At the start of every work week, millions of people around the world prepare for something they do endlessly, joylessly and badly: a meeting.
It was horrific before the pandemic when research showed there were an estimated 55 million meetings a day in the US alone.
The average manager sat there 12 sessions a week, and even a non-manager took eight. It wasn't much better elsewhere.
I dread to wonder what the numbers look like now, as Covid-19 and remote working have ushered in the age of the never-ending meeting.
An exhausted friend I spoke to the other Friday said he had just spent every day that week in consecutive meetings that started just after 7 a.m. and didn't end until around 5 p.m.
He's doing something complicated in town and running a team far away, so I think that's understandable.
But even my number of meetings this year has reached explosive proportions. On Mondays, I could easily spend more than three hours in four meetings, even though the only person I manage more or less is myself.
None of this would be a problem if all meetings were doing what they should and helping busy people make good decisions about important things. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests otherwise.
Studies over the past 15 years have shown that 7 to 70 percent of workers rated their meetings as bad or unproductive, writes U.S. Professor Steven Rogelberg in his 2019 book The Surprising Science of Meetings.
These numbers make me thankful that I work for a newspaper. Daily deadlines force meetings to be short, sharp, and productive, which is good, given the cost, for those who don't.
Last year, a study by the Antwerp Management School found that only 7 percent of Belgians felt that their 5.9 million daily meetings were ineffective. "However, they still generate significant financial costs," write the authors, who calculated that bad meetings cost employers € 2,500 annually per employee: a total of € 11 billion a year in wasted staff time and effort.
The root of the lazy meeting is simple, says Madeleine de Hauke, a meeting trainer and teacher whose Antwerp students conducted the study.
"We spend our lives in meetings, but there is very little investment in helping people lead them effectively," she told me last week.
A conference coach could say that, but I think Ms. de Hauke is right. Managing a meeting well takes skill. At the very least, people need to know in advance why they are meeting. what they should achieve; Who really needs to be there and how should they contribute? That sounds obvious, but it isn't, as anyone who has been to a pointless, waffling Gabfest knows.
However, meeting leaders are expected to learn all of this on the job. I can't remember ever learning how to lead a meeting, which is why it's as good that I've rarely had a job that asked me to.
I also like Ms. de Hauke's descriptions of what she calls the meeting monster: people who torpedo meetings with a range of annoying behaviors. There is the relentlessly off-topic grand stander. The dominant drone. The rude multitasker. The incomprehensible wanderer. The mute who later only says e-mails to say what has been decided will never work.
The problem is that we all meet monsters sometimes, says Ms. de Hauke. A good meeting leader knows how to stop this behavior or make sure it never starts by making it clear what will and will not be tolerated.
I thought the pandemic made things worse. However, Ms. de Hauke makes a convincing argument that zoom calls only reinforce the previous processes.
If a meeting was productive and fun before, it's probably better now. If it was wasteful and annoying, it's likely worse.
Even so, a bad meeting is like a virus. Often times, when good decisions are not made, another meeting must be held, then another and another. Fortunately, there is no need for a vaccine, just a little extra care and preparation and an understanding that there is no shame in learning how to run a meeting well.