Lost Productivity

Ever feel like the picture below depicts your typical workday? You wake up in the morning with such high hopes for today’s productivity and then suddenly you’re stuck in the mud of day-to-day Corporate America. Put another way, how many of you get 50, 100, even 200+ emails a day intermixed with your 5-10 daily meetings AND on top of that you are supposed to get your REAL job done? If my guess is correct it’s most of you reading this. It seems Corporate America (henceforth called CorpAm) has become a productivity drain. Most of the people I talk to about this have the same problem; go to work from 9-6 to take their meetings and answer urgent emails, then book it home to see the kids before bed, after which start trying to answer the rest of their email and finish all their work. It’s a never ending cycle in which you fall farther and farther behind. I spoke to one mid-level executive recently who works for a multi- billion dollar company and he said he had almost 75 action items he was tracking in a spreadsheet because none of the existing tools he had found could manage the information effectively. Wow! I think the new mantra in CorpAm should be — Let’s get back our lost productivity –, or how about — Let’s take back 2 hours in our day –.

We can make it …

The problem is an offshoot of a well known dilemma that has been talked about for decades now and was first discussed (that I know of) in Fred Brook’s Mythical Man Month.  The issue is communication coordination.  As teams and organizations grow there are more participants involved in nearly every decision making process.  This means more parties must be asked questions of, or require notification of, certain events.  Basically, more people need to be informed of your actions so that you can — cover your a@@ –.  This means lots of email and lots of meetings and lots of lost productivity.

Are there ways that we can fix this?  Minimize the communication coordination time and take back some of our own time?  Are the tools available yet that can help?  I think so, but it does require a paradigm shift in the way we work.  We must stop trying to work and communicate as individuals but rather as a participant in a team.  That means having a shared team file repository not a personal one.  It means maintaining context across lots of different data repositories (email, files, contacts, notes, bookmarks, etc).  It means having access to documents that are always online and always available.  And it also means being able to manage tasks and calendars more effectively, for the team and you personally.

Let’s look at the typical weekly CorpAm conference call, one of the largest most annoying time drains that was ever created.  Meeting participants are asked to participate via an email invitation that contains, hopefully, background information related to the topic.  Everyone dials in at the appropriate time and the moderator starts the discussion.  As the meeting progresses each participant takes notes relevant to them and the moderator maintains a list of action items for distribution after the meeting.  At the next meeting all the action items are reviewed and new topics are discussed and we start all over again.  In summary each meeting is it’s own little island joined to the next meeting by the action items.  This description probably sums up 90% of the weekly conference calls in existence.  Each call taking at least an hour from your life!  So how do we make it better?  First off, we should start by having  an online shared meeting repository accessible by all participants that allows for the review of relevant information and the addition of shared comments to that information.  Secondly, the meeting should take place using an online tool that provides multi-party note editing and task management as well as phone support.  This will allow meeting participants to co-edit the notes of the meeting, as well as, see the action items as they are assigned.  When the meeting concludes the participants can continue to use the online workarea to add additional detail to their action items and also use it as an online repository for items related to the meeting topic.  At the beginning of the next meeting the online workarea is again used as the basis for the call.  Tools that allow this kind of work already exist and can be used.  Software like Kablink, Sharepoint, or Google Docs all support features that can help introduce this new work paradigm.

Another typical work problem without an adequate solution is task management.  How many times have you came away from a meeting with your boss where he gave you some ginormous (gigantic+enormous) task?  You go back to your desk shaking your head and enter it as a Task in Outlook, but as you start to understand the effort involved in completing the task you realize that it involves multiple steps across multiple organizations involving multiple people:-(    Ouch!  Now what.  That simple little Outlook Task doesn’t seem to get it done any longer and nobody ever, ever, ever wants to open up something like Microsoft Project :-o .  So your left trying to manage the task in a spreadsheet like our executive mentioned above was doing.  What we need is a way to break a task up into it’s component parts and assign those parts to the requisite people while allowing you to monitor the total task’s progress.  Additionally, this task should  also become a context reference point for you so that any information you receive related to the task can be associated with it.  This will include: documents, email, bookmarks, contacts, etc.  This will provide you with a one-stop shopping experience for all information related to that task.  Again, many of these tools are already available today in team collaboration software like Sharepoint or Kablink.

Let’s change the way we work from Personal Productivity (which we know doesn’t exist anymore) to Team Productivity and take back two hours in our day and go see our kid’s soccer game :-)

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