SubscribeStar Saturday: More Graduation Day Wisdom

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Way back in May 2020, I wrote a SubscribeStar Saturday piece with some advice for graduates, most of it financial in nature—stay out of debt, start an IRA, save for retirement, etc.

A lot has changed since 2020.  I wrote that post during the early days of The Age of The Virus, back when we were all a bit frightened by what was going on, but already waking up to the tyrannical nature of the government’s response to The Virus.  It was also before rampant inflation and market instability in a structural sense really hit.  Sure, you had the shutdown collapse that March, but with government largesse forthcoming, the markets recovered those losses quickly.

I would still recommend saving and investing, but I would temper my advice in a less materialist direction.  So, here is my some more dubious graduation day wisdom.

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Graduation Day Wisdom

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.  NEW TIER: $3 a month gets one edition of Sunday Doodles every month!

Today marks graduation for the private school where I teach.  For the first time in my teaching career, attendance at graduation is option for faculty and graduates, except for “essential personnel.”  I’m The Sound Guy, so I’m essential.  On the plus side, I’ve rigged up my Yamaha mixer in the teacher’s lounge, so I’ll be chilling—literally—in air-conditioned comfort while my colleagues are sweating it on the front lawn.

We’re conducting one of the first major graduation ceremonies in The Age of The Virus in our region, so the school is going to great lengths to make the graduation as safe and socially distant as possible.  They’re spreading everyone out over a yuge front law and capping attendees to four per graduate.  Everyone’s wearing face masks (facial freedom is another benefit of being alone and inside behind my Wizard of Oz curtain).  Our Buildings & Grounds crew has been working hard all week to make everything look immaculate, and I pre-rigged cables earlier in the week.

With today being Graduation Day, I thought I’d do as so many other unqualified individuals have done and offer up my nuggets of wisdom to the Class of 2020:

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Monday Morning in America

The Portly Politico is striving towards self-sufficiency.  If you would like to support my work, consider subscribing to my SubscribeStar page.  Your subscription of $1/month or more gains you access to exclusive content every Saturday, including annual #MAGAWeek posts.  If you’ve received any value from my scribblings, I would very much appreciate your support.

The couple of weeks I’ve been feeling bleak about the future.  I’m a declinist by nature when it comes to the macro view, but the micro was starting to get to me.  How do we get through to people?  We don’t have the luxury for the old days of slow, steady relationship building and piecemeal red-pilling.  Further, it seems every step we take forward, the culture takes three steps back.

I wrote as much on Saturday, in a post where I gave full-vent to the frustrations I’ve experienced.  One of the problems with writing daily (and under self-imposed deadlines) is that it’s easy to let your emotions about recent events take over.  I’d been giving way to despair, and it started twisting my analysis.

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101 Postmatians – 101st Consecutive Daily Post!

Perhaps it’s a bit odd to celebrate grinding diligence, but I’m proud of myself.  Yesterday’s post on model bills (a bit of a snoozer of a topic, I’ll admit) marked the 100th consecutive daily post on this blog.

I realized in late December 2018/early January 2019 that WordPress tracks streaks once you hit three consecutive days of posting, so I decided to see how long I could keep the momentum going.  Initially, I was just going to try to get through January.  It’s a slow month in the academic year, a rare moment when I have a sliver of extra time to devote to extracurricular hobbies, like music.

Of course, the more I wrote, the easier it became to churn out posts on any number of topics.  Pretty soon, I’d gotten to fifty posts.  Despite Internet outages (within weeks of each other, both times because a Frontier technician incorrectly disconnected my line), I was able to get some posts up (even if they weren’t of the best quality).

So, to celebrate, I thought I’d take today “off” with a classic retrospective (which I already do once or twice a week with “TBT Thursdays” and “Lazy Sundays“)—a written “clip show,” if you will, of The Streak ’19’s Top Five Posts (so far).

