I am not too sure whether meetings lower our IQ or whether they make us all more stupid, as my good friend Stowe Boyd reflected on a recent blog post, but I can certainly confirm they do take a toll on your own productivity. Specially, when those meetings are not set up by you, but by everyone else, and therefore making you lose the control, once again, in terms of one of the most precious things all of us, knowledge workers, have that we don’t seem to treasure well enough: Time. Attention management, indeed, is the new currency and it looks like meetings want to keep having that special place in our day to day workload in terms of grabbing most of it: our attention, that is. But perhaps enough is enough. Just like 5 years ago I started challenging the status quo of corporate email with the “A World Without eMail” movement, I think this week it’s a good time to start its follow-up: Life Without Meetings.
I still haven’t settled up on picking up the hashtag I will be using from here onwards to identify the movement (More than happy to read suggestions in the comments, please!), but I am certainly more than willing to getting started with this new initiative, in terms of wanting to improve my own productivity by what appears to be, right now, my biggest time sink while at work: meetings, specially remote meetings. And here is the funny thing. You may be thinking that one of the disadvantages of having moved into this new job as Lead Social Business Enabler at IBM is that I basically spend far too much time meeting up with my new team. Well, that’s not really accurate.
I do meet up with my team, don’t take me wrong, and I enjoy those meetings since they only happen a couple of times here and there per week. In fact, if I were to count the hours I spend on those team meetings it would be probably about 5 to 7 hours per week, which doesn’t sound too bad if I consider the 40 hours of work. Indeed, the issue is not the meetings I have with my immediate team colleagues, but the meetings provoked by everyone else. Specially, from other teams, in other organisations and business units, in other projects with their own agenda, never minding your own. And in this case that is when I do have an issue, because, amongst several other things, they are inconsiderate enough to not be aware of your own work, your own agenda, time, availability and willingness to participate in their projects.
I never use those meeting invite thingies because having a diary full of things that other people are in control of fills me with horror!
— Euan Semple (@euan) April 18, 2013
If you notice, there are plenty of similarities with some of the various different issues that I have highlighted over the last few years in terms of how we keep abusing email through our bad habits and behaviours in a successful effort to try to kill each other’s productivity. Well, apparently, the same thing happens with meetings. Or, perhaps not.
When I was in my previous project I used to average about 10 to 15 hours of meetings per week. Nowadays I am doing between 25 to 30 hours of meetings. About 5 to 7 hours of those are dedicated to team meetings and the rest are remote ones solicited by other teams that want to abuse and take advantage of my reduced attention management span to sneak in. And over the last couple of weeks I am starting to think that the main reason why knowledge workers seem to have an obsession with hosting meetings (Specially, back to back, or what I have learned to call very descriptively as meetings galore) is not that necessarily down to work, but perhaps to a couple of other reasons:
- If you are in the office, meetings are usually put together because you want to see people face to face and play the corresponding political, empowerment and bullying games that you have been taught about really well over the course of time.
- If you are working remotely, like from your home office, or at a customer site, or while travelling, the main reason why people host those remote meetings is because (I know I am going to be very blunt and rather bold on this one, so bear with me) people feel lonely at work, isolated, disengaged with what happens “at the office”, distrusted, disempowered because they are just not there and therefore they provoke those meetings so they can have a good chance at disrupting that and show that they, too, count!
Of course, they do. We all do. But there are different ways of showing and demonstrating that. And perhaps meetings are not the best option anymore. We, human beings, have been stuck in meetings for thousands of years I would think and if you come to consider the huge amount of time we have wasted over the course of time for those meetings, think now about the possibilities and the potential of what we would have done with all of that extra time.
There have been several attempts to try and fix the way we host and conduct meetings in an effort to make them effective. I am sure you, too, may have got your own hints and tips on how to make them work, and I would love to read some more about it in the comments, so feel free to share your best tips. Lately, I am playing myself with a couple of options: creating buffers, participate in meetings no longer than 30 minutes and be ruthless in terms of how many meetings I can participate in during the course of a working day. In my case I set that threshold in 4 hours of meetings per day. Maximum (with the odd exception here and there, of course).
