Activities For Boring Meetings

The trick is to find interest in what appears to be an interest-barren realm. If you find a technique that allows this, please help us all by adding it to the list. As an alternative, you might also try LeaveWhenBored.

  1. Pretend to Transcribe the Speech -- It's not a life-draining mass of irrelevant lecture -- it's a typing tutorial! On the arms of your chair, imperceptibly pretend to type what you hear. You can either take a depth-first approach by "typing" the largest phrase you can, or a breadth-first approach by "typing" individual words as they fly by.

  2. Count Letter Occurrences -- Pick a letter you like, and try to count how many times it is used in the words spoken. If you can do this with two or more letters at the same time, you have achieved mastery. Alternatively, you could look for a word beginning with "a", then one beginning with "b", and so on down the alphabet. Getting past "x" can take a little imaginative intervention, but it can't be you who says the word. Standing up and shouting "Merry Xmas", whatever the time of year, might get them automatically murmuring a reply before they realise what they're saying.

  3. Annotate with Poetry -- Mentally rephrase sentences heard so they rhyme. Come up with a MeetingHaiku describing the subject matter of the meeting or your predicament.

  4. Grammatical Parsings -- Try to identify every verb in every sentence spoken. Once you get good at this, up the difficulty by dredging up other sentence-structure rules and try to mentally diagram what you hear.

  5. "Jive" Filters -- There is a set of Unix toys that take text as input and do some goofy conversion on it (See: http://www.8oz.com/jive/). Turning your mind into a machine that does a similar conversion will help distract it from the sad state that its in.

  6. Psychedelicize the Meaning -- Imagine they're talking about something bizarre or fun. They aren't talking about their "long-term business plan", they're talking about their plan to replace the nation's pets with robots. Or observe attendees' behavior for specific, credible evidence that they are actually robots, aliens, foreign intelligence agents, or escaped mental patients.

  7. BuzzwordBingo

  8. Learn to be Interested -- Quite a bit more useful than some of the above, but just as challenging. In general, resetting the BozoBit can lead to some very enlightening experiences.

  9. Make a Portrait of the Speaker -- Simply draw a picture of whoever's leading the meeting in your notebook. They think that you're paying attention to them and taking notes of key points. In fact, you're looking at their face thinking "...the right eye is slightly above the left eye by the width of a nostril..." Eventually, the pictures might actually start looking like the person you're drawing. DoctorWho used this technique, on his home planet Gallifrey, to cope with the unendurable tedium of his trial, after being framed for assassinating the President of Gallifrey.

  10. ...most usefully: Figure out an escape plan! Whether or not this fails, figure out a way to never have to repeat the mistake of attending a meeting like this again. If you have success with this one item, you can rightly justify the cynicism of playing the above games.

  11. Try to make the speaker's head explode -- Using just your force of will, try to make the speaker's head blow up, as in the David Cronenberg movie Scanners. They think you're being attentive when you're actually thinking, "Come on, come on. Blow up already. Boom! Splat! Do it. Do it." If the meeting is bad enough, you may want to change strategy and try to make your own head explode. Alternatively, while they're talking you plot how you'll make their head explode when it's your turn to talk...

  12. Pen Twiddling -- I practice pen twiddling, and have now mastered even the double helicopter with finger-spin reset. -- RIH. (Please be sure to twiddle with the pen cap on. I lost a pink shirt to a blue pen a few years ago when my neighbor was pen twiddling: A spinning pen throws off tiny beads of ink. -jtg) Beginners eh? I actually choose pens by how well they spin. This moves me perilously close to freak. Again. Great for impressing Japanese though. Pink shirt? You may have been dealt a favor. :-)

  13. PalmPilot -- There are some cute games for the PalmPilot. For bonus points, try one of those games that use the IR port. With the proper IR software you could carry on a conversation with a like-minded soul during the meeting (or at least play battleship). You might also try transcribing the meeting, who doesn't want to improve their Graffiti recognition/speed? But choose your game carefully. HardBall, a clone of the old Atari "Breakout" game, can be just entertaining enough to get you through a boring meeting, but anyone who looks at your fingers while you play it can tell you aren't taking notes.

  14. SmartPhone -- More recently, you can use your iOS or Android-powered smartphone to overcome a tedious meeting. Just make sure whatever you're doing doesn't gives away that you're obviously not paying attention -- anyone can tell when you're playing Angry Birds or osu!.

  15. Take control -- If you have sufficient confidence or clout, and trust yourself to handle potential political/emotional repercussions involved in taking over someone else's meeting, then assume the role of moderator yourself and get things moving. Even if you don't fully take over, a few well-placed interruptions to ask "What's the next item on the agenda?" or "Can you two go over the details later?" can keep things moving along.

  16. Revenge -- See how assertive or obnoxious you can be without making other meeting participants angry. Subtle insults that go over the heads of the meeting leaders, but are understood by other bored participants, are the pinnacle of achievement.

  17. Indulge in erotic fantasies -- Especially if the presenter or other attendees are attractive. Be careful not to stare directly at the object of your fantasy for too long. Males should avoid this activity if there is any chance that they will be asked to stand during the meeting.

