136

When attending meetings that I should attend, I get bored because some people talk too much without putting action points or setting a plan of the next steps that should be done. I imagine it that they talk just for the sake of talking.

Sometimes they talk for 1 hour or more without setting any action points at the end. I am a junior developer and I have no control over the meeting. (I cannot tell them to stop doing this, and do something else.)

What do you advise me to do?

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    Unfortunatly, meeting mania is very comonplace in the business world. Are you having those meeting with the same team everytime ? Is there a person in charge of organizing the meeting you could talk to ? – Aserre Jan 31 at 14:22
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    You have no control over the meetings, but is anything discussed in the meeting actually relevant to you? Would be at a disadvantage in any way for not attending? – user34587 Jan 31 at 14:22
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    Being devil's advocate here: Are you sure you are getting the context of that discussion? Being out of context is a main reason for feeling disconnected from the meeting topic and getting bored. Did you try to listen and understand and failed again and again? Did you try to ask someone else present in the meeting about it? – Sourav Ghosh Jan 31 at 14:27
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    @Kozaky I would say it is relevant but it can be said in 10 min, not 1 h. The disadvantage is that nobody would tell you what happened on the meetings, and the attendees may decide on the work that you will do – I. Hamad Jan 31 at 14:31
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    What exactly is your position in this company? If this is information that will only be mentioned in this one-hour meeting, your reason for being there may be to absorb and take notes on what you should be doing - in other words, the action points may be something you need to create while you listen! This depends on what the context of the meeting is though so...what is the context of this meeting? – Zibbobz Jan 31 at 17:47

20 Answers 20

120

Bring a pad and write, write down anything.

It will keep you from looking like a zombie and if the person says something useful, you'll already have pen and paper in hand.

I have a hard time sitting still, so this works for me, I need to get that energy out of me. If you're restless as well, this may help.

  • 1
    Not only will taking notes help concentrate, it may help a great deal in remembering things from the meeting as well. Whenever I had to learn something boring during my studies (I would zone out reading just like the OP in his meetings), what I did was to write down everything I wanted to remember, repeatedly. Usually two to three repetitions were sufficient for a whole tiring examination, with the first iteration having most impact. – Pavel Feb 1 at 8:12
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    I bring my work book and carry on working. I can design code and work out logical problems. Nobody ever notices. If I run out of work I can plan parties or holidays - written in code, of course. – RedSonja Feb 1 at 9:25
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    @RedSonja I don't even hide that I'm doodling spaceships during meetings if it's going on too long :P I'm past my probation and I'm good at my work. Own your boredom if the meeting isn't a worthwhile use of your time. Pretending to be interested in total drivel is a good way to make sure it keeps happening, never mind actually participating in it. – Ruadhan2300 Feb 1 at 14:16
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    I am never without my pad and pen, but usually end up playing buzzword bingo. – TvZ Feb 1 at 15:18
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    Work on your next novel. You get something you can sell later (if you finish it) and it clearly isn't doodling. – EvilSnack Feb 2 at 4:43
205

What do you advice me to do?

Grin and bear it. Pay attention in spite of your boredom. Take notes.

Not everything can be within your control. Not everything can be exactly the way you'd prefer.

Remember this when you are eventually in the position where you can lead meetings. Create and follow a tight agenda. Make sure only those who need to be there are invited.

