Why have the meeting then?

Still useful and relevant, 44 years later….

Well there wasn’t anything anyone wanted to talk about!

Why have the meeting then?

It’s the weekly meeting!

This staff training film from Video Arts, Meetings Bloody Meetings,  has been quite influential on how I approach meetings and how I feel about meetings.

The fact that this film is 44 years old and I still think others could learn from it, shows how challenging it can be to change the cultures within organisations. However it can be done.

Work is still something you do, not somewhere you go

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Over the last few days there has been a wealth of press coverage, politicians talking, discussion online about people returning to the workplace. Sometimes the talk is of returning to work.

Hello!

Hello!

Some of have never stopping working, we have been working from home!

The headlines in the papers and on the web seemed to indicate that people weren’t working and that they should return to work. This is quite insulting to all those people who have been working, and working during a crisis as well as supporting potentially children in their schooling, as well as avoiding meeting friends and family. The main crunch of the issue appears to be the impact of people not commuting to the workplace and the impact this is having on the economy of the city centre and the businesses that are there.

At the end of last week, there was this article on the BBC News: Warnings of ‘ghost towns’ if staff do not return to the office.

Dame Carolyn said the UK’s offices were “vital drivers” of the economy, supporting thousands of local firms, from dry cleaners to sandwich bars. “The costs of office closure are becoming clearer by the day. Some of our busiest city centres resemble ghost towns, missing the usual bustle of passing trade.

This tweet echoed my thoughts on that article.

The issue is that the genie is out of the bottle now, both staff and businesses are seeing the potential benefits (and the pitfalls) of working from home. This shift in working patterns will not go away. This doesn’t mean that we’re all working from home permanently as we were under lockdown, but it does mean that we’re very likely not to go back to the way things were.

As a result the rest of the business world and the economy will need to reflect that shift and adjust.

coffee

What sparked my post more than anything else was this Medium post about remote work in the US, Remote Work Is Killing the Hidden Trillion-Dollar Office Economy.

Businesses dependent on workers commuting to offices were finding revenues were falling and falling fast. Some were those provides food and drink.

Starbucks attributed the loss of some $2 billion year on year to deserted urban office corridors

Then there was business travel.

…in the air, white-collar workers previously kept a parallel economy buzzing, with business travel accounting for 60% to 70% of all airline traffic. While leisure getaways have also been obliterated, it turns out the bigger punch is the Zoomification of business meetings, a cancellation of business travel that analysts expect to persist for up to two or three years.

Then there are the changes in real estate, with some companies ending leases early, not renewing, or even cancelling new offices.

Pinterest turned heads when it announced it would pay a $89.5 million contract penalty to cancel its lease on a flashy new 490,000-square-foot office building planned in San Francisco.

In the UK we know that train companies are now looking to see how they can reflect the shift from five times a week commuting to the office, to a model where people will only travel two or three times a week to the office.

Yes there is a real issue with the loss of footfall in places like London and Manchester and this needs to be thought about and dealt with. The shift in the working population away from the heart of the cities will result in major changes across the economy, as well as direct impact on the city centre economy. However I do fell that this is also a real opportunity as well to reduce the dependency on commuting and mass daily migration from the suburbs to city centres.

Paddington Station

Last week the BBC reported that there was no plan for a return to the office for millions of staff.

Fifty of the biggest UK employers questioned by BBC have said they have no plans to return all staff to the office full-time in the near future.

Within my own organisation, decisions are still being made about the future of the offices we have. However it is clear that we won’t be going back to what we had before. Even being a pretty much blended workplace anyhow, the covid-19 pandemic forced a non-office culture on everyone. Of course everyone won’t be able to work from home, and not everyone will want to work from home. Giving people a choice is important. What I am hoping to see in the future is that office space encourages and enables different ways of working and that rows of desk working staff is not the norm for the future. I discussed this more in an earlier post on changes to my office working.

Personally I think that if we can use this opportunity to move the work landscape from one where large portions of the population scramble to get to a single location via train or driving to one where people work locally (not necessarily from home) then this could have a really positive impact on local economies, as well as flattening the skewed markets that the commute to the office working culture can have on house prices, transport, pollution and so on.

This view was echoed in the FT opinion piece (paywall) by Sarah O’Connor, Goodbye to the ‘Pret economy’ and good luck to whatever replaces it.

