Nothing unites weary workers faster than the rallying cry to end PowerPointless-ness and time-sucking meetings. When so many agree, why don't things change?
In his opinion piece in Wired on work about work, Justin Rosenstein's message hits close to the cube. (Just using "soul-sucking" in the title made this a must-read for me.) The piece oozes a frustration we can all relate to. He suggests a work graph that would support a self-help model that employees could use to remain productive and seamlessly communicate what they're working on to others. (As a list addict, Trello is a step in the right direction.)
Anyway, how can it be that so many smart people agree that our work norms drain productivity but, yet, we can't stop? Maybe these rituals are serving another purpose that must be addressed in another way before we start dismantling them.
Meetings: Of course some are critical, many are not. A portion of our days are filled with recurring calendar events that virtually no one prepares for until 15 minutes beforehand when the Outlook reminder pops up. With discipline and leadership, organizations can dramatically reduce their time in meetings and use other communication means. But meetings I think are also about human interaction, seeking feedback and direction, and receiving praise in front of colleagues. When managers embrace this you can see other options-- creating collaborative work spaces, responding to questions on roadblocks quickly, and hosting more celebrations focused on very public acknowledgments for achievement.
Email: As our default communication mode, email has really become more about centralized documentation. Like it or not, all my stuff is in one place. I refer to old emails ALL the time to grab a file or remember what someone's advice or caution was on a given topic. Whatever work graph or project management software used, we need decision logs (can be informal) before people will give up their addiction.
PowerPoint: People rail against PowerPoint but it's really not the slide tool's fault. It's how we use it. It's an excuse for poor preparation for public speaking and it forces the linear presentation of ideas that might be better conveyed with PlayDoh. This is what it is and gets better as we all improve our ability to tell our stories. What makes me absolutely crazy is the creation of PowerPoints to summary other documents or files. This is absolute craziness that can be stopped today.
All together, I think we each have a lot more influence over how we invest our time than we assert. Lamenting the distractions and wasted time year after year is really just an excuse for not taking control. Without any big announcements, you can try opting out of meetings and using alternative communications-- as long as you're mindful of the underlying need. Check that box for your bosses and colleagues will buy you a lot of leeway and, in turn, freedom to work as you like.