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Meetings vs documents

February 14, 2021

Since some meetings not only distract me from Deep Work, but increasingly annoy me, I want to elaborate why. Instead of meetings, I prefer documents, and not just because I'm a stereotypical introvert.

Clear writing eliminates work. A clearly written document doesn't only save you time (since you won't have to repeat the same information later), but it also saves time for anyone reading it.

Speech is not editable

You can't polish the words you say initially — unlike documents. Documents have no limit on revisions you can make to improve clarity. The more clear the document is, the more cost-saving it is. The opposite is also true — confusing documents can create a lot of damage.

Meetings create artificial urgency

Because everyone expects immediate answers in the meetings, this creates an urgency that is usually not necessary. Most of the things don't need immediate answers.

In meetings, you don't get to think deeply about problems. You don't have time to do that. You have to act instantaneously and make decisions. That is bad for problems that require deep thinking since your decisions will be based on a shallow understanding of the problem.

(This is also why constant chat is a bad idea (regardless of the Deep Work aspect) — everything is artificially urgent).

Documents allow easier collaboration

The beauty of tools like Notion is not only in powerful flexibility but also in treating everything as a document. This allows commenting on every letter, which encourages improvements and discussion that can't happen as easily in meetings.

Documents are easier to reference

What happens in the meeting stays in the meeting. The conversations between people in the meeting are hard to share with others, unlike documents. Every line of any document in Notion is easy to link to, which makes referencing convenient.

Documents are asynchronous

While meetings require everyone participating in them to be available at the exact same time, documents don't. Unlike writing documents, participating in meetings takes precedence over other activities. This is often harmful to the flow state.

But, documents are less social

Relying just on documents has its downsides. We are social creatures, and meetings have a social aspect since we can see each other and talk. However, I'm not frustrated with all types of meetings, but with meetings that discuss business logic.

Writing not only expresses the result of the thinking process that preceded it. Writing is the thinking process. Writing documents is usually a better tool for thinking than discussing things at the superficial level in meetings.

Text can convey ideas with a precisely controlled level of ambiguity and precision, implied context and elaborated content, unmatched by anything else. It is not a coincidence that all of literature and poetry, history and philosophy, mathematics, logic, programming and engineering rely on textual encodings for their ideas.

Always bet on text

Want to talk more about this or any other topic? Email me. I welcome every email.