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    The "pay attention" is the key phrase here. It's entirely possible that the talk is relevant to participants in the meeting and also relevant to you. If you miss something that's said in a meeting because you've zoned out, this isn't a great reflection on your professionalism. If the items being discussed really aren't relevant to you, you can ask to be excused from those meetings (but you can't excuse yourself because "they're boring me"). – user44108 Jan 31 at 14:39
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    I've said this in another comment, but it's relevant here too - if you suspect that a meeting is not relevant, and you're junior enough that you can't simply decline the meeting invite, talk to your boss. Start with a question: "hey boss, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to get out of being in that meeting; what should I be looking out for?". If there is something valuable buried in all the fluff, they can tell you what to watch out for; if there isn't, there's a chance they'll realise and give you permission to skip the meeting. – anaximander Jan 31 at 17:00
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    Lots of things are being said that are either directly relevant to you or will be in the future. If you spend the time trying to follow what is going on and even follow up afterwards with questions about things you did not understand, you will be directly rewarded for your time and effort. – Colm Jan 31 at 17:33
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    @Martijn I'm a big fan of the "meeting summary" technique. I write down all the action points the meeting produced as well as notes on anything worthwhile. Then at the last minute of the meeting, I say "okay, so I'm doing X, Dave's doing Y and we've established that W is important. Was there anything else I missed?". Sometimes there's a brief pregnant pause while everyone reflects that two hours of time was thoroughly summarised in a single sentence.. There's usually a drive to have shorter meetings after that :P – Ruadhan2300 Feb 1 at 14:12
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    People with attention disorders don't. Richard U's answer actually gives a suggestion of something to do to keep focus. – Chris Feb 1 at 21:24
50

As Joe mentioned in the comments, smile and deal with it. You are a junior developer. Unless you are the guy organizing the meeting and everyone that is attending the meeting is inferior to you, you don't get to "do" anything about a boring meeting.

Although, I've found this one trick VERY helpful when I am bored in a meeting.
INVOLVE YOURSELF! Contribute. Say something relevant to the topic being discussed about. You are a junior developer. The guy boring you might be a veteran employee of the company, so you need to watch your tone and your body language when saying something.

If they are talking about something and a good "action point" (as you put it) comes across your mind, intervene as politely as possible and say:

I know I am new here, but I just wanted to see if I am following what you are saying. So when you say [boring boring stuff here], do you mean doing something like [joyous non-boring action point]?

This achieves two things:

  1. You have involved yourself. You are not bored anymore. You are a part of the meeting now and you can say things and contribute to the meeting.
  2. You have slightly, just slightly, nudged the speaker towards talking about something more interesting. This might even result in the speaker talking more about other action points on all the other topics they are going to cover throughout their 1 hour of speaking time.

Outside of that, there isn't really much you could do here. I hope this helps.

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    As a junior, there may be all sorts of context and company culture that means that when you speak up, the things you say turn out to be "incorrect" - your questions are tangents, your suggestions aren't feasible, your ideas aren't useful, etc. Don't let that put you off - keep doing it! Each time it happens, you can learn from it, and build a better picture of what might be more on target. Also, it might be that your ideas are good, but the company is stuck in their ways; it might be them who learn from your fresh perspective. Either way, keep getting involved. – anaximander Jan 31 at 16:53
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    I don't always agree with this. I frequently deal with junior developers who briefly tune in at the tail end of a topic and ask a question that has been conclusively discussed and resolved. Yes involving yourself by speaking up keeps you engaged but try to involve yourself by listening too. – Colm Jan 31 at 17:38
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    The described mindset of 'speaking up' under the impression that one is contributing is a major reason why so many meetings end up taking longer than desired and bore many people. Some people believe if they don't say anything then they aren't contributing. Wrong!!!! If you have nothing 'worthy' to say then stay quiet. PLEASE. Don't rehash the obvious. The people who aren't contributing and are actually causing harm are the ones who feel the need to say something even though it adds no new information to the discussion. – Dunk Jan 31 at 18:21
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    @Dunk - I agree 100%. However, if the meetings drag on and reach no actionable conclusion, trying to draw action items out of them as CrazyCucumber suggested isn't a bad idea and shouldn't be a waste of time. Unless, of course, you've just tuned in and are suggesting something that was already covered. That's worse. Far worse... – FreeMan Jan 31 at 20:13
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    >Although, I've found this one trick VERY helpful when I am bored in a meeting. INVOLVE YOURSELF Ofcourse, in a meeting of 10 people, and everyone using this technique, means that meeting just drags on and on. – dwjohnston Feb 1 at 0:09
21

I am going to answer differently to existing answers.