The following are the five posts with the most views as of the time of this writing, presented in descending order (most views to fewest):

1.) “Hump Day Hoax” – it seems these local stories do well (my piece on the fight at the Lamar Egg Scramble has turned up in quite a few searches; I’m still trying to find more details about it).  This piece was about the Mayor of Lamar’s claim that her car was vandalized in a racially-motivated attack, and she expressed relief that the vandal didn’t try to kill her and her husband.  When the Darlington County Sheriff’s deputy came out to investigate, he discovered the mysterious yellow substance was pollen!  That didn’t prevent it from making national news, getting a mention in Newsweek.

At first, I thought our mayor was just trying to get some cheap PR and sympathy for herself, but after discussing it with some other folks, the consensus seems to be that she suffered from stupidity, filtered through a conspiratorial, black victim mentality.  Rather than see the sticky substance for what it was—the ubiquitous pollen that covers our fair Dixie—the mayor’s first thought was a racist attack.

That’s a sad way to live.  As I wrote in this piece, the mayor is a sweet lady, and I think she really wants to do her best to help our little town.  That said, this kind of ignorant hysteria doesn’t help anyone or anything, much less race relations.

2.) “Secession Saturday” – boy, this post generated some views.  The focus of this post was a piece from American Greatness, “The Left Won’t Allow a Peaceful Separation,” by Christopher Roach.  It explores whether or not some kind of peaceful parting of ways between America’s two cultures—traditionalists and progressives—is desirable, and revisits questions the American Civil War resolved—at least for a time—with force of arms (“do States have the right to secede?,” for example).

A panicked former student texted me in anguish, worrying about a Civil War II, after seeing this post on Facebook.  I tried to allay her fears.  But the real point of my commentary was on the idea that the Left is fundamentally totalitarian, and will broach no disagreements.  That’s a key insight Roach and others make, and it’s why I reference back to his piece so frequently.

Of course, it also helped that I linked to this guy in the comments of a more successful blog.

3.-4.) “Nehemiah and National Renewal” & “Nehemiah Follow-Up” – these two posts came amid a week in which I found myself immersed in the Book of Nehemiah (one of my favorites in the Old Testament, as he builds a wall to renew his nation).  The initial post sparked some great feedback from Ms. Bette Cox, a fellow blogger (who, incidentally, preceded me in my soon-to-be-vacated position as the Florence County [SC] GOP Secretary).  She astutely pointed out that my first post missed a key point:  in Nehemiah 1, the prophet falls to his knees and asks for God’s Will.

5.) “Tucker Carlson’s Diagnosis” – one of the posts from the early days of The Streak ’19, it was also a rare video post from me.  I’ll occasionally embed YouTube videos in my posts, but I tend to avoid writing posts that say, “hey, watch this lengthy video.”

Nothing bugs me more than when I’m out somewhere, having a conversation, and someone thrusts a phone in my face with a YouTube video.  I’ve actually told my friends that if they do this, I will refuse to watch it.  It’s not that I don’t want to share the joke with you; it’s that you’re making me watch a video on a cellphone!  C’mon.  I can barely hear the dialogue (or song, or whatever) on your tinny, bass-less phone speaker.  Furthermore, can’t we have a conversation without resorting to SNL clips?

But I digress.  I made an exception for Tucker Carlson’s powerful monologue about our frigid, uncaring elites.  I’ve definitely jumped on the Carlson populist-nationalist train, and I think he makes a compelling case for preserving—or, at least not actively destroying—small towns and the families they nurture.

So, there you have it—a lengthier-than-planned reheating of my posts during The Streak ’19.

Thanks for all of your love and support.  Here’s to another 100 posts!

–TPP

April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective

Today is April 1, 2019, popularly known as April Fool’s Day.  It’s a day for good-natured pranking and mirthful fun, a bit like a poor man’s Halloween.

This April Fool’s Day holds a particular resonance for me, however.  It was ten years ago today that, in the midst of the Great Recession, I lost my job.

