[IMGCAP(1)]Mark it on your calendar: 11:23 a.m. EST, last Thursday.

That was the exact moment that the phrase “I’ve got a hard stop” stopped working. I happened to be in a meeting in our conference room at the time, and all six people in the meeting (except for me, for reasons I’ll explain) had declared that they had hard stops; it was exactly 11:23 when they all finally admitted that they had completely blown through their hard stops, which had ranged from 11 through 11:15 to 11:20.

The brief, magic interlude when the “hard stop” had the power to make meetings run to schedule and end on time was over. In our heart of hearts, we all secretly knew that a significant portion of hard stops weren’t really that hard—but we loved the discipline the phrase imposed. With its hint of serious implications, mysterious exigencies, and potentially dangerous consequences, the hard stop brought a level of efficiency to business meetings that they have seldom known.

I remember hearing the phrase for the first time around four years ago, and fell so in love with hard stops that I started declaring them every hour, then every half hour, and then every 15 minutes. Soon, I refused to attend any meeting at all, because I had a hard stop immediately after it started—no matter when it started. Finally, just to be sure, I announced that all my hard stops were five minutes before whatever time the would-be meeting scheduler was proposing: “2 p.m.? OK, but I’ve got a hard stop at 1:55.”

One intervention, three corporate policy changes and two 28-day programs later, I was forbidden to declare hard stops—but I could still thrill whenever someone else announced one.

Let’s face it: Meetings are a problem. Few people know how to run them well, too many people love to hear themselves talk, and all of us, if we’re not busy ourselves, are willing to torture those who are busy by dawdling endlessly.

While it lasted, the hard stop was a great solution. It sharpened minds, energized agendas, and gave a sense of purpose. For the five minutes before the hard stop, it turned every meeting into a 100-yard dash run by Olympic champions, with gold medals all around.

But, much like antibiotics, we overused it, and now we’ve become hard-stop-resistant. We all know that, if the meeting is important enough, the stop isn’t that hard.

So what do we do now? What can we say to inject that same level of urgency into our meetings? If you have suggestions, send them to me or post them in the comments below. In the meantime, here are some phrases I’m going to try out over the next couple of weeks:

“I’ve got to take my meds.” If threatening to have a seizure or start hearing voices is what it takes to make a meeting end on time, I’m willing to go there.

“We’re in the Red Zone.” The Economist says that high-tech manufacturer Honeywell has all its meetings at quarter after, and has clocks marked with a green zone from quarter after to half past, and a red zone after that, to encourage people to keep meetings really short. I like this idea, but we don’t have any wall clocks in our office, and I don’t think everyone will let me paint their watches.

“Do we really need to have a meeting about this?” Seriously – just send me an e-mail.

Next week: We’ll finish on time, I swear

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