I have no control over the meeting. (I cannot tell them to stop doing this, and do something else.)

I think as an employee you can find ways to exert some kind of influence. You might raise the issue with your line managers, talk with your colleagues, raise it on company all hands or off site meetings with the aim of reducing long/ineffective meetings. Most meetings are waste of time and excessively long the least.

As a last resort, you can look for another company where you can work efficiently, instead of wasting your time in meetings. This should in the long run and everything else being the same, lead you to a better career.

  • @JoeStrazzere I wouldn't say "stand up and complain", but I think a junior developer certainly can find ways to give advice/improvements. This is one of the reasons he gets paid for; not for blindly following seniors. I wouldn't go with a confrontational way to do this of course, but in a more positive, constructive way. Even in worse companies they have some kind of feedback mechanism (whether it is of any use or not is another discussion). – tayfun Feb 4 at 10:23
15

Well, there is no one solution for all situations.

  1. Make all efforts to understand what they discuss about. You may get important information for life even from random "bla bla".

  2. If you are not very pressed with work, tough deadlines etc. - just be nice and suffer :) Maybe they suffer also when you speak :)

  3. If you are really pressed by time - ask politely if your presence is really needed in the meeting, explaining your situation - tough deadline (or whatever).

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    Yes. I have absolutely no problem with saying "do you still need me? Because I've got to get back to x." – RedSonja Feb 1 at 9:26
10

If you're able to:

Take a laptop

The official justification is the laptop is for taking notes (which it can do), but in reality you can continue productively doing work (or work related tasks, like replying to emails) whilst listening to what is being said in the meeting. Assuming the tasks are work related and don't disrupt the meeting, no-one will raise any eyebrows.

When I joined a department, they had meetings near daily which often involved discussions on processes I wasn't involved in. I simply took a laptop and continued working. Eventually everyone brought either a laptop or tablet which they would either work on or use to show or demonstrate something in the meeting.

I was able to suggest that such regular meetings were harming productivity, which eventually resulted in them being cut back, which improved productivity. Meetings are now ad-hoc when people have lots of information to share.

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    I think that bringing a laptop is as rude as playing with the smartphone. You practically tell people that you are there because you are "forced" to be there, but you don't give a broken shoe on what is going on. Additionally, typing on the laptop creates a quite disturbing noise. On top of that, while using the laptop, you will miss even important parts of meeting. – virolino Feb 1 at 11:55
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    I've been able to action requests raised within a meeting via a laptop and get them done by the end of the meeting. Laptops are replacing conventional pen and paper (which isn't environmentally sound to begin with, and difficult to distribute copies of without manually scanning) in a lot of settings, especially software development. So long as it isn't watching videos or or listening to music, there's nothing 'rude' about remaining productive during a meeting whilst listening. As for the 'disturbing noise', I did mention the condition only if it doesn't disrupt the meeting. – SSight3 Feb 1 at 18:03
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    In our place it's not rude. Basically a long status update meeting. Everyone knows what they say and what everyone else says is boring. – jobbityjibby Feb 2 at 0:32
  • Well, you may be in a better company - good for you. But I have seen time and time again (several companies) where people come to the meeting because the have to and then they type like crazy all meeting. They have no idea what is going on. They just generate clicking noise (specific to typing). If you ask them a question, you have to re-explain half of the meeting - just because they use the laptops. On the other hand, if the laptop is just for taking notes - then no problem - it's the 3rd millennium ;) – virolino Feb 4 at 5:18
10

Spend the time studying the people. See who is most persuasive and why. Learn how they do what they do. Learn how not to be boring like some others.

Note down the relevant points made as well of course.

I can advocate the use of a simple NLP technique called rapport building - from personal experience I can tell you it works.

