Thursday, June 23, 2016

Improving performance by doing less

At first blush, this title may sound contradictory to many while others may speculate that the crux of this post is an emphasis of quality over quantity.  The stress level at my job has elevated as we slowly move through yet another re-org.  Often with re-orgs it is not the amount of work, it is the uncertainty.  I acknowledge that my position is atypical being a full time virtual position (as in “I work from home”).  My responsibilities include much self-driven ongoing housekeeping as well as a heavy stream of email correspondence (100 to 200 messages per day) and occasional online meetings, phone calls and instant messaging.  I have found that to effectively cope with the stress related to another re-org, I have paced myself considerably.  Surprisingly, I have found that doing less has not only reduced my stress level, it has also improved my performance and effectiveness.  Here are some general illustrations.

1.  Haste makes waste – this is not a new line, but one that fits well when you think of those times that that you have rushed to provide an answer by email only to find that your answer further confused the asker.  I think everyone in a modern office has experienced this phenomenon which often results in follow up questions and a mushrooming email string that often draws in others to the fray and before it’s over you’ve expended much more time, energy and embarrassment than if you’d just let it age and responded at a time when you are able to provide a well thought out answer.

2.  Sometimes time can be on your side.  I have observed that many in the workplace overestimate their own self-worth.  Certainly, it is important to contribute but if nothing can be done without you then it’s time to cut the dependency cord.  I’ve encountered many instances where I have simply waited an overnight to respond and amazingly before I respond the next day I have received a message that the original sender has figured it out… fantastic – I send a “good job” type response and I’ve supported initiative.

3.  Team emails don’t mean only you respond – trust others to share the load.  Often I find team members provide a response in the ballpark of what I may have responded with.  Sometimes team members are more qualified than I to respond to a particular question or they just do a great job with an answer.  Well bravo, these are learning opportunities for me.  Sometimes team members provide a worse answer than what I would give.  I look at this as a positive as well because my answer will sound great after an obvious dud.

4.  Instant messages (IM) – ok, I readily confess, I’m not a fan.  In general I find co-workers just too impulsive and our IM makes a “ping” sound that is intended to draw your attention and tends to draw your attention from whatever you are working on.  Many of the things I do require a level of focus, whether it is configuring something in SharePoint, working on the Intranet site or even trying to analyze data in a spreadsheet and hearing that “pinging” sound is extremely distracting and even irksome when you learn that you are being contacted for some bone headed reason.  I have a standing message in my Microsoft Lync network account to “Please use email as your primary means of communication… there are many times that I have multiple windows open and do not see IM messages…”.  I think this has helped to reduce interruptions and wasted time.  I will note there are some diehards who ignore the message and IM anyways.  These types sometimes require a therapeutic intervention which is to avoid an immediate response and jumping on the IM.

5.  Phone calls – I think phone calls can be a positive tool.  A phone call can often avoid an extended email thread.  However, in my organization we sometimes have the impulsively desperate who will call you on their whim regardless of whether or not you are the most appropriate person to assist.  Like with the IM message, I have a detailed message on my voice mail to inform callers that I keep very busy and that I am often assisting others.  Within this message I ask callers to please initiate with an email so that I can schedule time with them so that I can dedicate my attention to their needs.  (This is also a tactful way to find out what they want in advance so that you can avoid being bushwhacked on the phone and also so you can divert instances where there is clearly someone else who can better assist the caller).  The end result is less wasted time for both the caller and myself on the telephone.

6.  Nasty emails – I think this is where I say, last but not least… I placed this item last because I’ve mastered this craft reasonably well for a considerable time so it isn’t necessarily a recent strategy implemented to do less and achieve more.  While not recent, there is age old wisdom with managing angry email well.  If you can let the response age an overnight, I recommend that you do.  Much time and energy can be wasted by firing shots back and forth and of course the make-up sex… (ok, just made that up to see if you’re still awake)… nonetheless, after the battle is waged these escalated engagements often yield negative fallout beyond the exchange – additional energy will need to be made to try to re-establish a working relationship and whether spoken or not lingering bad blood may play out for years.  When it comes to business emails, I tend to believe that boring can be good; what you may think was witty may easily be interpreted by others as condescending.  I’d estimate 98% or so of my emails are concise and flatlined – that is using only the words that are needed to communicate the point politely and professionally without exuberance or irritability.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are appreciated. Please note that comments are moderated, but will generally be published if on topic and free from excessive profanity or hostility.