One of the fine side benefits of covering employee productivity is the bits of insight that it brings about everyday office life. For example, what does it mean when a meeting ends early or gets cancelled and the organizer says something like “I’m going to give you back 30 minutes”?
That just happened to me in the form of an email saying “We figured out a way to give each of you an additional 60 minutes of personal productivity – by taking our previously scheduled meeting off the calendar. You’re welcome.”
At first, this statement seems grating. It is analogous to “In appreciation of your great efforts I’m giving you back your cat”.
But stick with me a moment. Digging a bit further reveals insight into the value of meetings, time management, and worker productivity in the modern workplace.
To take an interruption science angle, this is an example of an ego-centric valuation of communication: “here’s how much of my time is wasted by these interruptions of my work”. This is a common fallacy of studies that purport to show how much time is wasted by meetings, emails, phone calls, idle chit chat, and more (and which I used to write quite a bit about here ).
It’s important to understand that most meetings you’re invited to – like emails you receive but didn’t initiate – aren’t for your benefit. They may be for the organizer’s benefit, others in the meeting, or just outsiders who will feel better knowing this group met. It may be because the organizer thinks it’s for your benefit even if you don’t realize it. As a manager I used to set up team meetings partially in the hopes that serendipity (“Oh, I didn’t know you’re working on that too – we should put our minds together!”) and best practices would make team members more productive. From an system-wide perspective, a meeting is productive if the sum of costs (your time) and benefits (to the system) is greater than zero.
So these self-depreciating cancellations are an acknowledgment that you were donating your time to the meeting for others’ benefit and it was appreciated, but no longer needed.
If the meeting was for your benefit the organizer would not word the cancellation that way. That’s why you don’t hear “I don’t think we need to interview you so we’re giving you back 30 minutes. You’re welcome.” or “we’re canceling your parole hearing so you can go back to your cell and enjoy an extra 15 minutes. You’re welcome”.
All of this may not make meetings (or tongue-in-cheek cancellations) less annoying, but hopefully you can now see them in a different light.
Anyway, I could write a lot more on interruption science, but I’ll just stop here for today and I’ll give you 15 minutes back.