The article talks about the rise and fall of Pret.

The rise of Pret has mirrored the rise of London and, until recently, they both seemed unstoppable Yet last week, Pret said it would cut 2,890 jobs, almost one-third of its workforce, after the pandemic wiped out “almost a decade of growth” for the company.

As with many other people, when the call came back to head back to the office, thought, let’s be honest do we need to go back to the office, travelling on trains and buses as well as going out for lunch? The coronavirus is still there, infection rates are rising in some parts of the country and there is still no vaccine and no cure.

My working patterns were not regular or consistent before covid-19, now as we continue to emerge from lockdown I am certainly not expecting major changes to what I have been doing over the last five months, just the odd visit to the offices and not much if any other travel. This will mean less coffee and probably not going out for lunch at all, ah well.

Isn’t it time to start thinking differently about work and the nature of work?

Well some of us have been talking about this for a while now.

Back in 2016, Lawrie Phipps published a really interesting blog post on the nature of work, Something, not somewhere, and increasingly somewhen

The web affords us new ways of working, new opportunities to connect.  It furthermore allows for a richer experience of work and life, rather than forcing us to segregate our time from ourselves via physical location, allowing us to choose when and where we are most productive, and how to conserve our face to face energy for those times that truly require it.

The coronavirus lockdown forced many people to work from home, and though many found it challenging, some thrived. We became better at using tools such as Teams and Zoom, and many found they were more productive, though some didn’t.

Of course working from home is not for everyone and this is where thinking differently about work and the nature of work needs to consider not just working from home, but also working from an office. The office doesn’t have to be the office, it could be an office.

I do hope that we could start not just working from home, but working locally as well, maybe in physical hubs, or other co-location workplaces. That way you can still work from “home” by working locally, but you also get the other benefits of working in a space with others Of course this isn’t new either. Many companies already did allow staff to use local flexible meeting spaces for meetings and working. There are quite a few companies that can provide offices and desks to hire, though these are suffering just as much in the lockdown as well, but when that’s less restrictive there are possibilities.

Of course the economic challenge in all this is how these shifts impact on workers, both those who are now remote working, and those who were previously employed in all those support businesses. The economics shifts we’ve had in the past, in the main de-industrialisation, were often managed badly. As industrial and manufacturing jobs disappeared and new service and office jobs grew, this wasn’t evenly spread across the country, and the end result was areas of high unemployment, slow economic growth and poor social mobility. At the same time saw excessive wages and costs, and where demand for workers could not be met, we saw large rises in commuting, as well as huge increases in house prices, which then resulted in even more commuting.

As we have this paradigm shift in working patterns, we need to think about how we manage that shift to reduce the impact on workers (as well as businesses) that use to depend on other works commuting to the office, drinking coffee and having lunch.

Changes to my office working

In the last seven days I have managed to get to our offices in Bristol twice and worked there instead of working from home, something I have been doing since March when we all got locked down. It looks like I might go to our office now and then to work. However what is the future of office working, not just for me, but for everyone? This got me thinking about my office working experiences in the past and into the future.

When I was teaching back in the 1990s, I had a desk in an office, it was my desk and though it was occasionally used by part-time lecturing staff after hours, generally I was the only person who sat there… Well I say sat there, during my working week I was spending over 50% of my time in the classroom and then I was having coffee or lunch, or going to the library, attending meetings and other stuff. I don’t think I had that much time sitting at the desk. So it became as most desks do in teaching staff offices, a place to put my coat, my marking and other stuff. It was more for storage than for doing stuff. I should also make it clear that there was no computer on that desk nor did I use a laptop. If I wanted to use a computer I had to go somewhere else, so even less time at my desk.The office had phones, but I didn’t have a dedicated phone. I remember also the shared office was rather busy, so it wasn’t conducive to working at a desk due to the noise and constant interruptions.

I spent over a year working for a Museum and then I did have a desk and I spent a fair amount of time at that desk. It was also the first time my desk had a computer on it as well, which got used extensively for communicating and writing. The desk also had a phone!