Example

  • Senior team member X is droning on (or maybe even making a lot of sense)

  • Listen carefully and formulate your own ideas

  • Do a rapport creating technique (see below)

  • Wait for X to turn to you and ask your opinion. It will happen, but make sure you have something to say even if it is just "I agree!"

The technique

The raw technique would be to mirror their movements, e.g. lean forward when they lean forward, etc. The problem is that this may be too obvious. The subtle technique is to mirror with a different motion. For example, have your hand resting on the table. When they lean forward, press your hand flat. When they straighten up, relax your hand. You can also mirror their breathing or speech pattern.

I can attest that this works. In any case it is a fun thing to do and will keep you happily occupied throughout the meeting.

9

There are two things that I would consider doing. I am no longer a junior developer, but these are things that I think everyone should be able to do. Whether these options are available to you in your workplace will depend greatly on what your work environment/colleagues are like.

Feedback

Most workplaces nowadays, in medium to large companies at least, encourage employees to give each other feedback in some way. There might be official infrastructure for doing so.

One route might be to try and leave feedback for the person/people who organise these meetings suggesting ways in which they could be more effective.

You have to be careful, though, that you leave constructive feedback, rather than being negative, especially since you are in a junior position. Try to be specific about issues, and offer suggestions of what might be done instead to improve the situation.

People should welcome feedback, as it gives them a chance to improve before the same things come up on an actual performance review of some kind.

Of course, it is also very easy to take constructive feedback as outright criticism, so tread carefully. Hopefully you work with professionals.

Opt out

Depending on the meeting, if it's something that really has no value for you, maybe you could just turn down the invite and not attend. This of course depends on the nature of the meeting.

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    Because this question is tagged [junior], it's worth noting that you can't always unilaterally opt out of attending a meeting... But you can always go to your boss and say "boss, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to get out of being in that meeting; what should I be looking out for?". If your boss is worth the title, then they'll either tell you what part of the meeting is important for you, so you can listen out for those parts and make sure you get what you need from being there, or they'll realise that there is no point you being in the meeting, and give you permission to opt out. – anaximander Jan 31 at 16:49
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    +1 for Opt out, If you have nothing to add and nothing to gain, you're just a glorified seat-warmer! – JeffUK Feb 1 at 14:19
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Remember that you are getting paid for listening to it. Consider it something like a boring school class with a programmer salary. Do things you would do in a boring school class - doodle and write funny limericks. Just pay enough attention to keep up appearances. It's up to them superiors to spend the company time and money on this type of thing.

7

This article may help - 10 Tricks to Appear Smart During Meetings:

  • Ask “Will this scale?” no matter what it is
  • Ask the presenter to go back a slide
  • Step out for a phone call
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    I shouldn't upvote and I won't. But I shall remember ;) – ElmoVanKielmo Jan 31 at 21:33
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    Then there is the terrorist approach...When I was in an important position, if a long meeting was already dead or going nowhere, I would message one of my underlings to call me and feign some urgency, whether real or imaginary. I was very busy and could not afford to be trapped in a meeting. – Rui F Ribeiro Jan 31 at 22:24
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    if you have some seniority, then calling out the meeting as "unproductive" can help reduce the meetings, or at least the invites to these meetings. Honesty is often underrated as a solution. – Criggie Jan 31 at 23:19
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    This amuses me, I don't recommend it at all, but it's funny anyway. The first two items really only extend the already over-time meeting, and the third one is at best a temporary solution. – Ruadhan2300 Feb 1 at 14:04
  • Asking "Will this scale?" is good, because it can give the presenter some ideas. The other two are outright disruptive for the sake of your own outward appearance. – svavil Feb 1 at 16:24
6

Try to think of a question to ask.

When I'm in a meeting where things start to seem less relevant to me, or stray into topics that I don't know much about, I find it helps me to think of a well-formulated, specific question that I could ask during the discussion, even if I never speak up. This helps me focus on the boundary between what I already understand or care about, and what I don't understand or care about.

