Is your office more like a library or a bar?

Time management is a kind of superpower that some people have and allows them to use their working hours more efficiently, making their work be of a higher quality and shine much more, and also with less stress.

It is a special superpower, not because you are born with it, like Superman, but because anyone can acquire it with a little learning and practice. So if you are reading this, you should get started as soon as possible, because once the superpower begins to emerge it will give you an incredible advantage in your job and your life, and its effect will last forever.

It is useless to have this superpower at work if your co-workers do not have it, since although this superpower can allow you to do incredible things, it does not replace the strength of a team working together.

To do really great things we have to work as a team, and this means that we not only have to worry about our productivity but also about creating a productive environment for the team.

In other words, not only do we have to make good use of our time but we also have to be careful not to waste the time of others.

We must assume that we need things from other people to do our job; we need to interact and collaborate, but at the same time we have to accept something very important: That the others must also achieve their objectives and their tasks are likely as important as ours. Therefore, we do not have the right to interrupt them if it is not for a good reason.

If time management is a superpower, we could say that the villain of the film would be interruptions. Although more than a villain I would say it is like some sort of virus. A contagious virus that spreads rapidly in open workplaces without offices.

Actually, having more open workspaces has been a boon to companies at all levels, but they are not perfect: they lead to too many interruptions.

To exaggerate a little, we could say that offices should have an atmosphere similar to that of a library and in many cases they are more like bars.

In this complex environment of “collaborating but without interrupting,” it is essential that before each act of communication we stop for a second to think about and choose the most appropriate communication channel. In order to do so, we need to keep the following in mind:

  1. The amount of information and its complexity. Whether it is something that requires an explanation to avoid misunderstandings, whether it requires preliminary context or supporting documents, or whether it is a short message that does not require any context.
  2. The urgency of the answer. Whether we need the person to answer immediately because the matter is urgent or whether their answer can wait.
  3. The number of interruptions created. There are synchronous communication channels, which force the other person to stop what they are doing, and there are other channels that allow them to answer when they are free.

Based on these three things, let us see now which channel works best in each case and some tricks to manage your new superpower.

Email

An endemic evil nowadays is to think answering emails is a job. We spend many hours a day answering emails, but we should not forget that email is nothing more than a communication tool, not a job in itself. It is a means, not an end.

It is advisable to not keep your email service open at all times to avoid distractions, and also to disable notifications and to check your email only during certain times in the day. We must take it as an asynchronous channel, that is, if you send an email you should not expect an immediate response. It allows sending documents and diagrams and also for a person to communicate with many.

Since it is a written channel, it is prone to misunderstandings. Therefore, we should avoid sending messages without the right context and also avoid using it for discussing things. Sometimes a 20-minute conversation fixes what a string of 10 long emails was not able to.

In order to minimize the number of emails, it is interesting to use short, direct answers and to avoid open-ended questions. Instead of asking “do you want to meet next week?” it is better to ask “do you want to get together Monday or Tuesday from 4.00 pm to 5.00pm?”

In more traditional environments it is often used to “leave a record” of communications with a view to holding people accountable in the future. It is also used as a collaborative work tool, and even as a document repository. It is important to avoid these misuses in order to minimize the number of emails that are sent.

Phone

The phone is a synchronous voice communication channel. It is appropriate for really urgent matters, as it usually causes an interruption on the other side.

It is advisable to silence it in meetings and moments of concentration so as to not have distractions.

It is a channel that allows you to give context and talk, so it is very suitable for solving matters quickly when you are away from the office and to avoid misunderstandings.

It is also very useful for making the best of time in certain contexts such as driving (always with a handsfree car kit) or riding a means of public transport (without giving voices).

Chat

It is perfect for fast, asynchronous communication and a good tool for teamwork when quick messages are the content.

You have to accept that it is somewhat asynchronous, namely, you have to assume that the other person will answer you when they can.

In that sense, I think that perhaps we should use states more as people usually appear as “available” in the corporate chat when actually they are busy.

It is a tool that allows you to communicate with people who are in a meeting, something which, far from being good, can cause them to lose focus on the meeting.

Meetings

Managing meetings is another of the main problems in today’s companies, where we have reached a point where all tasks revolve around the calendar and where anyone can occupy a slot in someone else’s calendar.

In many offices, actual work is done in the few scattered moments that are left free in between days chock full of meetings. Or at home at night, which is even worse.

Meetings split the day in two: before and after the meeting.

It is the perfect channel for having constructive discussions. But before using it think about the following things:

  • Meetings should have a specific goal. What should we achieve by the end of the meeting? Surprises are cool but most of the time they are unnecessary, so I propose to you to not attend any meeting that does not have this matter covered beforehand.
  • Do not call people “as a courtesy”. The more people there are in a meeting, the harder it will be for it to be productive. According to this, you have to select those participants that can really contribute to the discussion. You should avoid holding meetings where people are on their laptops or mobiles phones. And it is necessary to stop the same people from always speaking – because those who speak the most are usually not the ones who have the most to contribute.
  • We must choose the time well. You have to take the schedule of people and other factors into account, such as that right after lunch people are less active than early in the morning for a dynamic group meeting.
  • Working hours must be observed. We should call a meeting with a defined start time and end time. Those meetings in the evening with no end in sight, where you do not know if you will get home in time for dinner, are a thing of the past
  • Meetings must be prepared in advance. If a meeting is called to review a document, the document should be sent in advance so that everyone can read it before the meeting takes place. In a meeting, a person who is not as well informed as the rest wastes everybody’s time.
  • They should not occupy your entire schedule. It is important for you to save a few hours every day for working nonstop, or even to propose to yourself initiatives such as the no-meetings day. Or, why not, you could suggest it be introduced at a global level at your company.
  • Remote meetings. Many of the meetings we hold do not really need us to be present and could be held either by audio conference or video conference and thus avoid unnecessary trips. This will both save time and be good for the environment.
  • Most importantly, the agreements and conclusions must be clear at the end of the meeting. Meetings in which decisions are made but which are not turned into actions later and fall by the wayside are very common. This is why we must leave meetings knowing the what, who, when and how of each of the points discussed.

Conclusions

Can you imagine working in an environment where everybody puts these office productivity concepts into practice? Sometimes we answer questions that we receive over the wrong channel. Sometimes we do it out of politeness and others because we accept that the boss simply has scant free time and chooses the channel they prefer – that is why they are the boss.

But other times it is better to say NO. This is necessary to get the people around you to value your time and also to start thinking about choosing the right time and channel.

Do you remember the last time you worked half a day nonstop focused on something? If it was a long time ago, this means you have a big problem, so the first thing is to acknowledge it.

We cannot accept interruptions as being something normal because an hour of quality work consists in 60 straight minutes of work, not 4 blocks of 15 minutes distributed throughout the day. The cost that the change of context has for the human brain is enormous. This is why one hour of quality work is approximately 10 times more productive than if we were to split it in four.

To acquire this time management superpower, you can start with this time management and personal productivity seminar, a method like GTD or the Thinkwasabi blog.

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