Productivity blackhole? African professionals spend 220 of 261 working days in meetings, workshops & conferences

Alternate title: 6 ICT Tools to Boost Productivity and Save Time in an African Context


Ok, so that’s not a real fact. BUT,
1.Most facts on the Internet are fabricated anyway,
2.It COULD be true,
3.How many people might blindly re-tweet this without reading the article?


I found the above comic on the twitterverse the other day and it got me thinking about the various kinds of meetings I’ve been to, and how terribly unproductive and time sucking they can be, oftentimes without a clear outcome or call to action. A survey conducted by Harris Poll in the US found that employees at large companies spent only around 45% of their time on primary work duties, with a whopping 40% spent on meetings, admin tasks and interruptions. Another article says to expect to spend 35% of your time in meetings if you are a middle manager, and up to 50% of your time if you are in upper management. Additionally, people spend up to 4 hours a week preparing for these meetings. Despite all this, some 67% of executives found their meetings to be failures.


Here I shall list 5 types of meetings I’ve had the honor of attending:
1. The Report Launch: Someone wrote a 10 page report and now we must attend an all day event to “launch” it. Meeting was mostly attended by media who quoted directly from the report.
Country: Ghana


2. The Forum: 200 people converged from throughout the country to say the same thing 200 times. Took place at the Serena over two days. Attendees complained that their “travel allowances” were insufficient.
Country: Uganda


3. The Consortium Meeting: 20+ implementing partners invited to a meeting. Meeting started over an hour late, meeting content was irrelevant to most organizations present (myself included/my org was never even mentioned), I almost ran over a bodaboda looking for parking.
Country: Uganda


4. The Training: 30+ doctors invited from across the country to attend a training. Doctors already knew all the content. Also, in most of my visits to the clinic, a doctor was not around because he was attending a training in the capital city. In a country with 3 physicians/100,000 people.
Country: Sierra Leone


5. The Workshop: Consultant flown in from abroad to conduct a two day workshop in a district. Speaks English with a heavy accent. Participants can’t understand the content. Local partner steps in and conducts the workshop.
Country: Uganda


6. The Simple Meeting: 10 members of the organization attend and demand a PowerPoint presentation. Sign up sheet passed around (it was just me and them).
“If a meeting is scheduled and no one fills out an attendance sheet, did it really happen?”
Country: Tanzania


Furthermore, I regularly observe that once someone here does something right, they’re suddenly completely inaccessible. Away at a conference in Paris, a donor workshop at the Golf Course hotel, a 3 month accelerator program in Brazil, a 6 month fellowship in DC. And of course that’s super fun and who wouldn’t want to do all those things, but  what about that super cool initiative you started that you no longer have time to build?


“Oh, Neema, you’re such a buzzkill! You can’t just whine about important meetings and not offer alternate solutions!! And you’re  probably jealous that you don’t get to go to Paris.”


Hold the pitchforks.  No one can be expected to work 100% of the time. We need breaks and brainstorming to retain creativity and long-term productivity without burnout. This post was not written to criticize anyone or the way things are done, but to figure out how best to leverage technology in some of the scenarios presented above.


1. Pick up the phone/Make that Skype call: I’m all for face to face interactions, especially for first time meetings. However, driving 1+ hour each way for a 15 minute meeting that starts 45 minutes late might not be the most effective use of one’s time. We own phones, we can afford credit, Skype to Skype calls are free.
Regular phone


2. Webinars: Need to launch your report? Want to get as many participants as possible from across the country? Conduct a webinar. Let anyone call in and listen to the gist of your report. Take questions and answer your audience: without anyone ever leaving their desk! Most support video recording as well, to accommodate participants who could not attend at the scheduled time, making for a much more inclusive solution.
Google+ Hangout (up to 10 participants for free)
GoToWebinar (starts at $89/organizer/month with up to 100 participants, can support up to 1000)
ClickWebinar (starts at $30/month for 25 participants, can support up to 1000)


3. Conference calls: Need to update your partners quickly? Hold a (video) conference call. Video conference calls are more effective in that they keep participants engaged and reduce the odds of them multitasking like checking emails, daydreaming or doing non-work related matters. I recently participated in a video conference call to my colleagues around the world and the Ugandan internet did NOT disappoint. Thanks SmileUG!
Google+ Hangout (up to 10 participants for free)
2FreeConference (free for unlimited video conferencing) (up to 10 participants for free, $25 for up to 50 participants)
Cisco WebEx (starts at $79/organizer/month with up to 100 participants)
MegaMeeting (starts at $39/month, no participant limit)
AnyMeeting (starts at $18/month for 30 participants, can support up to 1000)


4. Team management tools: Emails can be slow and tedious, often unread. Status meetings for the entire team can be boring and long. Various web tools and apps are now in place to maintain seamless communication in teams and within smaller teams in the workplace. At VOTO, we use Slack and I absolutely love it. It makes way for conversation within the general organization, internal teams, topic areas (such as sales, marketing, finance etc) as well as private chat with coworkers, on the go. It’s easy to upload and search for documents as well. These apps maintain all project communication in one place and can help team members to organize and keep track of their tasks.


5. eLearning courses: Kidnapping doctors from their clinics every week for “trainings”? Why not use an eLearning course that they can engage with for 3-5 hours/week? I worked with Health[e]Foundation in Rwanda, whereby they provide full courses on a range of topics to different levels of health workers such as Community Health Workers, nurses and doctors, provided either online or on a USB stick.
Organizations offering these courses include:
Organizations can also create their own courses using course development tools:


6.Survey Tools: Need a team status update? Want to know when everyone is available for team Happy Hour next week? Need feedback on an organization development or work topic area? At every meeting, there seems to be that one guy who goes into a 20 minute monologue about his opinion. The introverts don’t voice their feelings. Decisions are made off of the loudest one in the team. Simple survey tools can be created in minutes and answered by employees in seconds to reach important decisions in the workplace without needlessly long meetings and 50 back-and-forth emails.


7. Say NO: Just do it. No hurts. I often get a No in reply to requests for meetings. It might just be a “I’m a bit too swamped now” or “Can we try for next month?”. And I understand. I appreciate that they took the time to read my communication rather than just ignoring it, which is just plain rude.
Ask yourself these questions,
“Is this meeting actually necessary or beneficial to me or my organization?”
“Do I measure my value by how many meetings I attend?”
“Is a meeting the best solution to the problem or situation at hand?”
“Will there be a clear outcome or next steps from this meeting?”


Boom. Take this information. Be free from the shackles of meetings. Frolic through the fields of productivity.
Have a funny or interesting meeting you’ve attended that you would like to share? Post it below in the comments!
By |2016-01-12T12:04:07+03:00January 12th, 2016|ICT tools|2 Comments

About the Author:


  1. Efo Dela January 13, 2016 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    I’ve attended all the 6 kinds of meetings stated and one thing i can say is that i can’t remember much of what happened after it was all over.
    I have a bit of a short attention span and when things get monotonous i start to feel sleepy.

    I love working with the online tools. They save lots of time

  2. Stacie Irwin January 20, 2016 at 9:16 pm - Reply

    I LOVE this. So on point. I love face to face conversation more than the next person but the time-stuck meeting phenomenon is real. Great post.

Leave A Comment