Technically, my teaching contract was not renewed.  I still had an obligation to finish out the year, which I did as best I could, but I would not be coming back.

I remember it vividly:  my school’s former headmaster told me he wanted to speak with me.  I went into his office, and he told me a few things:  the school was consolidating my classes into fewer sections; the school desperately needed money (the enrollment was around ninety-five kids, and things were so tight they needed the $28,000 going towards my salary); and the economy was not conducive to private school fundraising and tuition.

He told me that, as I’d studied history (he, too, was a history teacher), I knew how these kinds of economic downturns went.  I thought he was mentioning this as a bit of cold comfort, a sort of, “don’t worry, it won’t last long, as you’ll be okay.”  Instead, he continued, saying, “this thing could last an entire decade!”  Yikes!  Way to kick a man when he’s down.

I knew (or, at least, I hoped—the day isn’t over yet!) that I’d never have the opportunity, grim as it was, again, so I said, “Wait a minute—this isn’t just some elaborate April Fool’s joke, is it?”  He said, stone-faced, “I wish it were.”

So, there I was, facing imminent unemployment in the worst job market since the Great Depression, with only one year of teaching under my belt and a Master’s degree in United States Trivia.

We forget, living in the wonderful Trump economy, how hard it was back then.  Jobs were not to be found.  Remember going to gas stations, and people would start polishing your hubcaps against your will so they could sell you the cleaner?  That’s how bad it was—people were hawking hubcap polisher at rural gas stations to try to make ends meet.  “Entry level” jobs required two years of experience, at minimum, which no one fresh out of college plausibly had (unless they’d wisely done some kind of internship or work study).

Fortunately, with some help and coaching from my dad, I landed a job at the City of Sumter, after only three months of formal joblessness.  I was quite fortunate.  I managed the Sumter Opera House, where I learned to run live lights and sound.  I also met some interesting people, including the comedian Gallagher (that used to be an impressive anecdote, but now few people under thirty know who Gallagher is; it’s a shame).  He was an odd bird, which isn’t that surprising, given he made a career out of smashing fruits with a sledgehammer.

That job turned into a grind—remember, if you had a job, you had to do pretty much anything your employer demanded, lest you face termination—but I learned a great deal, and it landed me back at my old teaching gig, under a new headmaster, in 2011.

That experience—being jobless in the Great Recession—left an enduring mark on me.  My first year teaching, I definitely phoned it in.  I worked hard on lectures, of course, but beyond a little club for musicians, I didn’t do much extra.

My first year back in the classroom, in 2011, was completely different.  I was teaching World History, Government, Economics, History of American Popular Music (a course I created), and AP US History.  I had to do prep for all of them.

I was astonished how much American history I’d forgotten since high school and college (a pro-tip:  studying American history in graduate school is more about reading overly-detailed monographs about obscure bits of the story of America; when I took my exams to finish my Master’s, I essentially used information I learned in my eleventh-grade AP US History class).  I would spend hours on Sunday afternoons at the Thomas Cooper Library at the University of South Carolina writing up lesson plans.

Then, I became the de facto sound guy for school events after a talented tech kid graduated (I named an award after him, which I give to students who assist with our concerts and plays on the tech end).  It’s the ultimate in job security—no one else knows how to do it—but it’s also a major obligation—no one else knows how to do it.

Since then, I’ve grown a decent side hustle teaching private music lessons.  I also teach courses at a local technical college, mostly online, but some face-to-face.  In 2014, I taught Monday-Wednesday evenings, first from 6-7:15, then from 9-10:15 PM.  I’d come home, exhausted, and fall asleep in my recliner.  Thursdays felt like Saturdays because, even though I still had two days at the high school, it was the longest possible point before a grueling sixteen hour Monday rolled around.