But, apparently, that doesn’t seem to work very well, because I still spend between 25 to 30 hours of meetings per week. Last week, for instance, 26.75 hours were just spent on conference calls participating and hosting meetings. Not good enough, I am afraid. And not good enough not because the meetings may have been rather helpful and useful overall, which they were, but more from the perspective that vast majority of them did *not* need to take place, since we could carry out the work offline and rather effectively.
And this is where I am going to jump in and kick off that movement of “Life Without Meetings“. Because all along I have felt that the vast majority of meetings wouldn’t need to take place if knowledge workers would make a much more effective use of social networking tools for business. You know, All Hands Meetings, Cadence Calls, Weekly Team Meetings, Status Project Reports, Monthly Calls and what not can eventually be conducted and rather effectively through various different social technologies.
Never mind as well how by shifting gears and moving the interactions of those meetings into social networking tools we would have the opportunity to get rid of the two main reasons I mentioned above as to why we are so obsessed with hosting meetings at the moment. You see? We don’t need so show up at meetings to play those political, empowerment and bullying games. We have got work to do. By relying (heavily) on social software tools, if anything, we would never have that strong feeling of being isolated, or ignored, or neglected, as remote employees. Quite the opposite. If there is anything that social networking shines and thrives at is helping us all stay connected, regardless of where we may well be in the world.
And that’s the main reason why I am now ready to kick off this particular initiative where over the course of time I have decided to strive for that goal of seeing the number of meetings I participate in go down to those levels of 10 to 15 hours per week. If I can hit 10 or less, even better. But we have got to get started somewhere, don’t you think? And that’s why from here onwards, and every now and then, depending on the frequency, I will be blogging about different techniques knowledge workers can put in practice to reduce the amount of time they spend in meetings, so that they can carry on with their work. And perhaps I’ll kick things off with a bold statement in terms of sharing with everyone what meetings, to me, should be all about, whether face to face or remote ones: decision making. Anything else, it’s just a waste of time, resources and precious talent that could be working on something much more interesting, relevant, purposeful and meaningful altogether.
So, there! I said it. If you come to think about it, we have spent already a huge amount of time on theorising how we could improve the way we host, both online remote meetings and face to face ones. Everyone seems to have an opinion, or an infographic, as to how to make them better. And that’s just a wonderful thing. I guess what we would need to do next, eventually, is acknowledge that it’s a good time now for action to start re-thinking how we would want to keep hosting and conducting meetings in an effective manner, instead of thinking they are one of most poignant productivity drains within the corporate world. We already know that. Let’s move on. It’s time to roll up our sleeves, get down to work and change the way we get work done through meetings by realising that work does *not* happen when we meet. So how much time do we want to keep wasting away drifting our attention to them instead of figuring out perhaps different ways, methods, techniques of how social / open business tools can help us re-gain our productivity back.
In the recent past, we have already done it for email, so there is no reason, perhaps not even an excuse anymore, why we couldn’t do the same thing for meetings and shape them up the way we would want them to by asking perhaps the first initial key question: What’s the purpose of the meeting? How are you planning on achieving that purpose, and, most importantly, can social technologies help achieve the same goals? Because if they do, there is no need to conduct that meeting any longer. We would then have to redefine again the true meaning of meetings, because the current one is already obsolete, and utterly broken, to match today’s complex collaborative and open knowledge sharing working environment. So, we better get our hands dirty and get down to business. It’s time for us all, knowledge workers, to take back responsibility, buckle up and own them again, as Seth Godin brilliantly quoted not long ago:
“Somewhere along the way, meetings changed into events where we wait for someone to take responsibility (while everyone else dives for cover).
How would you do it differently if the building were burning down? Because it is.”
Finally, an Open Business without meetings.
I am game! … And you?
There have been a lot of people who, over the course of the last few months, have been asking me whatever happened to that initiative I started a while ago around ditching corporate email (Under the moniker “A World Without eMail“), since things seem to have been a bit quiet over here in this blog for a little while on that very same subject. Did I give up on giving up on corporate email? Did I get tired of it and moved back to email? Was the experiment a total failure? Did I get tired of it and move on to something else? What happened? Well, nothing and a lot! The movement is still alive and kicking. It’s now more popular than ever and it’s still going as strong as ever, if not more! To the point where it’s now evolved into what will be the next stage and my new focus area: Life Without eMail.