In 2001 I was appointed Director of the Western Colleges Consortium and I remember talking to my line manager and he was clear that I didn’t need to come into the office every day and to spend some time working from home when I wanted to. This was the first time I started to change my working patterns from going into the office on a daily basis. Though initially based in Radstock we then moved to dedicated offices in Keynsham. I was responsible for dusking for the office I have to admit I went slightly overboard I had a L-shaped desk with an attached table. The office wasn’t really big enough for it (and the other desks), but the result was I had loads of desk space and a table for meetings. I did use two computers at the time, a PC and a Mac so I had two screens. My job meant that I wasn’t in the office everyday, so I got use to working from home, but also out on the road as well.

In 2006 I joined Gloucestershire College, this time I had a dedicated desk, but was “allowed” to work from home one day a week or so.  It was when I moved to Gloucestershire College, that my thinking on “having a desk” changed quite a bit. Initially I was based at the old Brunswick Campus, and I “borrowed” a desk in the library office from a colleague who was on maternity leave as my “allocated” desk was at the top of a tower block quite a hike from the library where my team was based and worked.

Gloucestershire College
Gloucestershire College by James Clay

When we moved to the new college building in the Gloucester Docks, the office space we were allocated was a lot smaller than before. I recall having a discussion with the team about desking. The main feedback I got was that people wanted to have a desk so they could put their stuff and work somewhere. As the majority of the team were customer facing (working with staff and students out in the library and elsewhere in the college), some were part-time, it was apparent to me that if I gave everyone a desk (and it would be a small desk) that they would be empty most of the working week. We also had team members from other campuses coming to the Gloucester Campus and needing somewhere to work (and leave their stuff).

So rather than have twelve small desks, we made a decision to have only six big desks and a fair few large cupboards. We would have a clear desk policy and people would store their stuff in the cupboards. We also then had the space to have a sofa in the office as well and a coffee table.

It has to be said, partly down to the C-shaped aspect of the office, that I had a “separate” desk in a part of the office. However I was very clear to the team that they could use my this desk and was also equally clear, that if I arrived and they were using the desk, they would remain at the desk and I would find somewhere else to work.

I was also quite clear that we would review the situation in six months and if it wasn’t working we would change the space. Well, what happened, after six months we actually gave away two desks out of the six to new admin staff.

Even with a job in a college, I still worked from home on a regular basis, usually when I needed peace and quiet, but the job also entailed working across multiple campuses, so got into a routine of being able to work at a range of desk situations.

In my next job I had a variety of desks in various locations, but spent a lot of time moving between sites, travelling, but also working from home. Due to building work, I never did get my own office before I left.

When I started at Jisc in 2015, I wasn’t allocated a desk as there wasn’t one, but after an office re-shuffle, I did get a desk. Though it was “my” desk, I kept it clear, so on those days when I wasn’t in the office anyone could use it, and they did. I could tell because they re-adjusted my chair!

A year or two later, the situation changed and in the Castlepark office we moved completely to hot-desking. My only complaint about that was we had to use a booking system to book desks, and though I see why people think this is necessary, the reality is that it results in more empty desks. I wrote this article in 2016 on library PC booking systems, but the essence of the article is the same for desk booking systems.

In the new offices at Portwall Lane, though there was still a desk booking system, however like the London office there was a range of working spaces that didn’t need to be booked, so the space worked much better.

Before the covid-19 pandemic and in my new role at Jisc, I found I was working less with a team and more remotely, though not necessarily at home. I would work from home, but I was also travelling a fair bit, usually in London at least one or twice a week, but also further afield as well. I would quite happily work in a hotel room, or a coffee shop or on the train. There was a range of tools that I used to communicate and collaborate and it was quite simple to sync documents through online storage. I did much prefer attending meetings in person, though I was often given the choice of attending online. However I found those mixed-mode meetings never worked very well, so depending on my role in the meeting would determine if I was online or in-person in the room.

With lockdown I was forced, like everyone else to work from home. This means the mixed-mode meeting died and we all had to participate on an even footing. Just prior to lockdown I did publish a post on my thinking about the future of working from home that we might see during the lockdown. Despite having worked from home before, working from home during a pandemic lockdown was nowhere the same thing and I had to adapt quickly.

After five months of working from home, I really felt like it would be nice to return to the office, even if it was for the day. So it was with some relief and a little trepidation that last week I went to our office in Bristol. This was my first time in a Jisc office since March, actually been anywhere for work apart from my desk in the house.