I save constantly for retirement—I make the legal annual maximum contributions to my IRA, 403(b), and HSA—and spend very little money.  I still drive the same Dodge Caravan that I’ve had since 2006.  I will occasionally splurge and buy digital piano, but my saxophones are falling apart (literally—my pawn shop alto sax has a key falling off).  I occasionally worry that, on that glorious day when I do retire, I won’t know what to do with myself if I’m not working.

All that said, I have done everything possible to position myself against another recession, bad labor market, etc.  April 1, 2009, seems now like a distant memory, but it could all come back.  I’m reminded of The Simpsons episode where some repo men are repossessing property from a failed Dot Com start-up.  One of them says, “It’s a golden age for the repo business—one which will never end!” as he lights a cigar with a $100 bill.

It’s easy to fall into that mindset.  I’m optimistic for the future, but I’ll never take prosperity or security for granted again.  Constant hustling—booking new gigs, picking up more students, getting more classes, working maintenance on the weekends, leading summer camps, collecting songwriter and publishing royalties—is what it takes.

No foolin’.

TBT: Family Matters Follow-Up Part I: Divorce and Marriage; Sex Education

Happy Valentine’s Day!  To celebrate the Day of Love, here’s a #TBT about the collapse of the American family and divorce.  This piece was a follow-up to one of my most popular posts on the old site, “Family Matters.”  I received a ton of feedback on that post (in those days, I posted everything to my personal Facebook page, but that was before it became completely unpleasant to be a conservative online—Trump was elected that November and it became much more dangerous to espouse conservative ideas on Facebook), including lots of questions about divorce and such.

Most of those comments fell into the anecdotal, “well, ACTUALLY” range—“what you’re saying is true, but here’s my one exception that I think undermines the general trend.”  Yes, yes—of course there are rare instances in which divorce is preferable to sticking it out, like violent abuse.  That said, we should generally support preserving marriage and discouraging divorce.

So, enjoy your Valentine’s Day with this lengthy rumination on divorce, marriage, and sex education:

Last Friday I wrote a post entitled “Family Matters” about the decline of the traditional family in the United States and the West, which I called “our true national and civilizational crisis.”  To my surprise, the post was very well-received and popular.  To date, it is the second-most read blog post on the site, and I look for it to eclipse the most-read entry, “American Values, American Nationalism.”  It certainly shattered single-day records for The Portly Politico.

It also garnered quite a bit of discussion on my Facebook page, where I always share links to these posts.  There was a great deal of excellent discussion, including questions for clarification on some points.  People also shared some of their personal experiences with matters of family and what sorts of arrangements work and in what circumstances.

As such, I thought I’d dedicate today and Wednesday’s posts to following up on some of the comments, questions, and observations I received.  I do so to facilitate further discussion and to help clear up any confusion about some of my contentions.

(Note:  As I wrote this post, I decided to split it into [at least] two parts.  Wednesday’s portion will deal with questions about same-sex couples and the impact of the Great Society upon black families.)

– Divorce:  I did not mention divorce at all in Friday’s post, but many of the comments I received dealt with this painful scenario.  Certainly, no picture of the decline of the traditional family is complete without a discussion of dissolved unions.

With roughly 50% of marriages ending in divorce, the model of the stable, two-parent family is further threatened, although increasingly families are forming outside of formal marriage.  Neither of these scenarios is ideal.  The rate of divorce naturally increased in the twentieth century in part because divorces became easier to obtain, especially with the rise and success of the women’s suffrage and rights movements.

The relative legal ease of acquiring a divorce, however, does not tell the full story.  Divorce also increased because of increasingly relaxed attitudes about marriage and family formation.  As the single working mother morphed from an object of sympathy into a perverse ideal–and as social signals and laws increasingly downplayed the importance of fathers and privileged mothers–both men and women came to see marriage as less of an institution and more of a formality.

“[Parents]… should make a good-faith effort to raise their children in a stable home, and to spare them the misery, confusion, and familial turmoil of divorce.”

