Writing is Dead and Meetings are Killing It
Writing is dying the death-by-zoom.
It's such a common refrain at this point that it's a meme.
"You know, death by meetings today."
"Yeah have so many meetings today I haven't even had time for work lol!"
How many times have you heard something similar around the virtual or physical watercooler? How many times have you said it this week? Agile methodology has run rampant across our workplaces to create a sort of bastard frankenchild of stuffed calendars, bi-weekly (not once per two weeks but twice per week!) sprints, daily standups, retros, planning meetings, planning planning meetings, base touching to start strategic planning planning processes...
Another common refrain we've all heard or said is this:
"That meeting could have been an email."
Why wasn't it an email, then?
We're killing writing
Now I'm not going to retcon emails, they suck a lot of the time too, but here is why I think meetings are running rampant and emails are going the way of a wasteland full of spam, automated notifications and probably more spam.
Writing requires purpose.
At least, it's a bit harder to write an email knowing it has no meat. If you schedule a zoom meeting for some base touching and ticket fondling, you know you've got at least a portion of 6? 8? God forbid, 12? people's attention. They have to donate some of their CPU cycles and brain cycles to listening to you drone on and on.
You write an email with no meat? You're just journaling at that point. Nobody is going to read it and your best case scenario is a response from the org brown noser or Michael from accounting sending you an automated "out on vacation, toodaloo!" message.
When you write, you might get 5 lines in, maybe 10, until you realize you're not writing anything with a purpose... but even if you're a truly talented bullshitter, just a truly well-equipped bureaucrat, the worst case scenario is you've wasted your apparently nigh on worthless time and I get something to roll my eyes about as I skim on my lunch break and send to trash.
When you've yanked a ton of people out of valuable productive time or, even more likely, valuable family time, to sit on a Zoom call, you can bullshit for an hour and feel like you've just delivered a Socratic masterpiece. It doesn't matter that you just word-vomitted the first four pages of API documentation that's been on the web for 3 years and the comments of the Reddit thread you read last night, you're a thought leader in that brief moment, even with an audience of 6 people with their cameras turned off to hide their multi-tasking.
Writing rewards succinctness
One can wax on poetically for hours on end to a screen full of Zoom squares. This isn't limited to just meetings, look at 90% of YouTube content today and you'll see the same: a level of word soup that prioritizes watch time and the attention economy over succinctness to the point of insanity.
We all remember college, or even high school, where we poetically inserted nonsense phraseology into our writing to buff up the word count to the desired requirement, but we've left that world now, folks. Succinctness is key. Say what needs to be said in as few words as is required, throw a sentence or two for humor and sarcasm and move on. Save the poetic waxing for your YouTube channel or your equally bored friends at the bar on Thursday night.
It's much harder to wordvomit over an email than it is on a Zoom call. You can repeat the same thing thirty times in couple minutes in a meeting, but try that in thirty lines in an email and it's going to look hysterical.
We've let Agile processes run amok
I'm not an agile expert. I won't claim to be a genius project manager. That said I know there's no way an ideology (because agile has become an ideology more than a methodology, in my view) hellbent on code cleanliness and process would prioritize minutes-in-meetings over features-in-prod. We do daily standups, bi-weekly check-ins, sprint plans and planning sprint plan plans because that's the way it's always been done and, unless the idea is to add more meetings to the fray, that's how we will always do it.
Maybe this is agile. If so, that baby gets thrown out with the bathwater, too. I'll scorch that earth, Twitter snark be damned.
Bring back writing
It's time to bring back writing. Blogs over YouTube, EMails and docs over Zoom calls. Papers over conferences. It's time to put more thought into our communications and that means using a medium that might require more thought. It's time for prose over volume, quality over quantity. We need to reverse course, even if it means we've gotta crack our knuckles and write our favorite phrase a couple times a day for a while...
"Per my last email..."
It's worth it to reclaim your time from Zoom Hell.