Successful freelance writers avoid most meetings, but they go out of their way to avoid soul-sucking meetings. There is nothing more draining to a person’s energy, whether they be a freelancer or a poor working stiff than attending a meeting that wasn’t needed, wasn’t wanted, and didn’t accomplish anything. The sad part is, that describes most meetings. Here are some signs that you are in an evil, soul-sucking meeting.

Soul sucking meetings have no clear goal

If you don’t know why you are at the meeting and if you don’t have a clear idea of what you will accomplish by attending the meeting, then you are in a soul-sucking meeting. Along with the stray pen or odd piece of paper, you are going to leave behind some of your enthusiasm and energy. Getting those things back is never easy.

Soul sucking meetings have no clear agenda/path/schedule

It is better to go into a meeting with a goal than without one, but if no one has a clear idea of how the meeting is going to reach that goal, you are still in trouble. I once sat through eight months of meetings designed to “improve the department’s documentation quality”. Obviously, the goal was not very specific, but at least there was a goal. The problem was that we had no clear path to reach that goal, which meant that every two weeks we got together to complain about how poorly the department was performing and point fingers.

Soul sucking meetings don’t result in action

If you walk away from a meeting without knowing what action the meeting resulted in, then you can be sure you were part of a soul-sucking meeting. Even if you are having a “series of meetings” (which is a warning sign in itself) every meeting should result in one or more people performing a specific task. Scheduling the next meeting does not count as a task.

Soul sucking meetings are about avoiding or placing blame

When a project is going badly, people like to avoid being blamed for it. Most times, they do this by trying to find someone else to blame. These are the sorts of meetings that not only waste time, they create distrust and anger. Getting caught in one of these meetings is dangerous because you are more likely to say something that will haunt you later. Remember that, as a freelancer, placing the blame on you is desirable for everyone else because you don’t work there. Your ability to point fingers, which is a bad practice anyway, is very limited because they are your client and your job is to meet their needs. As dangerous as these meetings are for employees, they are twice as dangerous for freelancers.

Soul sucking meetings have people who aren’t paying attention

One of the biggest problems with meetings, especially large ones, is that most of the people don’t want to be there and won’t be paying attention. They aren’t involved and aren’t going to be helpful. For the most part, it is hard to blame them but it will suck the energy out of the room. Try not to be one of these people.

Be choosy about the meetings you attend

As a freelance writer, meetings are something you want to avoid as a general rule. Because you do not work at the client’s site, attending meetings can be a hassle and a bigger drain on your time and energy than the other attendees. That is why you need to be very careful about what meetings you attend and especially careful to avoid meetings that sound like soul-sucking meetings.

Whenever possible, charge separately for meetings

Even if you aren’t charging your client an hourly rate, make sure that meetings are an exception to that rule. Make it clear that your hourly rate includes your travel time. Explain to your client that meetings generally require you to make changes to your schedule that can create conflicts with other projects and that travel takes away from your time and your ability to complete projects. Make sure the hourly charge is large enough to scare them away from holding too many meetings or at least enough to make it worth the amount of time and energy you have to spend on the meetings.

Try to find reasons why you can’t attend

Never agree to a meeting the first time the client asks. Tell them you have a deadline to meet, a sick grandmother, a flat tire or whatever other excuse comes to mind. If you are the honest and blunt type, tell them that it doesn’t sound like a good use of your time. Whatever your method, make sure that the client is put into the position of talking you into attending. This will give you the clout to tell them that the goals need to be clarified or the agenda is unclear. Be sure to remind them about your meeting fee. Make sure that the client can justify the meeting before you agree to attend.

If you have to be a part of a meeting, try to attend by phone

One of the big problems with meetings is that they generally separate people from their workspaces, where they can actually accomplish something. If you attend by phone then you can be at your computer, where you can access information if needed, take better notes if changes are requested, and begin working immediately after (or even during) the meeting. If you travel to a client’s site, not only will you be separated from your workspace, but in the time it takes to return to your workspace, a thousand distractions can make you forget what your goals were and how you intended to reach those goals. In most cases a freelancer should have some sort of calling plan that includes cheap long distance, but if you don’t then make it clear that any calling charges will also be a part of your bill.

Ask for clarification

When you do have to have a meeting, make sure it is to accomplish a specific goal or a small list of goals. Make sure that there is an agenda and that the agenda makes sense. Ask them what role they wish you to take as part of the meeting. Do they want you to lead, contribute or just listen? If you know the meeting goal, the path they intend to take to that goal, and your role in reaching that goal, you might just have a productive meeting.

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