As several commenters noted, sometimes divorce is, sadly, the better option, such as when a spouse is abusive.  I suspect many such unfortunate unions take place precisely because we’ve come to take marriage (and love) so lightly.  The erosion of a broad, common set of cultural and religious values could also play a role, as more and more “oxen” are unevenly “yoked,” creating deep tensions within relationships.

Of course, marriage is hugely complicated, and couples part way for many reasons (usually money).  However, it does seem that, absent abuse, infidelity, or criminality, couples with children should make a good-faith effort to raise their children in a stable home, and to spare them the misery, confusion, and familial turmoil of divorce.

Marriage, after all, is–or, at least, should be–a serious obligation entered into by two sober-minded adults with shared values and principles.  Of course, actual human relationships tend to be messy even in the most ideal of circumstances, but a proper focus on the point of marriage–two people coming together as one in the presence of God–would go a long way to help realign and heal struggling marriages.

 “Marriage, after all, is… a serious obligation entered into by two sober-minded adults with shared values and principles.”

– Sex Education:  One friend argued that we need more sex education in schools, as well as free birth control for young people to prevent unwanted pregnancies.  While I believe that abstinence is the best method of birth control to emphasize, I’m enough of a realist to know that teenagers find particular joy in doing what they’re told not to do.

The problem I see is two-fold:  first, we already provide sex education in most public high schools throughout the United States; second, the call for more sex education and access to contraceptives merely demonstrate the crisis of the family I’ve noted.

The proper realm for sex education is the home.  The popular media has perpetuated the myth that parents don’t talk to their children about the pitfalls of premarital sex because they’re uncomfortable or prudish, so the schools have to do it to prevent millions of unplanned pregnancies.

The problem, rather, is that so many children are growing up in homes without proper parental guidance, they’re missing out on important lessons about sex, marriage, and family.  Absent fathers aren’t there to teach their children that it’s wrong to get a woman pregnant and then to leave her.  Sex outside of the framework or expectation of marriage becomes devoid of any larger sense of responsibility.

 “[S]o many children are growing up in homes without proper parental guidance, they’re missing out on important lessons about sex, marriage, and family.”

Therefore, teachers have had to take on yet another responsibility that should rest primarily, if not solely, with parents.  Add to this lack of parental involvement the glorification of sex in the media and the general “if-it-feels-good-do-it” philosophy of postmodern America, and you have a recipe for moral disaster.

It’s unfortunate that schools have had to adopt this responsibility, at it suggests a massive decline in the understanding of what parents are supposed to do for their children.

To the point about free birth control in schools, I’ve never really understood this argument.  I understand that the logic goes, “it’s worth taxpayers’ money because it prevents the births of children who would become wards of the state; therefore, it’s ultimately more cost-effective.”  But many forms of birth control are incredibly cheap and readily available.  There’s no compelling argument for why the government should force taxpayers to pay for a box of condoms for high school students.

As far as the birth control pill for girls, it’s actually Republicans who want to make it available over-the-counter, which would further drive down the cost and allow young women experiencing shame or uncertainty to obtain it more easily.

 “[P]roviding birth control pills to minors through public schools introduces a host of sticky constitutional and legal concerns….”

Most importantly, providing birth control pills to minors through public schools introduces a host of sticky constitutional and legal concerns, the biggest being, “what if a family’s faith forbids the use of contraceptives”?  A devout, traditional Catholic, for example, would no-doubt object to being forced to pay for birth control for his daughter and the daughters of strangers.  He would likewise experience a crisis being required to purchase condoms for his or others sons.

Just because most people–including, apparently, most Catholics–are morally comfortable using traditional birth control and contraceptive methods doesn’t mean that we should make those who disagree pay for it.  The need to fund contraceptives becomes even less pressing when the low cost is considered.  Why cause an unnecessary, stressful crisis of faith for millions just to save a kid a quarter on a gas station rubber?

