Not too long ago, two of us were sitting in a meeting room while waiting for a third person to join us. Engaging in a bit of small talk, my colleague was nevertheless keeping his reactions short. There was not much flow, instead a lot of space to ask questions. His answers seemed to lack context making it hard to understand what he wanted to say.
After a while, we transitioned into a conversation on the conversation itself. We started talking about our impressions and reactions until then. He hadn’t engaged as much in the conversation as usual because he didn’t want to spend the energy, he was expecting it to cost him. Knowing that our other colleague would soon enter the room, he didn’t want to start a conversation he assumed he wouldn’t be able to finish.
Apart from learning a lot about his energy level in the moment, I was also learning more about his meeting habits. For some types of exchanges, he needed an unobstructed amount of time. Without it, he couldn’t go under the surface of the subject. He was aligning meetings one after the other expecting them to guide him, or himself to be able to share his requirements with the team to offer them guidance.
That is absolutely fine and often helpful.
But it doesn’t match well with meetings that require going into further depth of the subject and engaging fully with it. It is challenging to step into these whenever an interruption is predictable.
At the same time, knowing that meetings are upcoming can also very much be an interruption of the day’s work, if that day’s work is about making instead of managing.
Paul Graham described this phenomenon as the difference between managing and making schedules. As he explains, having some uninterrupted time slot may not be enough to enable oneself to do the deep work. According to his experience, knowing that the deep work may be compartmentalized by meetings was already affecting the individual’s ability to get started as they expected it to be interrupted at some stage.
Naturally, neither type of meeting need is going to go away. Both rhythms will remain a necessity. However, paying attention to the difference adds a tool to a team’s ability to perform at a high level. They can find different scheduling options whenever their work involves the need to “make” instead of “manage.” That is, find a way to deal respectfully with one another’s time.