A couple of months back I was talking about this with one of my fellow IBM colleagues, and very good friend, Rawn Shah, and while brainstorming on something that I am hoping to be able to share very soon (Which I am sure plenty of folks out there have been waiting for it for a while!), we thought it was time for me to help the movement evolve into something much more exciting: going personal. Indeed, instead of focusing on the whole world, which may have been a bit too ambitious and perhaps over demanding on everyone as in too large to cover, I am switching gears and instead adopt a new mantra towards it: Life Without eMail.
Why? Well, mainly because if there is anything that I have learned over the course of time, and, specially, in the last couple of years, is that the world doesn’t use email. People do. So if someone would want to free their life up of the email yoke it’s got to start with people. We are the ones who should, and need!, to break that chain. The (corporate) world is not going to do it. It’s just far too comfortable keeping up the status quo of abuse, political and bullying games just as it is. It’s a matter of divide and conquer. And so far email is winning, at least, according to some folks, although I reserve the right to disagree with those statements, specially, when we start separating email as a content repository from email as an alert / notification system (BACN anyone?). Either way, that’s why I feel it’s probably a good time to move on to the next challenge. To design a new kind of work, a new mindset of work habits that would inspire each and everyone of us to become much more collaborative and keen on sharing our knowledge out there openly through digital tools, whatever those may well be.
So, instead of just focusing on the world itself, it’s time to focus on the people, the knowledge (Web) workers, to help them free themselves up from what may have been stopping their passion to pursue something bigger, much bigger, for themselves. That is why from this year onwards I will be talking about going personal with Life Without eMail.
It’s no coincidence either, really. Because those of you folks who may have been following this blog for a while would realise now how, a couple of months ago, we just went through the 5th year anniversary since I first started “Thinking Outside the Inbox“, then how it evolved into “A World Without eMail” and how it all comes back to basics, eventually: that is, live a successful, purposeful, effective and rather productive work life without depending so much on corporate email. Indeed, I can’t believe it either myself that February 15th 2013 marked the 5th year anniversary of an initiative for which a large chunk of people thought I would be fired from my current work within two weeks, thinking I was just plain crazy, and, instead, here I am, 5 years on and having a real blast with it.
Of course, there have been plenty of obstacles along the way, and there are still plenty of them ahead of us, but, if there is anything that I have learned in the last year, since my last progress report update, and even more so in the last few months, is that this movement is now unstoppable. And that’s why I thought it would be a good time to put together this blog entry where I could reflect on what has happened since the last update I published over here, where we are moving forward and what surprises do I have reserved for you folks, because I do have a couple of them…
But let’s start with the beginning. First, let me assure you that although this article is going to be a bit long (Remember, it’s a yearly update hehe), it is not going to be as massive as the last one I put together by the beginning of last year. This time around I am just going to focus on giving you folks an update on what’s happened in the last 12 months, then share some further details on a new experiment I have conducted last year that I am sure you would all enjoy learning some more about it and after all of that we will go through the surprises I have got prepared for you. So, let’s begin…
A World Without eMail – Year 5 – Progress Report
If you remember, in the last blog entry on the topic I mentioned, for the previous year, how the average of incoming emails I had over the course of the whole year was down to 16 emails per week, which is roughly about 2 emails per day. So, as you can see, I wasn’t capable of killing email per se as most folks have been saying all along, specially, when I am being introduced at a public speaking event. However, if I look into what I used to have before I started this initiative there has been a decrease of up to 98% of the total volume of inbound email, which I guess it’s just not too shabby when thinking about how 5 years ago I received a total amount of 1647 incoming emails and last year only 798.
No, that’s right. eMail is not dead and it’s far from being dead, despite what some other folks may have been claiming all along. This is something that I have been saying all along myself, too! eMail still has got its place in the corporate world. More specifically in three different contexts or, as I call them, use cases. To name:
- Universal Identifier (For whenever you need to sign up for a new service)
- Calendaring and Scheduling of events in your agenda (Most of those meetings, appointments seem to come through email still).