At this point, I would agree with my friend that, unfortunately, schools do have to take some role in sex education, especially given the increased likelihood children won’t receive it at home, since the traditional family unit is on the decline.  If private non-profit organizations want to provide additional information or free contraceptives, no worries–there’s no infringement upon religious liberty via official coercion.  Additionally, schools should stress the moral and financial obligations of parents to their children, especially in those communities where good role models are lacking.

Unfortunately, another government program to hand out free condoms is not a lasting solution to a problem that is one of the soul, not of the pocketbook.  Let civil society address these problems (perhaps with a revival of the good, old-fashioned shotgun wedding).

***
These are certainly thorny problems, and I fully recognize that as a single, never-married man I don’t possess the same perspective as, say, a married couple of twenty years or a divorcee.  Nevertheless, I reject the notion that a lack of personal experience disqualifies one from the discussion (even while acknowledging that personal experience often provides a great deal of clarity).  Besides, I’ve witnessed first-hand the power of strong marriages and stable families.  Indeed, I’m the beneficiary of one such union.

Finally, I appreciate lively (and civil) feedback and discussion, and I look forward to expanding further on this topic on Wednesday.

Stone Cold Sunday

It’s been an eventful weekend, so I’m a bit delayed with today’s post (gotta keep the streak alive!).  That said, it’s going to be a short one.

I recently wrote a post about Roger Stone, the controversial, P.T. Barnum-esque political consultant, fashionisto, and latest victim of the Mueller witch hunt.  After doing some research on Stone’s over-the-top life, I decided to pick up his book, Stone’s Rules: How to Win at Politics, Business, and Style.

It arrived earlier this week, and I’ve struggled to put it down.  It’s fairly straightforward:  Stone dispenses his churlish wisdom gleaned from forty years in politics, sprinkled with interesting (especially if they’re true) anecdotes to illuminate the “rule” in question.  Mixed in with stories of past and current politicians are rules for dressing well for the “arena,” be it of politics or business.

In the spirit of Roger Stone—and my personal commitment to making 2019 the self-styled “Year of the Panther“—I’ve really been attempting to up my sartorial game.  While I’m not of the disposition (or constitution) to resort to some of Stone’s more outlandish tactics, I do find some of his advice applicable to many areas of life, kind of like irreverent proverbs for the morally ambiguous.  Regardless, his fashion advice is on-point, and I’m learning the value of crisp, white shirts and a good tan (Stone retells, multiple times, the well-worn tale of the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates, and how Kennedy spent the afternoon tanning with two babes on the roof of a building while Nixon refused to wear makeup and was recovering from surgery).

The best parts of the book are when Stone delves into some obscure moment from American political history to support his points.  These are entertaining and educational.  I’ve learned a great deal about Republican races in New Jersey!

One example from midway through the book.  “Stone’s Rule #66:  Never Turn Down a Major Party Nomination.”  Stone relays the story of Christine Todd Whitman, who ran for US Senate in New Jersey against Democrat Bill Bradley.  Whitman sought out advice from former President Richard Nixon, Stone’s idol (and, I learned from this book, the so-called “Sage of Saddle River,” as “Nixon came to be known in dispensing his wisdom from his modest residence in the New Jersey town of that name”).

Nixon told her to go for it.  Whitman lost the race, but clinched the Republican nomination for Governor the following year, and went on to win “in a major upset” the following year.

The takeaway:  if you win a major political party nomination and do well, even if you lose, you’ve set yourself up for future successes.  It’s a variant on “80% of life is showing up.”

There are many more choice examples (although I’m still working my way through the book).  The pages are fairly glossy and high-quality, making it a heavy book.  Stone also needed a better editor, as there are a number of typographical errors, and even a few minor issues with facts (he writes about Ross Perot spoiling the 1988 election for the Republicans, when he means the 1992 election).

Overall, though, it’s a fun, lively book.  I recommend you pick it up, especially if you’re interested in one of the more outrageous figures in modern American political history.

