A Better Way To Work TimeBack Management

About Dan Markovitz

Dan Markovitz is the founder and president of TimeBack Management. Prior to founding his own firm, Mr. Markovitz held management positions at Sierra Designs, Adidas, CNET and Asics Tiger. Learn More...

Leveling; smoothing out the flow; e.g., doing two performance evaluations a day for 3 weeks, rather than ten a day for three days -- and then needing to take a vacation because you're so burned out.
Overburdening people, process, or equipment; e.g., people working 100 hour weeks for months on end -- come to think of it, like most lawyers and accountants.
Uneveness or variability; e.g., leaving work at the normal time on Thursday, but having to stay at the office till midnight on Friday because the boss finally got around to giving you that project...at 4:30pm.
Waste; activities that your customer doesn't value and doesn't want to pay for; e.g., billing your customer for the really expensive 10am FedEx delivery because you didn't finish the document on time.

TIMEBACK BLOG Syndicate content

Fighting the Email Monster

Posted June 15, 2008 @ 9:43 PM

Yesterday's NYTimes featured an article addressing the steps that some of the biggest technology firms, including Microsoft, Intel, Google, and I.B.M., are taking to stanch the overwhelming flood of email. Last week they formed a nonprofit group to study the problem, publicize it and devise ways to help workers — theirs and others — cope with the digital deluge.

And why are they taking this step?

Their effort comes as statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.

The big chip maker Intel found in an eight-month internal study that some employees who were encouraged to limit digital interruptions said they were more productive and creative as a result.

Staggeringly, 28% of a person's day is consumed with "interruptions by things that aren't urgent or important, like unnecessary email messages -- and the time it takes to get back on track."

The article mentions a variety of approaches that the companies (and departments within the companies) have taken. An engineer at Google, for example, has created "E-Mail Addict," an experimental feature for the company’s e-mail service that lets people cut themselves off from their in-boxes for 15 minutes. And as I've mentioned before, there have been efforts at creating email-free Fridays and quiet (email- and interruption-free) working hours.

Intel ran an experiment in which a team of engineers had four hours on Tuesday mornings when they were encouraged to limit both digital and in-person contact.

In a survey, nearly three-quarters of participants said the quiet time routine should be extended to the rest of the company.

“It’s huge. We were expecting less,” said Nathan Zeldes, an Intel engineer who led the experiments and who for a decade has been studying the impact of technology on productivity. “When people are uninterrupted, they can sit back and design chips and really think.”

I'm quite sure there's no silver bullet solution. However, I'm equally certain that something has to change. The fact is that the deluge of email has created an untenable situation in which people aren't accomplishing what they -- and their organizations want.

Ultimately, people within companies must start a conversation -- with each other, and with their superiors -- about service level agreements. How should conversations be conducted? How quickly are people expected to respond? How should truly urgent issues be communicated?

We have an amazingly powerful tool called email. Yet we haven't yet figured out how to harness its capabilities. As a result, it slows down our ability to do the very work that it was supposed to expedite. We spend the majority of our time dealing with email, rather than dealing with our actual work. Until we have this conversation about how to utilize the technology, we run the risk of, to quote Thoreau, becoming the tool of our tools.

an important starting point

Have a meta conversation.

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