Psychological studies point out one more reason why long meetings are no fun and get less done:
Imagine, for a moment, that you are facing a very difficult decision about which of two job offers to accept. One position offers good pay and job security, but is pretty mundane, whereas the other job is really interesting and offers reasonable pay, but has questionable job security.
Clearly you can go about resolving this dilemma in many ways. Few people, however, would say that your decision should be affected or influenced by whether or not you resisted the urge to eat cookies prior to contemplating the job offers.
A decade of psychology research suggests otherwise. Unrelated activities that tax the executive function have important lingering effects, and may disrupt your ability to make such an important decision. In other words, you might choose the wrong job because you didn’t eat a cookie.
Research by University of Minnesota psychologist Kathleen Vohs and colleagues indicates that we have a limited amount of what they call executive resources. Once they start to get depleted, we make bad choices.
And how do you consume your executive resources? In three ways. You use them every time you:
- Exercise commitment (as in not eating that cookie you really wanted because you’re on a diet)
- Focus your attention (as in listening to someone speaking, though you’d rather check email on your Blackberry)
- Make a decision (as in choosing which of two possible projects to approve)
Business meetings require participants to commit, focus and make decisions – with no acknowledgment of the fact that in doing so they’re consuming a finite resource. Once this resource runs out, people make worse decisions!!!
Suddenly those three-hour project meetings aren’t looking so smart, are they? Not that they ever really did, but you know what I mean.
The article left me with a few questions:
- How do we recharge our executive resources?
- Can we increase our executive resources over time by exercising them? The way physical exercise makes you tired right now but increases your fitness over time.
- How quickly can they be recharged? Once they’re gone, are they gone for the day? The week? Or can they be recharged in time for the next meeting?
If you know the answer to any of these questions, I’d love to hear it!
What do you think? Have you noticed this kind of thing in meetings? What do you think is the cut-off point beyond which meetings just devolve into pointlessness and no good decisions can be made? An hour? Two? 15 minutes?