- 1:1 Confidential, sensitive exchanges (HR, Legal, Financial matters would be prime examples for this use case. Notice how I mention 1:1 and not 1:many confidential emails, by the way, more than anything else, because as soon as you include more than one person it’s no longer confidential. You never know where it will go next and who may leak the information across)
However, beyond those three use cases, there isn’t an excuse anymore to move the vast majority of our interactions into more open social, collaborative, knowledge sharing spaces: digital tools. And this is when it is getting really exciting, because, despite the various different reports that indicate how email use has gone sky high through the roof, here I am to confirm how not only the number of incoming emails for yours truly has remained steady, but it actually decreased for the 5th consecutive year, ending up at barely 15 per week. Yes, barley 15 per week and if it weren’t for a couple of weeks where that traffic experimented a certain peak I would have been on 14 emails received per week! Too funny, as an anecdote, that one of those weeks was the very same one that 5 years ago it also triggered the giving up on corporate email by yours truly!
Here’s the full report of the entire year, where you can see the maximum number of emails received for one day, and the minimum. And right next to it, you will see as well the comparison with the previous 3 years, so you can have a look into the overall trend from that 4 year period. If you would want to check out the entire progress report into more detail from all of those years go to this link and you will find it there:
Not too bad, I guess, for an initiative that most people thought it was going to be dead within the first two weeks, don’t you think? 5 years on and a Life Without eMail is now a reality. And it can only get better …
Social Networking tools *do* make you ever so much more productive
Over the course of the last 5 years one of the main comments I have been getting all along from those folks who may have been exposed to this movement has been along the lines of how as interesting as it has been moving my work interactions from email into social networking tools, it seems as if the only thing I did was swap from one tool for another. Still the same result. Well, not really. Here is why…
You may have seen that particular piece of research that McKinsey did in 2011 where it mentioned some fascinating insights on our corporate work habits confirming how the average time that most knowledge workers spend just processing email is roughly around 650 hours per year. Yes, I know it may not sound too much, but that’s actually nearly 3 months out of the year people spend it processing email. Now, if you add up the month of vacation approx., we end up with nearly 4 months out of the whole year being spent just working through emails, because you do check out your mailbox while you are away on vacation as well, right?
So earlier on last year I decided to do a little experiment where I would try to measure the time I spend on internal social networkings tools to get my work done and see how that would compare to the time spent doing email. If I would have just switched from one tool into another set of digital tools it would show pretty much the same time spent, right? Well, wrong!
Most of you folks out there know how much of a big fan I am of the pomodoro technique, which I have blogged about a couple of times already. Last year I decided to ruthlessly measure the time I would spend in internal social networking tools in chunks of 25 minute long pomodoros and see how many of those I would accumulate over the course of months. And now that the year has gone by it’s time to share the stunning results.
Over the course of 2012 I have spent 683 pomodoros of 25 minutes each to not only keep up with what was happening around me through social technologies, but at the same time to get my day to day work done. So that means I have spent 17.075 minutes working my way through these digital tools, that is, 284.5 hours approximately. Eventually, resulting in 35.5 days or, in other words, 5 weeks. Yes!, not even a month and a half!! Who would have thought about that, right? But it gets even better…
Because it also means it could save people even more time to do other more productive tasks. These statistics are just from myself, a power user of social networking tools with no scientific method in place. A social computing evangelist at heart. Someone who lives these digital tools, walking the talk, learning by doing. Perhaps the atypical social networker, because that’s where I have moved all of my work related interactions to a great extent. As an example, in our internal social networking platform, IBM Connections, the average number of connections / contacts fellow IBMers have is roughly around 40 people, approx. For me, I’m currently coming close to 3,280 folks, so you can imagine how my internal networks do not represent the normal and why I strongly believe that those productivity gains in time saved using social tools could be even bigger for vast majority of knowledge workers out there.
Thus what does that all mean? Well, essentially, that next to all of the perks and various benefits I have been sharing around becoming more open, more public, collaborative, flexible, autonomous, transparent, agile, and more responsible for how I work I can now add up that living social / open has made me more than two times as productive as whatever I was 5 years ago! And believe me, this is something that I really appreciate, because, like for everyone else, work does never decrease, but it is always on the increase, so knowing that I have remained over twice as productive over the course of the years, no matter what, has been a splendid and surprising new finding that has made me realised the whole initiative since I got it started 5 years ago with it has been more than worthwhile.
But what do you think yourself? Would you be able to relate to this new experiment yourself as well? Specially, if you have started already that journey of reducing your dependency on email, is it something you can confirm yourself, having experienced similar results, although perhaps not at the same scale as what I have done and described above myself so far? Do you feel it’s a realistic conclusion altogether? I am not claiming it’s a rather scientific experiment, since it isn’t, but I’m starting to think that it could well prove accurate enough to confirm the ever significant impact of social technologies in the corporate world.
