I remember one of my early jobs as an electronic engineer – providing telephone support for a worldwide client base that was integrating our products.
I’m only 43, but how different the world was then! If you needed to move information around, options were pretty much limited to faxes and Fedex/UPS. Large meetings were few and far between, because frankly it was so difficult to set them up without being able to view each other’s calendars. These were the days that people actually spoke to each other, because there was no e-mail.
While technology has given us amazing access to information and has brought us together in many ways, there are a lot of unintended consequences, and I see this more often than not in my work coaching managers. Here are some of the biggest downsides, and a few strategies to overcome them:
a) Swamped with e-mail
If you are getting 100 e-mails a day, something is obviously wrong, since trying to keep up can be near impossible and can actually shorten your life! Try this:
• send less, and limit cc’s – the more you send the more you get and vice versa
• hold discussions and solve complex problems on the phone or in person – e-mail can be a very poor tool for issues that require high levels of dialogue
• turn off your e-mail reminders – read your e-mail when you want to (preferably twice a day or between tasks); constantly checking e-mail is a recipe for poor focus at work
• bulk-process your e-mail – it is much faster processing a group of e-mails at once, but when you do this, don’t become drawn into anything complex; if you cannot deal with things quickly, put it on your to-do list or book time for it in your calendar
• many people take up to 30 min a day just to file each and every e-mail into an e-mail folder. If something is that important, file it properly, and manage your old e-mails on a bulk basis instead. You will find what you want using Outlook’s advanced search, and won’t need to be filing all day long.
b) Swamped with meetings
It is neither good nor bad to be in meetings 60 or even 75% of the day – what matters is that you make the best use of your time.
• book time for the important work you need to do into your calendar, roughly 1 week or more in advance; if you don’t, you will not know how much to take on, including accepting meeting requests
• if you are a manager, take a good look at your delegation style – is it time to let go more? Can your staff be given responsibilities (and meetings to attend) to free your own time up?
• don’t double-book yourself – someone will be disappointed and the behaviour is typically perceived as unfair by whoever gets the short end of the stick
• become a great facilitator – if you run many of your own meetings, you owe it to yourself and your team to run them well. Take a course and/or read a good book such as Patrick Lencioni’s “Death by Meetings”. Contrary to many other leadership skills, meeting facilitation skills tend not to get better as we progress through our careers, unless we specifically work on it.
c) Separating work and personal time
The advent of Blackberries and similar devices has in many cases created a consequence of work following people home. At face value it might seem nice to arrive at work after a weekend or holiday and know that you are up to date on all your e-mail, but there is a price. People need down-time, and not taking it can have a negative affect on your relationships and health.
Finally, learn how to use a tool like Outlook effectively – it need not work against you. Learn how to use the to-do list and calendar properly. Items can be dragged between e-mail, tasks and calendar with one click, keeping you organized and saving an enormous amount of time.
In summary, technology can rob your personal and professional time, raise your stress and shorten your life, all in colour with pretty dialog boxes. Alternatively, you can decide to make it work for you. Which will you choose?
Russel Horwitz, Principal