As much as I hate to admit it most of my professional time is used up trying to take care of the silliest of things. There’s a never-ending loop of interrupting emails that come knocking at my inbox every minute of the day, overwhelming me with just too many “urgent” requirements; the vicious length of procedures and approvals that need conforming to, and an incessant obsession with pointless meetings — it’s exhausting!
These phantom flashes of urgency in the workplace often require that I drop everything and rush to the cause, compelling me to leave my actual job and become party to something that’s anything but urgent. Have you ever been in a similar situation? If you have, you and I both share a common dislike for unproductive work etiquettes.
It’s not uncommon for a working professional to stumble into this situation — irrespective of whether they work in a large organization or a small one. These endless loops of interruptions are everywhere and, if anything, frustrating as hell and often upset an individual’s personal sense of productivity. I have often seen that when faced with such uncalled for interruptions I end up feeling irritated, sometimes even useless at having not completed my job. That’s not a good feeling to come back home with.
So, I have chosen to dissect this rather unpleasant phenomenon and identify those unproductive and ineffective work processes we are subjecting ourselves to.
1. Too many emails
I have come across colleagues who wake up to at least 50 emails every morning. And then another 50 or so storm into their inboxes throughout out the day. Even if they spend 5 minutes trying to address each one, that’s 250 minutes spent only answering emails. That’s nearly an entire day.
And the thing is, as much as you want to wait it out, you are expected to answer all these emails on an immediate basis. So when do you actually get your job done?
This is one reason working professionals have found themselves suffering with excessive workloads and deadline pressures causing them to perform not their best but whatever best is possible in that available time frame.
A better way to handle this situation is to put in place some central information sharing and management system, say a Dropbox. A central communication and information system helps everybody stay tuned to the progress of a task without being bombarded with emails all day long.
2. Too many “urgent” emails
This false sense of urgency we subject ourselves (and others) to is causing more harm that we can imagine. Often an outcome of poor project planning and task allocation, we find people sharing tonnes of emails with subject lines that read: URGENT.
Here’s my take. Every task is important and needs fitting completion. In order to avoid unleashing this chaos of faux-urgency, plan your project in a way that establishes roles and responsibilities clearly, along with a timeline for their respective completion. Also, as childlike as it may sound, establish email etiquettes if need be. At least that way, only truly urgent emails will find their way in to your inbox.
3. Pointless Meetings
It has been identified that 50 per cent of all meetings are pointless. More so because they have little to do with actual brainstorming and collaboration and are often just about drawing updates on the progress of a project/task.
A better way to stay updated with the progress of a task is to gather information in real time. This can be done through installation of information systems that specialize in the cause or by simply asking oneself, “What is the fastest way for me to get the update? A phone call? An email? Or should I just drop by and have a quick word?” If you must have a meeting, it’s your responsibility to let those who are party to the meeting know the agenda of the congregation. It all comes down to respecting your own time and that of others.
4. Repetitive tasks
How many times have you found yourself doing the same thing again and again? Repeating tasks is one of the most harrowing activities in an office system and often results from the apparent disconnect between what was asked and what was expected. Ideally the standards of expectation should be communicated explicitly and not left to implicit understanding.
It is exceedingly worthwhile to invest time and sincere effort in helping your team members understand the requirements of a task in full clarity and extending certain benchmarks for expected level of performance. Otherwise, there is too much time getting wasted on doing things over and over again when they could have clearly been achieved in lesser time.
5. Using too many tools for doing one task
Toggling between word files, excel sheets, power point presentations, pdfs, workflow systems, multiple websites, and planning software is nothing short of a circus act. All this toggling creates chaos and leaves one feeling confused and tired. (I know I do).
Such file clutter can be easily avoided through the magic of technology and the many task management web applications that are readily available today. I have personally used Evernote and have found it increasingly helpful for taking quick-study notes. You can also try out the more commonly available Microsoft One Note, or paid applications software such as Brightpod and AtTask and many similar task management applications to ease up the collaboration effort. A simple Google search will help narrow down the choices for you.
6. Not knowing why you are doing what you are doing
Do you know your organization’s vision and goals? Have you been made aware of them in explicit terms? When was the last time you felt you were working towards the greater organizational goal? I am sure many will have rather unsatisfactory answers to these questions.
Think about it. If you do not know what you are working towards, how do you hope to excel in your work? Or for that matter, how do you hope your team to excel? Organizations tend to be separate from their people, and this ‘disconnect’ leaves employees feeling that they are unimportant to their organization.
Here I will emphasize the need to nurture a distinctive organizational culture — one which ties people together with a common purpose. Let this culture be seen and felt through tangible cues across your work space and you will notice that people start feeling more ‘one’ with the company and its goals.
7: Too many approvals to approach your own people
If you are/have been part of a large (typically conventional) organization, you will have stumbled in to a situation where you need your boss to sign off or approve collaboration with a different department or team. Such needs often arise when an organization is clustered in the form of functional departments rather than a project team.
Cross-team interaction should be acceptable as natural process and not as one demanding formal approval. Herein, companies need to first eliminate the process of seeking approvals altogether. On the other hand they can try scheduling regular meetings based on projects and not just by departments. This way, a meeting can serve as good point of collaboration with functional heads.
In a sincere effort to rid your work space of ineffective work processes and mindless interruptions focus on establishing best practices from the very start. This way, you and your team can indulge in actual work rather than spending the entire day collaborating over ‘urgent’ emails.
Meeta Sharma is an independent writing and editing professional from the digital marketing domain. Loves marketing and everything about it.