs is credited with saying, “Great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.” Virgin’s Richard Branson recently told Inc., “The fundamental driver of our success at Virgin has, and will always be, our people working together.” Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison has stated, “There is no such thing as a self-made man.” And one can go back further for many old chestnuts about teamwork.

Here’s the thing you need to understand: most human beings are pretty lazy and simple at the end of the day.

If someone rich and successful says “THIS IS THE WAY,” well, we go in that way. We don’t think about “Does this even make sense? Is this productive?” We just do it. We’re all NIKE to an extent.

A lot of rich, powerful, white guys love to talk about how important collaboration is — even if they’d stab their brother in the chest over a five-figure payday.

So we all assume collaboration is the way.

And that’s why most of your calendar for the next week is meetings, probably 3 in 10 (more) of which are pointless.

“That’s the way we’ve always done it!”

Most legitimate attempts at productivity die because of that line.

If you tried to overhaul how meetings are called and organized in your company, you’d probably get push back.

You’d get this push back even though everyone probably complains about meetings.

So why are they pushing back?

  1. Always done it this way.
  2. Meetings and emails are a great place to hide if you’re hideously incompetent but want to keep paying your mortgage.
  3. Who wants to have a work context/format where you actually have to contribute value and express viewpoints of substance?
  4. That seems hard. No likey hard.

I’ve actually tried to reformulate meetings in three jobs I’ve had.

Tremendous push back at each place.

What did I then hear every Monday?

“Man, my whole week is meetings! How crazy is that!??!”

Ironic, right?

Back to this 85% number

Some studies have also shown that 7.5 in 10 minutes of an employee’s day are useless.

So, 75% 85%?

Doesn’t so much matter.

Here’s the problem.

You spend a lot of time at work in the middle part of your life.

Shouldn’t you be doing at least something vaguely productive with some of that time, instead of sitting in meetings?

You’d hope.

And a final interesting correlation: 85% of the global workforce isn’t engaged in their work. 

And yet our “Knowledge Economy” is largely based on 85% useless garbage.


What else you got?

Ted Bauer


  1. There is a lot of wasted time and effort, and a sustained leader never confuses activity with progress. On the other hand, building relationships, coaching and mentoring, and finding effective ways to transmit information (meetings being just one of them), are necessary activities even if they have no direct correlation to revenue generation. Having said that – you end up back at Theory X versus Theory Y. Are your employees basically engaged or just lazy? And what are you doing, as their leader, to get the most out of them while keeping them balanced as human beings?And while you are at it – what are you doing to keep yourself balanced?

  2. There’s way too much focus in many organizations on knowing where you are (at your desk from 9-5) and what you’re doing at all hours. Many tasks can be done a lot faster if you leave someone alone to do them. No meetings, no progress reports, no required working time or location. Give small, incremental tasks and get things done.

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