How Narrating Your Work Helps You Become More Effective by Saving Precious Time

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo in the SpringA few days back, my good friend, Bertrand Duperrin, put together a rather interesting and intriguing blog post under the suggestive heading “Employees don’t have time to waste narrating their work” where he shared some very thoughtful insights on the potential burdens behind the whole concept of narrate your work, working out loud or observable work (a.k.a. #owork) that have always been highlighted as perhaps some of the major key benefits from using social networking tools for business in a corporate environment. But it looks like, apparently, there are some potential risks along the way: mainly, knowledge workers not wanting to participate (through blogging or microblogging, as primary examples) due to lack of time, since their day to day workflow seems to be interrupted abruptly due to that lack of integration of social technologies into where the real work happens.

Bertrand brings up some really good and excellent points that I can certainly agree with to a great extent, specially, this particular quote: “And don’t forger that separating the tools where problems are from those where solutions can be found is not the best way to improve the performance of your organization“. That’s just such an absolutely spot on assessment of perhaps some of the main issues we are currently seeing on why not enough knowledge workers start making use of social technologies to help them improve their productivity and effectiveness. But if we take a look closer, then we are going to find out that perhaps the tools where problems are, and therefore where knowledge workers get work done, may not be the right tools in the first place. And that’s, on its own, another big issue that needs sorting out. 

Indeed, if you get a bunch of knowledge workers out there and you ask them openly where they spend the vast majority of their “working time” they would tell you that, right now, it would be down to two different spaces: e-mail and meetings. To the point where from a typical 8 hour work day, and we all know those have ceased to exist many years ago, despite current research indicating how beneficial 40 hour work weeks are, a large chunk of that workflow is dedicated to rather processing email or hop around from meeting to meeting (Even virtual ones!) to no end. Or even both!, accounting in most cases for 7 to 9 hours per day, every day, just doing that: processing e-mail and attending meetings. 

The mind-blowing thing is that we all know how pernicious and damaging it can well be to one’s productivity spending too much time just handling your email, recent research quoting how we spend up to one quarter of our day just doing that, making a fine total of 650 hours per year on it. And yet we don’t seem to complain, or would want to complain!, much about it! Talking about the unbeatable status quo of e-mail in the corporate world as just something that everyone takes for granted, including wasting everyone’s time on it. Well, except for “A World Without eMail“, of course, which is one of the reasons why I got things started with it over 4 years ago. Ohhh, and I think it’s probably a good time now that I start working on another massive progress report to show and demonstrate where we are in challenging that status quo of corporate email. Thus stay tuned for plenty more to come along!

The thing is that meetings are not doing much better either! Plenty of people keep stating that meetings are essential, if not, critical, for every business, yet, we keep bumping into a good number of resources, cites, quotes, articles, blog posts, research, etc. etc. that state how ugly meetings are nowadays due to how good they are at killing our very own daily productivity, despite the several good attempts we have seen recently on sharing good practices, hints and tips, techniques, and best know-how of hosting effective meetings. Yet, it hasn’t happened. We keep taking them for granted, yet we do seem to want to do very little to challenge their own status quo, even though in most cases those meetings are now being seen as a useless power struggle, an informal gathering where nothing happens, a bullying tactic to dominate the workplace, a pastime, in short, a complete waste of time. Perhaps, what we need is #lwwm – Life Without Worthless Meetings.

Or maybe not. Maybe what we would need to do is take back our own productivity and effectiveness, as knowledge workers, and stop using those time wasters from our day to day work, so that we can continue getting the job done effectively. Essentially, what we would need to do is to start, if you haven’t done so already!, challenging the status quo of those business pain points that we all seem to know what they are and how they are affecting our productivity, but that we reluctantly won’t do much about it.