  18. Argue from Ignorance -- Can be parallelized/team building as pooling our ignorance. The key of course is semi-obvious parody.

  19. The Robot -- This one is from one of the Dilbert-series: During a meeting, you are a big robot. The bridge is in your head and you are the captain of the robot; just imagine being capt. Kirk living in your head. You can give the robot orders like 'head 5 degrees starboard' and just move your head a bit to the right. It's fun to play around with controlling yourself while playing your own captain.
    • Who farted? Nothing Sir, just my Photon Torpedos.

  20. Act like you are taking notes, but really be solving Pentostrough's Theorem, which has a 200k prize associated with it. What theorem is this, and is it correctly spelled? Google draws a blank...

  21. Pull your cell phone or pager out of your pocket, glance at it with a startled look, and leave. (I'm surprised that this classic trick wasn't listed already; OK, it's not truly an "activity", but it still works...)

A Nintendo set would be a bit much, I think.

Actually, not. Nintendo is going to launch a new console, which uses a stylus as input. If you play it right (and paint over the Nintendo logo), you can pass it off as a Palm.


Also see http://www.vineyardusa.org/publications/newsletters/cutting_edge/1999_fall/HUMOR%20-%20TIPS%20FOR%20STAFF%20MTG.htm


Does knowing that there are psychos who think like this motivate you to keep meetings short and to the point? Hopefully so. It's hard to play these games in a StandUpMeeting.


Study interruptions. Who gets interrupted, and what are they saying? Who interrupts, and what is the relationship of the content of the interruption to the content being interrupted. This can be a revealing exercise, particularly when you're entering a new situation and need to get a quick handle on hidden politics. --DaveSmith

I agree in general, but I'm currently in an organization with a "shoot from the hip" type project manager who has a facade of openness and friendlyness, but effectively cuts off any dissenting opinion. No subtle politics to analyze here; he's just an a-hole! Nearly every meeting with this guy involves an embarrassing PissingMatch; everyone around the room is looking down or off at the walls, waiting for the jerk to wind down. The only semi-enjoyable activity I can find during these episodes is cataloging this guy's mixed metaphors...

Torpedo him or VoteWithYourFeet!

How exactly do I "torpedo" somebody? And if I "voted with my feet" every time I ran into idiots or jerks in a place of employment, I'd be permanently unemployed. You have to pick the lesser of many evils, unfortunately. However, I'm thinking seriously of voting with my position: I'm currently a technical lead (which, in this company, involves no money, no formal position or title, nada), and I'm probably going to "resign" that role if this keeps up. Which is a shame: I've enjoyed mentoring team members and sitting in on other teams' design reviews...

First, discuss the problem with your team. If he is not truly such a problem that the team agrees, assess whether the problem is really with you or your perspective. Read DinosaurBrains and HowToWinFriendsAndInfluencePeople, etc. If he is truly a detriment to your project, assemble your team and march to the next higher competent person above him, and tell that person you all want the trouble boy out, and why. (Be sure they are not cronies first.) If that fails to accomplish anything, complain higher up. Then you'll know if you need to VoteWithYourFeet.

At the very least, attack in the meetings over specific issues using solid arguments. (There's a candidate for ActivitiesForBoringMeetings!) Read books on logic and debate, so you don't get tripped up. Read the books mentioned above (and more) on human interaction to understand who he is and why. Look at his bookshelf, and read those books. KnowYourEnemy? -- you're probably much smarter than him, just not adequately prepared for what you need to do. You can become better equipped, but he can't get any smarter. Plan your arguments ahead of time and be aggressive. I hope you mean assertive

You don't need to vote with your feet every time, only when you've tried hard to solve the problems and decided that the organization is hopeless. You can also VoteWithYourFeet by requesting a different project in the same company. (But have some job offers lined up first anyway, just to be safe. Looking for a job while you're unemployed is probably a worse nightmare than working with your a-hole project manager.)

Or, just be a sheep, like most everyone in this business. Enjoy your family life and your hobbies. Not everyone loves their work.

Or assume he has reasons for behaving the way he does. Presumably he thinks it a good idea to behave that way. See if you can work out why. Go talk to him (outside the meeting) and point out you're finding the way the meetings happen unconstructive. Ask if you can run one yourself to see if a change helps...
As humorous as many of these sound, they all offer a very practical benefit. (I find doodling particularly useful.) If you can occupy your brain at say 40% or 50% of its usual activity, you can apply that remaining capacity to following the meeting. Running on the remaining 50% or 60% brainpower, the part of your brain dedicated to the meeting should be a good match for the intellectual level of the discussion, so it won't tend to wander.
Surf Wiki with your HandHeld
Pretend your two hands are playing tennis, thumbs their arms, next two fingers feet. Paradoxically the left hand is right-handed and vice-versa. Better to do it under the table in very slow motion.
I have two standby activities for sit down meetings" I bring in a small number of rocks and make little balancey towers of them and I do cryptic crosswords. The rocks do tend to make noise, but I always excuse my self by claiming ADHD. If someone looks over my shoulder and sees the crosswords, I whisper that I'm stumped on a clue and ask for help.

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