I did think about catching the train, but in the end drove to Bristol, parked and walked the rest of the way to the office. It was nice and sunny so was rather pleasant. It was an easy drive into Bristol and there was minimal traffic. Very few people around as well, unlike when I have walked to the office before. I stopped for coffee at Chatterton’s Café, however it was takeaway only and they were serving through their kitchen window. Nice coffee though. 

Most of the office is closed or out of use, so we are using one floor and only a few meeting rooms. Lots of social distancing and deep cleaning happening. With so few people in, the office has lost its buzz and atmosphere. It feels bleak and rather dead compared to how it is normally. Had a few meetings and lunch with my new boss. The offices closed at 4pm, so I was out of the building before then, walked back to the car and headed home. Even with those restrictions it was nice to work in a different environment again.

So what of the future of office working, not just for me, but for everyone?

The BBC this week reported that there was no plan for a return to the office for millions of staff.

Fifty of the biggest UK employers questioned by BBC have said they have no plans to return all staff to the office full-time in the near future.

Within my own organisation, decisions are still being made about the future of the offices we have. However it is clear that we won’t be going back to what we had before. Even being a pretty much blended workplace anyhow, the covid-19 pandemic forced a non-office culture on everyone. Of course everyone won’t be able to work from home, and not everyone will want to work from home. Giving people a choice is important. What I am hoping to see in the future is that office space encourages and enables different ways of working and that rows of desk working staff is not the norm for the future.

Within that BBC article was also a comment about how the changes to office culture, is having a knock-on impact with those businesses who depend on those office workers. This was something I recognised as I was in Bristol this week with a number of local coffee and sandwich places still closed because of covid-19 and it looks like they won’t re-open in the near future either.

As we move into the new academic year I am not expecting to be doing much travelling. Speaking to colleagues in universities across the country, they are clear that they are expecting most meetings (internal as well as external) will continue to happen online. In addition most people have been saying they will not travel to meetings, nor will they necessarily have the budget for travel either.

Personally I am expecting to go to the Bristol office more frequently, but I am not expecting to visit our other offices in Harwell, London and Manchester at all. Well maybe London.

My working patterns were not regular or consistent before covid-19, now as we continue to emerge from lockdown I am certainly not expecting major changes to what I have been doing over the last five months, just the odd visit to the offices and not much if any other travel. This will mean less coffee and probably not going out for lunch at all, ah well.

Some thoughts on working from home

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

With the ongoing threat of the coronavirus and many organisations looking to allow workers to work from home to reduce the threat of infection and transmission of the virus.

I do a fair amount of remote working and location-independent working and am quite happy about doing this, I have been working from home on a regular basis for about the last twenty years. Even so with the possibilities of forced home working to reduce the risk of transmission, this is going to be a different experience to what I am use to. For those who don’t do this often  or rarely, they may find it challenging.

In this blog post I am going to discuss and reflect on some of the challenges that working from home could entail, in a landscape where lots of people are working from home, schools are closed and there is restrictions on movement and transport. This is not a complete article on home working, more some of the issues I have been thinking about over the last few days on this subject.

Myself, Lawrie and Donna, and did a podcast back in 2016 about location independent working,

e-Learning Stuff Podcast #090: Location Independence Day

The podcast was a response to Lawrie’s blog post on the subject.

Something, not somewhere, and increasingly somewhen

The web affords us new ways of working, new opportunities to connect.  It furthermore allows for a richer experience of work and life, rather than forcing us to segregate our time from ourselves via physical location, allowing us to choose when and where we are most productive, and how to conserve our face to face energy for those times that truly require it.

In this current landscape of forced home working, the issues we discuss are very relevant, however with the challenges of the coronavirus, it’s not quite the same as it was before and there are some issues you will need to consider in addition to the topics covered in the podcast and the blog post.

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

You are not alone

Even if you are use to working from home, with coronavirus it won’t be the same as when you have worked from home before.

In Italy they have closed all the schools and colleges, to reduce the risk of transmission. If similar measures are taken in the UK, then you (or your colleagues) will probably be trying to work from home and there will be children at home. Though I work from home a fair bit, during the school holidays I usually go into the office, so I don’t get in the way. You may be lucky and have your own office where you can shut yourself away, but if not you may need to plan how you work around the others in the home. This could mean changing the hours when you work. As result you will also need to consider the times others may be working. 

Asynchronous communication may be more effective than trying to find mutually convenient times.. 

