Are you guilty of pseudo-work?

Logan Vantrease

We hold a specific belief – Meetings are necessary. Bad meetings are not.

There are certain characteristics that make meetings constructive. These characteristics don’t miraculously appear out of thin air. They won’t materialize with a wishbone – only with a backbone. Your team must intentionally plan if your aim is to consistently hold effective meetings – but what does that mean? What factors are helpful? What factors are harmful?

Via Negativa

Let’s begin with a Latin phrase – ‘Via Negativa’. It represents the principle that we know what is wrong with more clarity than what is right. Our knowledge of ‘productive meetings’ can grow by defining what they are not. After all, it’s challenging to directly pinpoint claims like “X makes for a brilliant meeting every single time” when the size, setting, and purpose of every meeting is different.

So, what is wrong with today’s meetings? The concept of pseudo work. It’s easy to define Facebook scrolling as unproductive behavior, but the lack of productivity associated with spending all day sitting in useless meetings or emailing can be harder to see for oneself.

Pseudo Work

Urban Dictionary defines pseudo work as “the kind of work that Clark does, which is really the illusion of actual work. To the untrained eye, it looks like work, but people like Fred and I know better”. Pseudo-work is certainly hard and time is being spent, but it’s not really accomplishing much.

Perfect meeting attendance, long phone calls, emails, etc. demonstrate the appearance of productivity, but their presence doesn’t make an individual a ‘good employee’. In the absence of objective performance standards, organizations will fill in evaluation gaps with arbitrary standards, like “being visible in meetings” or “responsive to emails”. Any attempts to measure an employee in this fashion are simply measurements of likability – not necessarily effectiveness.

It’s easy to feel as though you’re doing something productive if you are with coworkers and discussing work-related items. However, if a meeting interrupts deep and meaningful work, ‘productive’ is certainly not a word to encapsulate this group behavior.

Should We Nix Meetings Altogether?

Such bureaucracy is a construction that conveniently distances a person from work that needs to be done. Meetings are connotated with helpfulness, but in reality, bad meetings also offer us an excuse from the consequences of our actions – “I can’t get that done because I’m in meetings all afternoon”.

With this in mind, it’s easy to decide that one shouldn’t attend meetings anymore. It might bother managers, but if they finish meaningful work during this time – why shouldn’t they skip meetings? Simple – Instead of ignoring problems, one should fix them. Productive meetings are necessary, but bad meetings are pseudo work.

In a time period that offers technological innovations to improve workplace efficiency, meetings fulfill a specific function that will never be overtaken by new communication tools. A productive meeting helps every individual understand both the collective aim of the group and the way that their own work and their peer’s work can contribute to the group’s success.

If we remove pseudo work from our meetings, the picture of productivity becomes more clear. What else separates good meetings from bad meetings?

  1. Planning
  2. Outlines
  3. Note-Taking
  4. Decision Process


There are several ways to plan effectively. First and foremost, decide if you really need a meeting. The conversation could possibly be replaced with a Slack message. Second, decide who needs to be there and whose time would be wasted if a meeting interrupted their afternoon.

To ensure timely attendance, send out meeting reminders. Proper planning can help your team start on time. 10 extra minutes might not seem like it makes a difference. But, this adds up if you have 10+ employees attending the meeting.

There’s a popular acronym that many managers are beginning to adopt for their meetings – KISS. While the wording may be misleading, it’s actually not an HR violation. Rather, it means ‘Keep it short and simple’. If you plan to shorten the length of your meeting, everyone will be happier. One who over-explains an important concept makes the issue boring.

A goal without a plan is just a wish.


Your outline should serve as a roadmap for your meeting. The parties that attend your meeting should understand the itinerary. If the conversation runs off-track, you should make a concentrated effort to bring the focus back to important issues at hand.

When setting expectations, it’s also a good time to send out any required reading you’ll want employees to look over. Send the outline and any corresponding material to your team ahead of time. Make sure everyone *actually* reads the information ahead of time. This ensures that employees arrive at the meeting prepared.

You want to offer plenty of time for the wheels to start turning in your brain. If one has read their outline 24 hours prior to a meeting, this will be accomplished.

If you dedicate time to project clarity, you’ll end up with fewer questions and more quality results in the long run. Increased clarity helps everyone involved. Above all else, your outline should answer the following question – “What does this meeting achieve?”


In our opinion, note-taking is the most important step in a meeting, but you probably shouldn’t be the one doing it. If everyone is taking notes, then who is focusing on listening to the subject matter at hand? Only one party should be consolidating these notes.

In many meetings, you’ll see several people scribbling on their notepads. What are they actually capturing? Will they look at these loose-leaf sheets of paper in a month? Are these unhelpful notes distracting employees from valuable information that’s currently being discussed? Or is it just another example of pseudo work?

Morgan organizes these notes, progressions, and comments so that your employees can have a timestamp of when assignments/decisions were made. A seamless note-taking experience allows your team to search for past meeting conversations in Slack. This is vital. Your notes represent a filter between the bulk information thrown at you and what everyone will use to review, learn, and eventually work.

Decision Process

It’s important to understand how your team will come to a consensus. How will your group reach decisions in this meeting? Will a general consensus lead the way? Are decisions totally left to the meeting’s chairperson? Will you hold a majority vote? Are you judging success by the ‘overall feeling’ of your meeting?

Make sure this decision procedure is properly communicated to your team. There are countless Dilbert comics with a punch line that relates to ‘having a future meeting to actually decide on the current meeting’s conversation’. If you have not established a legitimate process, you’ll likely discover that nothing has been accomplished during your next meeting.

In conclusion, the true cost of allowing our attention to be commandeered by bad meetings can cause serious harm to our businesses. Morgan was created out of disdain for pseudo work. We can ensure your meetings are productive, efficient, and effective. What is your time worth?

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