Explaining ‘bikeshedding’: When trivial things waste meeting time – The Globe and Mail

Although we have more time management tools and techniques than ever, we’re still prone to a classic pitfall: law of triviality.

Unfamiliarity with the term? Don’t fret. The law of triviality, also casually known as “Bikeshedding”, simply states that too much time is squandered on simple problems. Author and historian C. Northcote Parkinson, who created the law, gave a succinct example in a recent Globe and Mail article of physicists swiftly sorting through a report for an atomic reactor yet spent 45 minutes discussing what type of shed to give to the clerks, all to save just a couple hundred dollars.

These unproductive, protracted discussions distract the participants from important issues, wasting time and money. This is a fault that can only be solved with vigilance and is one that tools and time management techniques can’t.

In work cultures where everyone’s voice should be heard, leaders need to prioritize their agendas and evaluate whether the meeting level matches the topics at hand. Don’t call for a department-level meeting to discuss what coffee machine to use, for example. Also, stick to a time and a plan.

But let your employees flex their creativity in unstructured meetings too. From time to time, creativity may flourish in unrestricted banter. It’s all about balancing structuring and relaxing. Like the cadence in a sentence, monotony will only serve to lose the reader.

Some more tips:

  • Remember, people, including yourself, are prone to focusing on the minor issues, often at the expense of more important ones.” That’s a good starting point – personal responsibility. It’s not just others who can be idiots. He then urges you to identify situations where this currently is an issue or might later become one, and to take any necessary action.
  • It is important for everyone to ruthlessly prioritize agendas. “Determine what’s urgent and important: If you need to talk about how to re-evaluate your hiring process, don’t also plan to discuss vacation schedules – keep it focused. It also can be a time to consider decision points: Is this the appropriate level and meeting for such a discussion?
Pragya Sehgal
Pragya Sehgal
Born and raised in the capital city of India - Delhi - bounded by the river Yamuna on the west, Pragya has climbed the Himalayas, and survived medical professional stream in high school without becoming a patient or a doctor. Pragya now makes her home in Canada with her husband - a digital/online marketing fanatic who also loves to prepare delicious meals for her. When she isn’t working or writing around tech, she’s probably watching art films on Netflix, or wondering whether she should cut her hair short or not. Can be contacted at [email protected] or 647.695.3494.

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