The discussion is evidently important to someone in the room, so trying your best to make it relevant to yourself is a good way to make it more interesting. Even if you don't ask the question during the meeting, just the process of formulating it can help to focus on the topic at hand, and forces you to think more deeply about other aspects that haven't been touched upon in the discussion. If something doesn't seem relevant, try to find a connection to something that interests you.

As a bonus, if your manager ever spontaneously turns to you and asks your opinion on the subject at hand, you'll have something reasonably intelligent to say, rather than scrambling to hide your inattention!

3

You say you are a junior member. This probably means you don't have that much experience of different types of company.

A lot of people these days work in medium sized or large companies. These companies are not effective, in the sense that there is no meritocracy and many/most jobs are basically irrelevant. Over the last several decades, real production has either been automated or given to Asian manufacturing as part of a process of Western de-industrialization.

As a newcomer to this context it might surprise you to discover that the majority of well paid staff are adept at doing as little as possible.

Meetings are a strange symptom of this context. You will find that people often work overtime on seemingly useless tasks, such as clearing email backlogs, producing reports or adding things to Excel sheets. This overtime is not because the company needs anyone to do these tasks, but because the majority of people are in a constant struggle trying to make a show and justify their income at all. It becomes a race to the bottom for peer approval.

In a small, highly focused startup, or a creative art studio or some other well-motivated team, you will find the opposite. There is such an abundance of work that getting effective meetings and communication to happen at all can be a problem.

The fact that you have to endure rambling pointless meetings most likely indicates you are not in that latter context.

Essentially your choice is to go find a better company/work environment, or play the game. That game being: encourage the babble, call for follow-up meetings, emphasise the 'importance' of the subject matter being discussed, and in general do anything to fulfill the illusion that this drab workplace existence is in anyway fruitful beyond the paycheck that clears the corporate debt-slave's monthly obligation. If you have any self-respect and if you are free of debt, I suggest you elevate yourself out of that quagmire as soon as you can.

  • Whilst I fundamentally agree with everything you've said, it doesn't really answer the OP's question or help them in any actionable way. – Heydiddly Feb 1 at 13:44
  • @Heydiddly I do think that in this case it helps them by clarifying their position, showing things in a broader context, and allowing the OP to make a choice of either adapting to their game or leaving for a different environment. – Sentinel Feb 3 at 12:18
3

I agree with the other answers and obviously, you are only a junior member of the team, so you need to accept some things until you have more experience to provide some feedback.

Having said that and also been at your position before, I would like to point you to some of Elon Musk's quotes about productivity: "Elon Musk: Just walk out of bad meetings"

If you want to follow his advice, you need to keep three things from the article above:

  1. Cancel large meetings or if you have to have them keep them "very short"
  2. Walk out of a meeting or end a phone call if it is failing to serve a useful purpose.
  3. Ignore the rules if following them is obviously ridiculous.

I know this is not always possible at each company and especially when you are only a junior member of the team. However, I felt like this complementary answer is needed, so that it could help someone trying to have an objective

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    I used to have a weekly meeting I dreaded where 30+ high-dollar engineers sat for 1.5 hours giving their status 1-by-1 to the PM. Sometimes the cross-pollination was useful, but mostly this was the company blowing 45 man-hours to save one manager a couple of physical hours walking around talking to everyone 1-on-1. Unless they did your part early, the company has a legit case to get mad at a engineer who walks out of that meeting early, when they get around to her part and she's not there, and everyone else has to spend 2x the time piecing together that person's status. – T.E.D. Feb 1 at 21:24
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    @T.E.D. I worked for a federal agency. Once a week, the entire team boarded a bus and took a ride to headquarters to brief one person. The bus was not chartered for the team but a regular agency hourly shuttle. In order to be on time, we had to arrive early and when the meeting was over we had to wait for the bus back. The government paid me (and others) so much money just to sit on a government bus. – emory Feb 5 at 7:39
3

You need to learn new skill: sleep on the meeting without anybody noticing.

You can wear black glasses and choose comfortable chair.

