Conventional wisdom rarely leads to innovation. Jesse Brown tries disruptive concepts on for size, because they just might work.
Today’s lean organizations, forever striving to do more with less, are understandably focused on productivity. “Life hacking” has become an obsession, and you’ll find no end of tips on how to squeeze a little more efficiency out of a workday. List-making, goal-setting, yoga-break-taking…every expert has a different regimen for maximizing every moment and getting the most stuff done. Ironically, improving productivity can itself become a huge productivity-drain. You can lose dozens of hours and spend thousands of dollars on apps, seminars, keynotes and training modules. But if you’re serious about saving time and getting more stuff done the answer is easy, and right under our noses: just ban email and meetings.
I’m not the first to target email and meetings as the enemies of productivity. The two are clearly the biggest time-sucks in the modern workplace, and beyond. The life hacking blogs are filled with tips and hacks to manage them. One management guru recently proposed removing chairs from boardrooms; his theory is that meetings move faster when everyone is standing. As for “fixing” email, Google the words “zero inbox” and you can lose a day exploring the many apps and strategies people have for managing the endless accumulation. All of these cute tricks are ultimately pointless.
Many of today’s startups don’t need to ban email or meetings, because they never had them to begin with.
It may seem radical, but the purge is already happening. Treehouse, an online learning startup, has an email-free weekend policy, plus a general rule not to send any email at any time that isn’t “actionable.” Instead of being about work, email becomes work, and we waste hours politely replying to each note, fooling ourselves as we think we’re accomplishing something. By isolating email as a medium exclusively for messages that require real action, Treehouse employees can distinguish what’s actually important from what isn’t. Others have gone further. Ferrari and French I.T. giant ATOS have both banned email altogether. Instant Message is a better place to put most incidental workplace chatter, and for messages that are truly important, there are better tools. Simple collaboration software like Campfire and Basecamp, for example, not only let you send messages, but contextualize them with schedules and goals. It may be impossible to prevent incoming email from outside partners and clients, but any organization can boost productivity today by forbidding internal use. Some employees will balk, because email can be fun. An incoming email is just as likely to be a party invite or a Facebook update as it is something work related. This alone is a great reason to purge email.
Killing the meeting will be less controversial. Who wouldn’t applaud? The modern meeting is a pageant of process, pleasantry and politics. Attendance numbers balloon in tandem with the egos of everyone who feels they simply must be included, regardless of whether or not they have anything to contribute. Everyone feels compelled to say something about everything. What rarely gets expressed is the truth, which is usually reserved for face-to-face, off the record conversation.
Few managers know how to run a meeting anymore. Hours slip away as we listen to each another blather on and on. Conference call meetings are another order of hell entirely.
Many of today’s startups don’t need to ban email or meetings, because they never had them to begin with. Young people who grew up using IM and SMS have efficiency burned into their DNA. When a few kids get together to bootstrap a new idea, they have little interest in mimicking the pompous workplace rituals of lumbering bureaucracies. If legacy organizations want to stand a chance against these nimble upstarts, unburdening themselves of email and meetings is the place to start.