There’s no law that says a meeting can’t end early

Meetings run over all the time. In fact, you might say that that's their natural state. Meetings think gases are lazy. Whereas a gas expands to fill its container, a meeting expands to exceed the size of its container.

It requires good management skills to keep all your meetings on schedule. And it takes great management skills to get them all to finish early.

Even someone with poor management skills sometimes valt met je gat in de boter and a meeting will finish early by some fluke. And unfortunately, I've been at meetings where the meeting organizer decides that this is not an acceptable state of affairs.

"Okay, it looks like we still have ten minutes, so Bob, why don't you tell us about Topic X," where Topic X might be "how your part of the project is doing" or "the meeting you had with Team Y." Whatever it is, it's something that wasn't on the meeting agenda. It's just there to fill time.

Of course, it takes Bob fifteen minutes to talk about Topic X, because a meeting expands to exceed the size of its container. What started out as a meeting that came in early turned into yet another boring meeting that ran over.

There's no law that says a meeting can't end early. If you're finished early, then finish early.

Comments (30)
  1. Chriso says:

    But! That would be wasting of valuable get-together time! :-D

    Naw, just kidding. ;-)

  2. PlexMan says:

    Somewhere I read (or heard) about a concept of having the meeting attendees stand up for the duration of the meeting.  No chairs = Efficient meeting.  I like the concept may have to adopt as my standard for meetings I call.

  3. Sunil Joshi says:


    It is said Queen Victoria instituted this practice for Privy Council meetings after Prince Albert died. She wasn’t in the mood for long meetings so made everyone stand up. They continue this practice to this day. I think basically someone reads out the agenda and the Queen nods as quickly as she can to get through it.

  4. Chriso says:

    Although on a second thought, Bob could use this timespan to tell the audience if he has already actioned-on on some asks. :-)

  5. gedoe says:

    Okay Met je gat in de boter is flemish dutch :)

    In the netherlands we are more polite (gat == ass and it is the impolite form :))

    we say met je neus in de boter , meaning nose. The question remains what is more desirable nose or ass…

    Oh and I am very proud that you use some dutch sayings (the nitpickers corner might return :) )

  6. Someone You Know says:


    Perhaps I’m betraying myself as a complete nerd by mentioning this, but this policy was also used by Admiral Cain in the remake of "Battlestar Galactica". She took all the chairs out of her office so that her officers wouldn’t get comfortable and let meetings go too long.

  7. dave says:

    There’s no law that says you can’t leave a meeting when you think it’s stopped providing you with any benefit.

    (Well, maybe that’s not true if your boss, grand-boss, etc., is running the meeting….)

  8. Adrian says:

    If meetings typically run long, then you can plan for it.  When a meeting takes less time, then you’re caught off guard, and that time will be wasted anyway.  The manager who fills the short meeting until it runs too long is simply managing to expectations. ;-)

  9. Aaargh! says:

    the nitpickers corner might return :)

    Well … the way he’s using it doesn’t really fit in the sentence …

    More correct would be:  "Even someone with poor management skills valt sometimes met z’n gat in de boter and a meeting will finish early by some fluke. " (dutch-ish way of saying it)

    Or maybe even: "Even someone with poor management skills valt met z’n gat in de boter sometimes and a meeting will finish early by some fluke. " (englishy way)

    Apart from the obvious mixing of english and dutch and the fact that the grammar is a bit incompatible of course.

  10. Aaargh! says:

    Oh, and I forgot to mention you wouldn’t use this expression in this context anyway. (why is there no edit function on this blog?)

    The expression "Je valt met je neus in de boter" is usually used in a context where someone more or less accidentally happens to be exactly in the right spot at the right time.  Usually said to that person by people already being in that spot.

  11. joe says:

    one way I’ve addressed this is to start scheduling 45 minute meetings and ending them on time.  I find we get as much done and the meetings are much more focused.  it also gives people a chance to get to there next meeting on time.

  12. Phil W says:

    The training film "Meetings Bloody Meetings" (starring John Cleese) should be required viewing for all meeting organizers and attendees.

  13. Jules says:

    PlexMan: that’s standard practice in the "Scrum" style of project management, which is where you’re most likely to have come across it, I reckon.

  14. Jules says:

    Aargh!: "why is there no edit function on this blog?"

    While I’m not a designer of this site, I can guess their reasoning: Because that would either require logging in before commenting (and experience shows that if you require people to create an account to comment you get far fewer comments) or be horribly insecure (because anyone could claim to be you and edit your posts).

  15. David Hayes says:

    Couldn’t agree more, I usually book 30 minute meetings with people with the aim to finish in 15. Short and direct meeting are often a waste of time, long meandering ones almost always are

  16. Timothy Byrd says:

    Back before I’d heard of Scrum, I was accidentally practicing a lot of it as dev lead on a project. (It just seemed to make sense at the time.)

