Moore's Law for Meetings
Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and one-time CEO of Intel, postulated that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double every two years. Since its inception, the “law” has been applied in any situation where some expression of quantified acceleration is needed. The law itself is not really a law, it’s more of an expressed relationship where expertise or the advancement of a technology or process is expressed as a linear, stepped process.
In our everyday work life, there are things that happen over the course of a day that generate specific outcomes. We have some amount of control of these outcomes, but some are based on conditions or events that we have no influence over at all.
The Impact of Meetings
Since the pandemic, I have been thinking about meetings. Meetings are a necessary part of work. Things need to be coordinated, conversations should happen regarding team management and operational responsibilities should be assigned. But — and I know we have all felt this — when you are in a meeting, certain things are true. I would like to focus on one thing that never stops accumulating (and is easy to quantify) as a prototype. Email.
If I look at Moore’s law in the context of a meeting, let’s assign these specific variables:
m = Number of Hour-Long Meetings
x = Length of Meetings (Hours)
e = Number of Emails, where e is a function of m and x
For the purposes of this exercise, let’s say that for every hour of meetings you have, there are two constants:
Constant 1: 1 Hour = 10 emails, not dependent on the meeting you are in;
Constant 2: 1 Hour of meetings generates 12 additional emails as a direct result of the meeting;
So, written as a mathematical expression, where the number and length of meetings are varying quantities that generate a specific number of emails:
e = 10(m) + 12(x)
For one one-hour meeting, e equals 22 emails. For two one-hour meetings, e would equal 44, and so on. Taking this a step further, if it takes 0.75 hours to return eight emails, that could be expressed as (where “w” is worktime in emails per hour):
w = (8 emails / 0.75 hr), or about 10.7 emails per hour.
If we have two one-hour meetings, and e is 44 emails, it will take roughly 4 hours to return these emails. If my assumptions are correct, and we had one one-hour meeting and 1 hour of work with no meetings, that’s 32 emails, or roughly 3 hours of work to do the work of returning them all. No meetings and just email for a single hour would be less than an hour of naturally occurring emails and the associated work. What we are trying to avoid is a constant tipping point where:
e > w or, worse, e grows at a stepped or exponential rate as a function of w, where you are constantly at a deficit timewise.
I fully realize that it is impossible and completely impractical to avoid having meetings. But I think if we observe Moore’s law regarding meetings, that we can mathematically prove out that having too many meetings can impact productivity significantly. An example would be the above. Two meetings lasting an hour during the day generate 8 hours of email — that’s much longer than a standard workday when added to the length of the meetings themselves. I realize that my math is a bit exaggerated, but it still illustrates the point.
Moore’s law describes the impact of a rate of stepped transition. A specific variable doubling every fixed period of time, causing an acceleration, as in the case with meetings. If you tip the balance of your meeting load, according to Moore’s law, it becomes increasingly more difficult to catch up. So, as you consider planning the management of your team (and your time), consider how the aggregate time gets distributed as a function of how the time is spent, how you communicate and workflow during and after the meeting and the acceleration of associated work exerting a push against your ability to move the effort forward.
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