Does your office life feel like it has been chopped into pieces, Outlook owns you, and you can’t find any meaningful work moments?
5:45am: Wake up. Roll over. Check emails. Get up.
7am: Join commute.
8:15am: Arrive at work. Check emails.
10am: Another meeting. Sneakily reply to emails during the boring bits.
11:30am: Conference call … that runs waaaaaaay longer than it’s meant to.
3:30pm: Eat breakfast.
3:45pm: Sit down for Serious Productivity Time.
3:46pm: Deal with staff issue.
6pm: Wonder where the heck the day disappeared to.
If this sounds a bit like your work day, you’re not alone. When email after unnecessary email, followed by meeting after dreary meeting, followed by interruption after annoying interruption boycotts your job description, you wonder why on earth you bothered with five years of uni-induced hard yakka. As US software entrepreneur Jason Fried aptly puts it, modern offices aren’t centres of creativity and productivity anymore; they’re “interruption factories.”
“A busy office is like a food processor – it chops your day into tiny bits,” Fried says in his book Remote. Each bit is a meeting, a conference call, 24 emails to respond to, a weekly debrief, another meeting, until suddenly it’s time to go home – then come back and do it all over again tomorrow. “It’s incredibly hard to get meaningful work done when your work day has been shredded into work moments.”
Matt Lawrence works in commercial banking, and reckons he spends roughly 80% of his 9-5 day dealing with emails. “Outlook owns me – but I’d be screwed without it. I start a new role in a month which will be roughly 80% work and only 20% emails, because I’m getting an assistant to manage my admin.”
Bain & Company, a global consultancy company, estimates that the average manager in 2014 receives a whopping 30,000 emails a year, compared to a much more manageable 1,000 messages back in 1970. Unless the manager in question is an Email Sender and Receiver Executive, he’s probably not very effective. Nick O’Neill, GrabOne’s national sales manager, used to get up to 400 emails a day. “I reduced the number of emails I received by stopping sending emails. If you send an email with four people CCed in, you’re going to get at least four emails back.
“I found that I got stuck in an inbox world, when really I could just get up, walk over and talk to someone about it, and get a much better result from it straight away.”
So, are you getting too many emails? We should probably have a meeting about it … Or should we? Bain & Company also discovered that a sample of managers in big US firms spent roughly 15% of their time in meetings, a share that has risen consistently since 2008. And the higher up the ladder you climb, the worse it gets.
“15%? That’s probably a bit light,” says O’Neill. “I attend about three meetings a day, not including conference calls and impromptu meetings that pop up all the time. When I schedule meetings, I have to give my staff a ‘what’s in it for me’. I take after my old boss who, if you weren’t getting to the point, would just pack up and leave.” If you don’t get your work done during working hours, when will you? Tomorrow? Not if tomorrow looks anything like today.
“I like my job, but I often find I have too much to get through during the day,” says marketing executive Zoe Neave. “I’m also a mum, and I don’t want to pull the female card but sometimes I just want to go home and see my baby. I don’t want to go home to work – and I don’t want to feel guilty about it.” ×
Four tips for de-cluttering your day
Feel like office clutter owns you? Decluttering your company might not be possible – unless you’re the boss. But decluttering your life is.
Take control of your inbox
Don’t let email notifications control your life. Instead, dedicate portions of your day to checking your inbox. If you simply can’t ignore it for more than an hour, try 10 minutes every hour. If a message truly is a matter of life or death, someone will call you.
Only schedule meetings if you really need them. Respect everyone’s time by discussing things that actually matter. If it becomes blindingly obvious that it’s a total waste of time, do everyone a favour and send them back to their desks.
Book a meeting with yourself
If you do work in an office that’s meeting-tastic, book meetings with yourself. No distractions equals high productivity.
After hours belong to you
Switch work off as soon as you leave the office. Cook dinner, watch a movie and enjoy the evening the way a normal person should. Make your bedroom mobile-free; let it become the haven for assorted nocturnal activities it was designed for.