I often use external locations, okay places where I can drink coffee, will these still be open? Will people want to visit them or will they avoid them to ensure less risk of infection? The reason for this is about motivation and productivity, so you will need to think about what you do during a day to keep working effectively, and what you can do instead.

It’s not just a matter of space, there is also the issue of bandwidth. Normally when working from home I have all the bandwidth, but with “forced” home working and schools closed, it won’t be just you wanting to use the internet. You can imagine the increase in demand for streaming services such as Netflix. This also won’t be isolated to your home. Your neighbours may also be working from home, or using the internet so the contention ratio may rise as more people try and use the same data capacity. It won’t just be restricted to home broadband, but also mobile networks. This will have an impact on how you work, if you depend on connectivity. For calls and meetings. You may find asynchronous low bandwidth communication and collaboration tools a better option than the full functionality high bandwidth tools you are use to.

Planning

If you are use to people responding quickly, you may find the delay in their response frustrating, if they are working to different hours or have bandwidth issues. One way to overcome this, is to plan your work to take this into account, be more proactive than reactive when it comes to collaboration and seeking responses. Let people know in advance, when you will be seeking their input or feedback, so they can plan accordingly. We usually work in a manner that our environment allows us to (lean over the desk for a chat or a question), but when it comes to constrained working patterns as may happen with the coronavirus, the way in which you work, will also need to change.

Planning your day and sharing those plans with your colleagues and managers will enable them to plan their days accordingly and then be able to schedule calls and meetings when appropriate and convenient.

Meetings

An online meeting is not the same as a face to face meeting, and though similar there are differences. Chairing online meetings is a skill and they need to be managed effectively. The main challenge is that often the visual cues that are present in a face to face meeting are missing and without these you can cause arguments and frustration. I have found you need to ensure meetings are planned and that when allowing people to talk that this needs to be more structured than in a traditional meeting format. This also needs to be communicated to all people attending the meeting as well.

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

The nature of work

The work you can do in the office may not be possible to do at home, so when it comes to planning your work, you may need to take that into account. There may also be opportunities for new ways of working and new pieces of work as well. 

Tools

There are plenty of articles being posted across the web about the tools that allow  for more effective home working. As mentioned before with the increase in people working from home, will these services be able to cope with the increased demand for these tools? Are there alternatives you can use?

An assumption often made is that people know how to use these tools and how to use them effectively and efficiently, that may not be the case. There is a question of support and training that may need to be put into place to ensure that tools don’t become a barrier to working from home.

People

Finally the human side of working is important. You, your colleagues, your team, are all people. 

I found this blog post from Lawrie, Donna and Peter an insightful view about the criss from a human perspective.

Being human in a time of crisis

Your colleagues may be struggling, they may be anxious, they may have friends or family who are infected with the coronavirus. They may be ill themselves. They may have challenges in finding medicines, food (even loo roll) and this will undoubtedly impact on the way they work and what they can do.

Work is one thing, but at the end of that Teams call, the Yammer post, the e-mail, the Skype conversation, is a human being. In these testing times we shouldn’t forget that we are all human.

Changing hosts…

Image by Colossus Cloud from Pixabay
Image by Colossus Cloud from Pixabay

I recently changed hosting for my WordPress blogs. My main reasons for changing were, my host was unable to update the version of PHP which would result in being unable to update to the most recent version of WordPress. They did offer me a new hosting contract, but I would then have to migrate my blogs across, so I decided that if I needed to do that I might as well review new hosts. I had had reliability issues with my existing host. I was also concerned about upgrading to SSL (https). Both Chrome and Safari were marking non-https sites as “non-secure”.

It’s not as though I was doing e-commerce on my blogs, but it looked like Google would drop non-https sites down in their search results. I also thought the “non-secure” identification might worry people.

There were a few challenges, mainly as I took the opportunity to move a couple of my blogs to a domain of their own. I say opportunity I wasn’t sure I could recreate the same setup with the new host that I had with the old one.

Wordpress
Image by Werner Moser from Pixabay

Decided to record and log what I had done, just in case I needed to do this again. Continue reading “Changing hosts…”

“Eat the frog…”

"Eat the frog…”

Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.

Though wrongly attributed to Mark Twain the concept of “eating the frog” to improve productivity is something that has gained traction over the years.