The one thing that I do know now is that relying more and more on social networking tools for business to carry out my day to day work does make me much more productive and effective than whatever email claimed to be in the past. And that’s a good thing! Finally, the living proof is there! It’s all about working smarter, not necessarily harder. All along. It’s all about making it personal and making it work for you, just like I did for myself. And therefore the new moniker kicking in from now onwards…
Life Without eMail – The Community, The Movement
So, “where to next then?”, you may be wondering by now, right? Well, certainly, I am not going to stop here. Like I said, there is no way back anymore, but onwards! The movement is alive and kicking and we are going to take it into the next level with a couple of surprises I have got for you folks for sticking around following this initiative all along and for being so incredibly supportive over the course of time and for sharing along with me this fascinating journey. Hello and welcome to the Life Without eMail community. The Movement.
Last year’s progress report, you would remember, was rather massive, more than anything else, because I decided to summarise one whole year of progress with a substantial amount of interesting and relevant links about the impact of social networking tools on helping us reduce our dependency on email by a large margin. I talked as well about other companies attempting to do the same, as well as sharing plenty of interesting and relevant links on good practices on using social tools, or fine tuning the email experience to get the most out of it.
Well, this year I am not going to do that. I still have got a bunch of top-notch resources, but instead of sharing them over here in this blog post I decided to eventually gather them all, and over the course of time, share them over at my Scoop.it account that I am in the process of feeding it, as we speak, and where I will continue to add those links over time, so from here onwards you would be able to keep up to date with all of those relevant links I may bump into that would cover this topic of “Life Without eMail” from other people interested in the topic, or writing / talking about it, as well as including articles I may write myself, interviews I may conduct or public speaking events I may well do, so you could have them all in a single place. Starting already today!
But the main surprise is another one I have got prepared for you folks. Plenty of people have been asking me over the course of the years whether there would be a central place where those #lawwe and social networking enthusiasts could gather together to share their own experiences, hints and tips, their know-how, lessons learned, and whatever other activities where they (we) could all learn from one another. And time and time again I have been telling folks there wasn’t a specific space. Till today.
Indeed, along with Prof. Paul Jones, Paul Lancaster and Alan Hamilton, all really good friends and folks who have already embarked on freeing themselves up from the corporate / organisational email yoke as well, we have decided to put together a community space where we could hang out with other folks interested in this movement and help share our very own experiences, know-how, and plenty of practical hints and tips on what it is like having ditched work email for good. The original idea, and due credit, of course, is going to go to Alan Hamilton, who suggested to me some time last year to put together a community space where we could hang out. And while we couldn’t get it sorted out back then, too much going on, as usual, I guess it’s never too late, eh? So thanks ever so much, Alan, for triggering the thought of having an online community for us to get together!
And after much discussion and looking around for some really good solutions that may be available out there, we have all agreed to create this particular community space over in Google Plus Communities. So here’s the link to it:
We hope you would find the time to come and join us in the community, where all of us, me included, will be sharing plenty of our own experiences, as I mentioned above, on how to reduce our inbox clutter while we keep sharing some additional insights on what’s happening in the space of social networking, Social Business and, of course, Open Business and how they keep disrupting the corporate email driven world as we know it. Still today. Our main purpose is to help out knowledge workers become more open, transparent and collaborative through digital tools vs. just keep dragging along through an excessive and perhaps unnecessary abuse of our email habits. I can surely guarantee you it’s going to be a fun ride!
So much so, that if you are really willing and committed to give it a try yourself we will be sharing with you some initial tips by which we can guarantee you that within the first 5 weeks, since you start, you would be able to see your incoming email volume getting reduced by over 80% and without hardly any effort, just applying some methodology I have developed over the course of time and which I am sure you would be able to follow with no problem since it isn’t rocket science, really, but just the trigger to break the chain and to, finally, have that rather rewarding and fulfilling sensation of owning your work, perhaps for the first time in a while!
Will you join us? Remember, 80% reduction of incoming email in just 5 weeks! Here is the link again to the community to get you going and thanks ever so much, once again, for the continued support, for sticking around and for having made these 5 years quite an interesting, inspiring, exciting and rather refreshing time!
