Unintended consequences of the all day meetingMay 1, 2008: 11:31 AM ET
As some of you might have been able to tell, yesterday's blog was not a random exercise. It was written in the near dark just after dawn, as I looked forward to a day that was to include a meeting that began with breakfast and ended well after lunch. The meeting did take place. I followed many of the tips I offered to you. Some of them worked to alleviate to pain of the day. Others did not. And there were some unforeseen consequences that materialized as a result of the ordeal. I'd like to look at those now.
During the meeting, I began to experience existential discomfort well before the first break. This manifests itself as an intense desire to leave the room and walk aimlessly about the executive floor. To do so before one hour has elapsed is considered highly bad form, since all conceivable excuses seem premature at that juncture. It's too soon to hit the Men's Room (unless one has a condition of some kind that he or she would like the group to know about) and likewise too early to have developed a crisis severe enough to merit such a quick exit.
So I sat. The discussion went around the table. The feelings of impatience and anxiety grew. I eventually had to get up in a thoughtful manner, go to the sideboard, and assemble a plate of berries that was altogether way too large. Too many berries make me feel sort of crazy. There was a great book called The Phantom Toll booth I read when I was a boy. It posited the existence of a stew that made one hungrier the more it was consumed. That's what berries do to me. You eat and eat and eat, and then the plate is empty and you're starving. That's a lot like life, I think.
After an hour and twenty-four minutes, we took a break. Nobody talked to each other very much during it. We were all too busy working our BlackBerrys. I remember a time when people talked to each other before and after meetings. Those days are over. The room is full and almost totally silent, except for the impossibly faint sound of thumbs clicking tiny keyboards.
And so it went on. It was a very productive meeting. A lot got done. But my attention span is not a towering edifice. It's a rickety footbridge across a huge abyss of boredom and unease. And after two hours of anything relating to concentration/paying attention/not indulging in some sensory experience... it snaps.
And so I sat and sat and sat and sat, plummeting every lower into the pit of despond and non-existence. At this level of corporate life, the windows do not open. I believe I know why.
Lunch was served and everybody ate too much. Discussion continued over the food. I found that on the other side of my powerful urge for flight was an equally potent urge to fight. In short, after 4:37 of the gathering I became extremely ill-tempered. When I realized I was pointing a fork at one of my colleagues and spewing breadcrumbs out of my open mouth, I knew it was time for me to take an unscheduled break and leave the area entirely.
I went down to the lobby and stood in the street for a while. When I was not run over by a delivery truck I went back inside and re-entered the meeting. The rest was pretty uneventful.
Afterward, through some horrendous gap in scheduling acumen on somebody's part, I had two other meetings back to back. Here's where the consequences come in. When they think of new ways to torture people - still a growth industry in the world, I think - the experts should consider the toll that excessive sitting, forced attention and the denial of the natural tendency to sleep wreak on the human spirit.
They had PowerPoint. The room was warm. The meeting went on and on. My boss was in there too. I was aware that I was skating along on the edge of total unconsciousness AND YET I COULD NOT SLEEP. It was truly horrible. I am not exaggerating. A dozen, two dozen times I could feel my eyes sliding shut, my chin lowering to my chest. Did I snap to attention too dramatically? Did I say "Buh!" and pop my eyes open? Did I snore or drool during the brief moments when I lost consciousness? I don't believe so. But I don't know for sure...
By 6 PM it was time to go home. I had a bowl of cereal and went to bed. Today my calendar is pretty clear. Good thing, too. All my attention for the week was used up yesterday. My body will be here through Friday as usual. I can't speak for the rest of me, however, which is now somewhere in the park, chasing pigeons.