Wednesday, November 25, 2009
My day is spent running meetings - staff meetings, steering committee meetings, and various kinds of national/regional/local governance bodies.
Over the past year I have noticed a trend in all these meetings. The number of emails that people receive each day exceeds their ability to respond to them, so they develop "status emailicus" - a bit like status epilepticus (persistent seizures) but it involves retrieving a blackberry, iPhone, or other mobile device from its holster every 15 seconds throughout the meeting.
The end result is continuous partial attention. You'd like to believe that everyone is participating in the discussion, especially if complex issues are being debated. Ideally, when consensus is achieved, everyone leaves the meeting marching to the same tune. However, by multi-tasking in meetings, we see every other frame of the movie. We miss the subtleties of conversation and critical details that may later turn into deal breakers.
How do we solve this problem?
We could throw away our mobile devices, but that ignores their positive aspects. My travel to Washington is possible because I can use my mobile device for command and control of all the projects I'm running, even while in planes, trains, and automobiles.
One option is to reset expectations. Email is not the same as Instant Messaging. A 5 minute response time throughout the day only works if there are no meetings to attend.
Another option is to realize that we all work 8 hours a day in meetings/calls and 8 hours in email. We could limit meetings to 30 minutes in duration - enough time for efficient discussion, but not too long to result in overwhelming email backlog. Following each 30 minute meeting, we could get a 30 minute recess to act on decisions made and catch up on emails.
As I've mentioned in my Open Access Scheduling for Administrators blog, I'm trying to reserve 50% of my time to address the issues that arise each day. Maybe that will reduce my need to check email during meetings.
The bottom-line is that email overload exists and we can
a. Ignore it and hope it goes away
b. Continue to let email run our lives and distract our every waking moment
c. Take control and organize our email responses by reserving a part of each day, outside of meetings, for timely email responses.
I already sense that people are beginning to rethink the way they manage connectedness. Twitter's popularity is decreasing, Instant Messaging is on the wane, and social networks seem less of an obsession.
I welcome your thoughts - just don't email me :-).
Posted by John Halamka at 3:00 AM