What it means from a productivity perspective is that if you face down and complete that “big” task that is hanging over your head then your productivity over the rest of the day will be higher.

If you don’t “eat the frog” then that task will be always there in your head, you will worry about it and this will have negative impact on your work and resulting productivity.

Often that task appears to be worse than it actually is, and that thinking about it is actually the problem. Having started to do this, I have found it just works. Not sure if my resulting productivity has increased, but the impact on wellbeing has been positive.

Though it’s every easy to say “eat the frog” I think there is more too it than just doing that task. It makes sense to reflect on your workflow and work patterns and explore why you aren’t eating the frog. What are you prioritising instead of the frog? What are you doing instead of the frog? Can you change that approach?

In my own practice, I would often start going through e-mail rather than face the frog. Once I realised that this was causing me to not to face the frog, then I sorted the e-mail issue out. Initially I did that by turning off and closing my e-mail client, this then stopped those distracting notifications. Longer term I moved to Inbox Zero.

If it was a big “frog”, then I would break it down into smaller frogs or tasks which were easier and faster to complete. That big frog now became a more manageable and easier to get done.

So now I face the frog. Do you eat the frog?

Not quite Inbox Zero

checking my e-mail

I’ve had some interesting feedback when it comes to my previous blog post on my approach to Inbox Zero.

So is it really necessary to have an empty inbox when it comes to inbox zero?

No, despite the name, Inbox Zero is not just about having an empty inbox, nor is it about deleting all your e-mail so that your inbox is empty.

For me, the core principle behind Inbox Zero is about “doing” and “processing” your e-mail rather than just “checking” and “reading” your e-mail.

You can see the aim of having an empty inbox as a goal in doing this, not as an end in itself. Its about doing what needs to be done and then moving onto the next thing.

For me this is also about making the time to do the e-mail and where required I will close down Outlook (or whatever e-mail client you are using) and focus on what I need to do, without the potential interruptions of new e-mail.

A secondary aspect is having a better understanding of how e-mail can be used and when it is better not to and use a different tool.

There are lots of examples of this, moving all staff information to a tool like Yammer for example. Or instead of having a conversation through e-mail, picking up the phone or actually visiting the person at their desk or in their office.

One thing people often say to me is that they don’t have time to “visit” these other tools or spaces. It might be because they’re too busy checking their e-mail, however my view is that if they are too busy to read the Yammer feed, then they probably don’t value what is there. Sending it as an e-mail instead (or as well as) is a flawed assumption, because if they aren’t going to read it on Yammer, then why on earth will they take the time to read it as an e-mail – they’re too busy! The assumption that if it is in an e-mail people will read it, is often the rationale behind sending it as an e-mail, but talking with people, the reality is that these e-mails often get ignored or deleted. At least with a Yammer posting it’s still there and can be read later when you do have time. Similar things can be said about tools like Slack.

You aren’t always going to be able to change people’s viewpoints on e-mail, but I certainly recommend modelling the behaviour you want in others yourself. If you aren’t willing to change then how can you expect others to change.

Do you do the Inbox Zero?

Back in 2007 I was listening to a podcast on the TWiT network, MacBreak Weekly, and one of the podcast participants, Merlin Mann, was talking about productivity and mentioned Inbox Zero. Following the links I found the video Merlin was talking about when he talked about Inbox Zero to Google.

I wrote a blog post about this on my e-learning blog. Since then I have often thought about doing Inbox Zero and occasionally I have reached that point of an empty inbox in previous jobs, however usually I would lose the initiative and momentum to maintain Inbox Zero over the longer period.

In my current job, I have managed to reach and importantly maintain Inbox Zero for sometime now. Reflecting on this I realised that part of this is down to following the Inbox Zero process, another aspect is using different tools to reduce the quantity of e-mail in the inbox instead of using e-mail for things which it isn’t designed or suited for.

Inbox Zero is quite simple and easy to remember and follow. The core though is ever check your e-mail, but do your e-mail. What this means is that constantly checking and re-checking e-mail means you aren’t actually doing anything productive, you are spending time reading e-mails more than once.

So rather than check e-mail across the day, decide to spend time on the e-mail and for each e-mail undertake one of the following five actions:

  • Delete or Archive
  • Delegate
  • Respond
  • Defer
  • Do

Here is how I interpret these five actions.