Onwards into a Life Without eMail!
[In my next article on this topic, I will be writing about a rather interesting twist that I have gone through this year so far. A hard reset. A reboot from everything that I have done in the last 5 years… But that would be the story for another post soon enough…]
Over the course of the last few years there has been one particular aspect of social networking for business that I still haven’t come to terms with throughout all of that time. That is, self-promoting your own content in your own blog that you may find scattered around all over the place (other blog posts, podcasts, vodcasts, webinars, seminars, online workshops, mainstream articles and so on and so forth). Somehow it just sounds a bit too meta. Perhaps it’s just me, but it’s something that I have always found it a bit too awkward, although it doesn’t bother me when people in my networks do it, because, essentially, I feel they are pointing me to some of the great quality content that they keep posting away in other places, rather than their usual hangouts. I guess it’s just me with that kind of reservation. Either way, that’s just about to end, because while I have been away these past two weeks I have realised I have been sharing content in multiple other places without pointers back to this blog highlighting the fact that as a result of it I am neglecting this blog perhaps much more than I should have and that’s not necessarily a good thing, right?
Specially, when talking about video. Yes, apparently, 2013 is the Year of Video. Specially, if you look into the rather significant impact it’s having across the board in multiple social networking tools. Perhaps the most vocal one being one of my favourite social networking tools: Google Plus. And this is when it really hit me, because I realised I keep spending plenty of time participating in Google Plus Hangouts (Or Hangouts On Air) on multiple various topics related to Social / Open Business that they never get to see the light over here. So I thought I would perhaps change that and eventually start sharing some of those links across to keep feeding the beast, i.e. this blog.
At the same time it’s been quite interesting to acknowledge how much more you can share through video than through standard offline text. This is something that my good friend Dave Snowden has been talking all about from the perspective of how we render knowledge (Still one of my favourite blog posts out there, by the way!). To quote:
“We always know more than we can say, and we will always say more than we can write down.
This is probably the most important. The process of taking things from our heads, to our mouths (speaking it) to our hands (writing it down) involves loss of content and context. It is always less than it could have been as it is increasingly codified”
Indeed, this is something that I can vouch for as well. I am a fast typist, for sure, have always been all along, but I actually talk much faster. Perhaps even too fast at times, as I get carried away in excitement and passion when talking about all of these topics around social networking and knowledge sharing. And that’s probably why I am thinking of giving it a try over here and make the switch from that trend of thought of self-promoting your own content in your own blog and instead consider those other snippets sort of blog entries as well to go along with the usual regular blogging. Why not, right?
After all, I guess it’s all about sharing along all of those relevant and insightful pieces of content you think would add further up into the overall conversation. It’s the dialogue that matters, right? I would love to know in the comments what you folks think about it. Whether it’s helpful to point to those other tidbits or not. Feel free to let me know as we move further along…
To start with though, I thought I would go back to one of my favourite social networking tools that I mentioned above already. Google Plus. And, specially, Google Plus Hangouts, where I have spent a good amount of time lately participating in a few of them with other people. One of my favourites was a recent Google Plus Hangout On Air I did with my fellow IBM colleague, and good friend, Daryl Pereira, where we spent about 18 minutes talking around the topic of “Enterprise Social Networking Tips” covering the following items:
- My current background and current role (For those folks interested… hehe)
- My own motivation to use social networking tools, whether internal or external (After 12 years heavily involved with social technologies)
- The benefits of being a Social IBMer in a digital world
- And, finally, some key points, practical tips on how to get started with social networking (for business), in case you may not have dived in just yet
The beauty of Google Plus Hangouts On Air, and one of the reasons why I heart them quite a bit, is not only how easy it is to engage in the videoconferencing event without hardly any technical hiccups or issues or foreign software to install, but because it also provides you with an opportunity to have a recording of the event. And we did. You can find the link to it at this YouTube video, or, alternatively, you could also watch the embedded code below:
Hope you folks get to enjoy that 1:1 interview I did with Daryl on Enterprise Social Networking Tips just as much as we did when we recorded it live. From here onwards I also just want to thank sincerely Daryl for inviting me and for conducting the interview and I surely look forward to the next one!
And hope you folks, too!