Meetings are (Usually) a Waste of Time

Here’s something a bit lighter for your Friday morning:  Scott Rasmussen’s Number of the Day series on Ballotpedia from 23 January 2019 claims that, in a 40-hour workweek, Americans spend an average of 11.8 hours of that time in meetings.  That’s over two hours a day, and over 25% of the entire week!

Despite all that time in meetings, Rasmussen writes that “just 54% of workers leave most meetings with a clear idea of what to do next.”  That’s not a ringing endorsement for meetings.

Every fiber of my being is anathema to lengthy, tedious meetings, of any kind.  My time is precious (and valuable—it comes at ~$50/hour for private lessons), and I rarely need someone telling me out loud what could have been sent in an e-mail.  With rare exceptions, I almost always believe that time spent in a meeting could be spent more efficiently working on my own.

Apparently I’m not alone.  From Rasmussen:

The biggest problem workers have with meetings is that many of them are unnecessary. Seventy-six percent (76%) of workers have experienced that frustration. Also high on the list are meetings that don’t stay on topic (59%) and repetition of things that have already been said (58%).

The precise cost of ineffective meetings is impossible to quantify, but estimates range from $70 billion to $283 billion each year.

So not only are meetings ineffective, unnecessary, repetitious, and frequently off-topic, they’re potentially expensive in terms of productivity.

Of course, these numbers coming from a poll, it could be that workers merely perceive meetings to be ineffective and unclear—and they feel it’s okay to admit as such to a pollster—but this data rings true.

There are those who thrive in meetings, either in the roles of leaders or attendees.  Some enjoy preening in front of a group—the busybody types who seek out power, the narcissists who want some fluorescently-accented limelight—and some who like to use meetings as a forum to demonstrate their own cleverness.  For a small few, they need the opportunity to ask questions, either out of a genuine need for additional information, or because they want to virtue-signal to their colleagues.

In recent years, I’ve come to suspect that a large chunk of our workforce consists of people who essentially have meetings and push paper for a living.  With an average of 11.8 hours of meetings per week, this suspicion seems to be gaining concrete support:  that’s an awful lot of time in which to justify your position’s existence.  I imagine public sector bureaucrats at the federal level inflate that number, and not insubstantially (remember that the next time a conservative seeks to cut funding to some government program, and progressives wail—they’re crying about the lost make-work job, not the people who allegedly benefit from the program).  Regardless, just as the bureaucracy expands for the sake of its own self-preservation, it seems that meetings expand to justify their hosts’ jobs.

When dealing with specific technical questions or getting a quote on some expensive piece of equipment or installation, yes, meetings are important and necessary.  Long-term strategy planning requires regular meetings, and a weekly administrative meeting to set goals for the week and to review what’s coming up on the calendar is a prudent idea.  But rambling, two-hour meetings stretch to the point of ineffectiveness—no one can focus, people need to use the bathroom, and the original thread is probably long-since lost down a rabbit hole of objections and side topics.

So, here are my practical guidelines for effective meetings:

  • No more than one hour for infrequent or monthly meetings, but ideally, thirty minutes in length, tops.
  • Have a clear-cut agenda with maybe two or three items; don’t have ten agenda items that you know you won’t be able to cover adequately
  • Be willing to table important items that are not time-sensitive, with a plan to revisit them later.
  • Explain as much as possible via e-mail in advance.  In my experience, if you send a good e-mail in advance, you can wrap up a meeting in fifteen minutes—you’re mainly meeting at that point to confirm that everyone knows what’s going on, and to address any lingering questions and to clarify certain points.

I generally follow these guidelines when I’m required to hold a department meeting, and they make for smooth, quick, efficient meetings.

As a rather solitary worker, I tend to forget that some people want or need more direction—my whole career I’ve just figured stuff out as it’s come up—so I understand the necessary evil of meetings.  That said, I also value other people’s time.

So, the next time you schedule a meeting, make it quick.  People have real work to do.