Delete or archive,

With e-mails that fall into this category, rubbish stuff or notifications are immediately deleted. One of the misconceptions about Inbox Zero is that some people think it’s about deleting e-mails and that e-mail history can sometimes be useful. However that is a misconception, as well as deleting unwanted or unneeded emails the other option is once read is to archive the email. So in my inbox I have a whole series of folders which I archive into. This means I never lose an e-mail and all e-mails on specific subjects are grouped together. Occassaionlly I will copy an e-mail into more than one folder if it is appropriate to do so. Every so often I rationalise my folders and move them around or aggregate them.

An example of this is an e-mail about an event that I am not attending or relevant to my work, so it gets deleted.

Delegate

Whatever the e-mail is asking , then pass whatever action or work needs to be done to someone else or another team. I used this action as a manager a lot, less so now. What it means is to pass the e-mail to someone else, this could be a member of your team, passing it up to your manager or management team, passing onto a different team.

An example of this is when I get a request about being a pilot in a project, I pass the e-mail (forward) to the member of the team who has responsibility for pilots for them to action. I may respond to the original sender to let them know I have done this.

Respond

Simply write a reply and respond straight off. It could be a request for information, a request about something you have or haven’t done. The key here is not to procrastinate and think too long about this, or leave it, just do it, respond and get it done. I then usually archive the email to a folder. One useful thing to do is to create templates for stock answers and informations, so that you can respond more quickly.

Defer

Sometimes you can’t do something until something else has happened, or you need a response from someone else. Sometimes you need to defer as the request or task is too big 90% of the time I defer by creating a relevant task in my task management software (JIRA). Deferring should be seen as a last resort, otherwise you find your inbox will start to fill up again. If you really don’t have time to do stuff, then you should really stop “checking” your e-mail as you certainly don’t have time to do that!

Do

Just do it, go on do it, don’t wait, don’t defer, just do it and get it done. So asked to tweet something, tweet it, fill in a form, fill it in. Someone wants some text in a blog post, write the text. Someone wants a meeting, organise it. This is the powerful aspect of “doing” your e-mail rather than just “checking” it. Checking means looking, thinking I need to do that, but I don’t have time to do that. If you really don’t have time to do stuff, then you should really stop “checking” your e-mail as you certainly don’t have time to do that! Making time for e-mail means making time to get things done. One of the key messages form the video, is don’t check your e-mail, deal with your e-mail. So unless I have actual time to do stuff, I don’t check my e-mail.

Wasting time

I know that a lot of people “check” e-mail in their “dead” time, whilst waiting for a train, on the train, waiting for a meeting to start. I think this is wasting that time. It might be better to deal with a single e-mail then just going through the whole list and doing noting about them. I also think on those dead times, why not make better and more productive use of that time, listen to a podcast for example, or read a journal article instead of glancing through your list of e-mails.

Displacement

I think another factor that impacts on checking over doing, is that checking means going through all the e-mails and then deciding which ones to deal with. Often you will choose the ones that you want to deal with rather than the important or urgent emails. Using an Inbox Zero approach you deal with ALL the email you don’t pick and choose. You can use rules to flag emails and these can be dealt with first, or you can just go through them in the order they arrived.

Other tools

I find it interesting how often we default to e-mail as the main communication tool, to the point where it replaces other forms of communication or discussion. People also often use e-mail for various activities that really e-mail wasn’t designed for. So the other thing I am doing is trying to move the majority of my e-mail conversations to tools such as Slack, Confluence or Skype for Business. I find myself engaging less with email as we start to use a more diverse set of tools. A lot of internal conversations and other things people use to use e-mail for, have moved to these new tools. To a lesser extent, the same has happened for some external conversations. For many of these external conversations, Twitter and Google+ seem to have replaced some e-mail discussions and conversations. The same for other kinds of activities, such as task management and auditing. Need an update on work done so far, go to Confluence (a wiki) to have a look for example. Often people say they don’t have the time for other tools, probably because they have too much e-mail, however using other tools can be more efficient and more effective. Just think about a tool like Doodle for planning and scheduling meetings? So using the right tools in the right way means a lot less e-mail as a result. Yes you need to check those other places, but the end result is more effective and often more efficient.

So I never “check” my e-mail I always (try) to DO my e-mail.

What do you do?