Well, now we have the perfect use case for addressing those pain points: using social technologies to keep narrating our work. Basically, social networking tools like blogging, or microblogging, that Bertrand mentioned above as examples, to open up our interactions, to free ourselves from the email and meetings yokes, to become more transparent on what we do, because as he mentioned on that article he put together, the more open and transparent we become in the workplace working out loud the much easier it would be for everyone else to help you when you would need it. This is, exactly, what I have been advocating for myself for a long while, along the lines of this quote: “How can I help you, if I don’t know what you are doing? How can I help you, if I don’t know you, your work, and what you are trying to achieve? Help me please to understand your work, so that I can do my fair bit and help out where I can“. Gran Canaria - San Bartolome de Tirajana in the Spring

The rather interesting thing from making that switch into becoming much more open, public, transparent on how you work is that, contrary to what most people seem to think, it’s everything, but a waste of time. By shifting gears, and changing mindsets into a new set of habits one finally realises that you no longer have to fight the corporation, you no longer have to justify your work (since it is out there readily available to everyone!), you no longer have to keep distrusting your colleagues and bosses since they don’t know what you are doing and you don’t know what they are doing, you no longer have to put up with all of those frictions in meetings trying to make your point across, so that you have something to say. And the list goes on and on and on. Now, by making the shift to social technologies all of that extra baggage on having to justify both yourself and every bit of your work is now gone. Imagine the time savings!

Imagine if all of a sudden you get to save 3 to 4 hours per day of not doing emails but instead using microblogging or activity streams, for instance, where networks and communities continue getting work done without worrying too much about all of that stuff we know we can do without from the traditional hierarchical, overstructured, much process / technology driven corporate world. Imagine if all of a sudden you stop attending meetings you are not supposed to, or reject those other ones where they are asking for your information and contribution when all of that data is readily available out there. Yes, social networking tools for business will take some of your time, but if you look into your current business pain points and how social technologies could help you address those, I bet that you would be saving a whole lot more time by living social than by having to reply to, yet again, another chain of emails or prepare yourself mentally for that meetings galore to happen throughout the whole day. 

Frankly, I prefer to live social, thank you very much. I prefer to receive 15 emails per week, as part of “A Work Without Email” that I have been doing for over 4 years now, and attend about 10 meetings per week on a good week, which is the average I am doing at the moment, as part of that effort of “Life Without Worthless Meetings“. In short, I rather prefer to take back my productivity, having finally succeeded in addressing my business pain points and, instead, get out there, mix and mingle with my networks and my communities, learn from them, share my knowledge with them out in the open, participate in the conversations, become better at what I already do excel at and, eventually, get my work done openly, networked and interconnected, which is what matters at the end of the day, really, but with one key difference: I am now in control of my own productivity through social technologies. Something that I couldn’t have said before when I was relying far too much on both email and meetings.

And you? Still think that social networking tools for business are a waste of time, even if they are not integrated into your day to day workload just yet, pretty much just like email or meetings have been over the years? You may need to think about it again and start questioning whether you could become even more effective and efficient at what you do with your productivity, because I am certain that social networking tools would, indeed, help you save, and reinvest much better all of that precious time to work then on far much more fascinating work. Isn’t that what we would all want to achieve at some point … ? 

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12 Comments »

  • Anna Broome says:

    I completely agree that the amount of time we spend in email and meeting is incredible. The company I work for right now ( http://www.unapage.com ) created a product called ‘The Workbox’ to pull all of your work requests out of the inbox and into a central place in your SharePoint environment. It has made quite a difference in the amount of email traffic and has shortened meeting times as people can see the updates in their Workbox in real time.

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  • Harris Huckabee says:

    Narration of my work is certainly in my self-interest in order to help me keep up with the details of multiple simultaneous projects (or is it just that I’m getting older?) Unfortunately at this point my narration is not public… a Project Journal (a modified Notebook LN database with a log doc for each project).

    I think I’d be quite comfortable “working out loud”. Point being that I see the benefit of leveraging my natural desire to capture key points and requirements, but man… it has to be super-convenient in order for me to make the jump.

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  • Jay Cross says:

    Luis, I’ve become intrigued with another benefit of narrating ones work: it’s a great way to learn.

    I am in hyper-learning mode, having decided to thoroughly explore the impact of individual well-being in business, a new topic for me. I’m leaving a lot of breadcrumbs, curating what I learn. It helps me organize my thoughts. It leads to suggestions from other people in the field.

    I’m beginning the research by setting up the sites I’ll be selecting worthy content and narrating what I’m doing about it.

    Jay’s well-being discoveries.

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