What is most difficult it's not fall from chair when you fall asleep.

You need to spend some time for this kind of training, but it's very useful skill.

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    +1. Also watch out for snoring. – mathreadler Feb 3 at 8:02
3

We have a lot of meetings - but being a large and dispersed company they're often online. The best meetings are voice calls through Google Hangouts. You can fire up a webcam if you like, but it's very rare. Webex is okay too. The worst meetings are full-on video conference calls between meeting rooms.

The point of being at your computer with a headset rather than in a meeting room is that you can get on with other things while the meeting drones on. You still have to pay attention in case your name is mentioned - (it's an acquired skill).

So - if you can get the meeting changed to an on-line one then you're still more productive than struggling to stay awake in a meeting room.

2

This really depends upon the context of the meeting but - if your involvement is required, it may be because acting upon the information provided at the meeting is part of your job.

As several answers have already mentioned - you should bring a notepad and pen to take notes during this meeting - and when you hear someone describing something that needs action, write down what you think the action should be, so that you'll be able to remember it later.

Depending on your position, this may also be a mandatory 1-hour meeting for the whole office, in which case there will definitely be some information relayed that is not relevant to you or your job - you might be bored while this is going on, but do your best to grin and bear it, as others have pointed out.

And get used to keeping your ears open for anything that might affect you in the future - if you work in the same office as these people, eventually you may need to actually listen to what they have to say, no matter how long-winded they are.

2

While you already have plenty of good answers, one of things that also help is drinking.

If you're allowed to take drinks with you, take either tea or water (I prefer having a 0,5l bottle of water). Whenever you start feeling sleepy, take a small sip. It will wake you up a bit. I'm not sure why it works but I have some guesses. One thing is that it allows you to do some movement. It also works as a kind of distractor from the boring stuff so for a moment you are doing something genuinely different, making it easier to get back to boring stuff.

The drawback isif the meeting is longer than 1-1,5h hour you'll need a bathroom.

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    I was expecting something else after "one of things that also help is drinking" :p - But uh, if a meeting really takes that long it should've been more than 1 meeting as clearly there's multiple subjects. Discussing a single point (purpose of meeting) should not take that long, unless participants are highly uninformed on the subject of the meeting. – rkeet Feb 1 at 19:12
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    @rkeet - Same ... and I'm still not sure the answer we thought was coming wouldn't actually be better advice. – T.E.D. Feb 1 at 21:18
  • @T.E.D. Damn sure I'm wishing for what we were thinking if a meeting goes on that long without purpose ;) (might as well enjoy ourselves during "the wait" :p ) – rkeet Feb 1 at 23:09
  • i can't agree more: when I'm heading for a long meeting, I always pass by the drinking vending machine. – Dominique Feb 2 at 12:40
2

This sounds like a not very stimulating environment.

I think you should try and get out of there and get to a place that values people actually working instead of sitting in meetings all day. There do exist such places.

1

There are many good suggestions, but one that can help your career in the company and also potentially shorten the "bla bla" is to ask a question of the person speaking that will help them direct their talk toward a meaningful goal.

The goal is, if you think you can see possibly where someone is going with a long speech, to ask a question that will make it easier for them to answer with an action point.

You might ask, "Pardon me, I want to make sure I'm following. Do you mean X, or something else?" Hopefully the X you provide is a short and accurate guess at an action point. If your guess is correct, then you've helped them nail something down. Plus you also look very good (internal career value). If your guess is wrong, it may help them redirect their focus toward something useful, or it may help them realize they are meandering. And it may help you stay engaged and interested, lessening the boredom.

0

Talk to your manager. Explain that you don't understand the purpose of your presence in these meetings and that you would rather be working on things to make your company more money.

Either your manager will explain to you the reason for the meetings, or he will tell you to suck it up and deal with it because he has no control over it, or he will figure out a way to get you excused. Just make sure that if he does achieve the latter, that you do actually use the time productively!

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