    One thing we had was short daily meetings (the "scrums" in Scrum). I had a foolproof plan to keep them on time.

    It’s important to note that this company had a very strong culture. (Very picky about hiring, etc.) One aspect of the company culture that took on an almost religious significance was that lunch started at 11:30am, so there was time to get to a restaurant before it got crowded.

    I simply scheduled our status meetings for 11:15. They never ran over.  And looking back, there was the added benefit that since everyone was about to go to lunch anyway, I wasn’t screwing up a developer’s concentration by doing an extra context switch.

    — T

  17. Because that would either require logging in before commenting (and experience shows that if you require people to create an account to comment you get far fewer comments)

    This argument doesn’t explain why people who choose to login before commenting can’t edit/append-to their posts.

  18. Drak says:

    I noticed that in the other thread people were confused how falling with your butt in the butter could be a good or lucky thing.

    Well, compare it to falling on stone (hard) or glass (sharp). I’d prefer butter.

  19. Worf says:

    Long meetings… I used to have a project manager who enjoyed those… it started at 8AM, frequently overran lunch, and was basically a day killer. The worst part was that he would go through everyone’s status based on some importance scale, and developers were very low indeed. So those who gave their status frquently got excused, while we ended up finding ways to nod off without people noticing. After all, you had a good two hours until there was maybe a chance of being asked.

    The worst part was that it left one so drained, there was nothing productive to be done the rest of the day (it was always on Friday, too). I quickly learned to pad my estimates 25% to accommodate the loss of a day.

    This lasted a few months… I can’t remember when it stopped.

    Nowadays, a customer status meeting I have is scheduled for one hour, but frequently runs under 20 minutes. Everyone starts to schedule around that, so there’s always a little rush to get things moving around the 15 minute mark. And on the project I’m on, that’s the only meeting (one man project).

    @Someone You Know: I never saw BSG, but I bought the complete series and started watching it. I’m on season 2, right where Adm. Cain was introduced. Timely.

  20. ::Wendy:: says:

    I recently booked a meeting with 4 people for 90 minutes – we finished after 30 minutes becssue the attendeees were well prepared.  Everyone was really happy at having gained an unanticipated hour in their day and being told that they were well prepared and supportive.  I get good attendance at my meetings ….

  21. CatCube says:

    My favorite tactic–when my commander will let me do this–is to say that meetings will last for X amount of time.  When X amount of time is up, the meeting ends, regardless of if you’ve covered everything.  Everybody gets Y minutes of that, and they get cut off if they take longer.

    Obviously, this is only useful for recurring meetings.  But after a couple, people figure out how to make their pieces fit into their time block.

  22. CmraLvr2 says:

    Trying to fill in the last 10 minutes sounds like something a paid consultant or instructor would do, not staff, including management, who have work to do. lol

  23. Alan Auerbach [MSFT] says:

    I’ve noticed an improvement now that our buildings have the lounge/kitchen areas.  It actually gives people a place to discuss those items that they "took offline".

  24. Someone You Know says:


    I believe the conversation I’m referring to is in the extended edition of the episode "Pegasus".

  25. Messiant R says:

    Hey, nice Flemish plug :)

    As for the other people’s comments about it:

    • The "je" should indeed be either "z’n" or "zijn", but since you’re don’t actually speak the language it would be quite irrational to expect you to know that.
    • This sure is the right context to use this, since a meeting ending early tends to be  an unexpected good thing. Everything else is just based on local use.

    No matter what, I’m quite happy about the validation the language gets here. Bedankt!

  26. CatCube says:


    Unfortunately, there are people who confuse meetings with real work.

  27. Falcon says:

    They might also be confusing meetings with live TV – a show must not finish early, so they might have to pad it to fill time. And, of course, they want to err on the side of caution, so it inevitably runs late.

  28. Worf says:

    @Someone You Know: I believe it is. Finished Pegasus, only to find there’s an extended version. Grr… now I have to go through that again, while I put aside a "to be continued".

    Haven’t reached that part yet, but the Battlestar wiki suggests that is where Adm. Cain mentions it. Interesting timing.

    Ha… derail this thread like what always happens when meetings run late. We’ll have to take this offline. We’ll action on this ask next time :)

  29. DWalker says:

    I once had a boss who scheduled meetings to start at, say, 9:57 AM.  And that’s when they started, whether you were there or not.

  30. Michiel says:

    Why is it so bad to "fill" the available time? An agenda for a meeting is similar to a software plan. There’s a lot lot of things that you you want to address in limited time. So you prioritize. If you’re lucky at things run smoothly, you’ve got time for the lower-priority things. If not, too bad. There will be a next version/meeting.

    In fact, if you regularly do have time left at the end of meetings, it means you structurally schedule too much time for meetings and almost always have time left for low priority items.

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