Communication Bootstrap – Ideas for Effective Use of Email and Calendar

We. Are. Drowning.

We are drowning in email, and we are drowning in meetings.

EMAIL:
An email inbox has been aptly described as the to-do list that anyone in the world can add an item to. If you’re not careful, it can gobble up most of your working week. Then you’ve become a reactive robot responding to other people’s requests, instead of a proactive agent addressing your own true priorities. This is not good.

CALENDAR:
The problem with calendars is that they are additive rather than subtractive. They approach your time as something to add to rather than subtract from. Adding a meeting is innocuous. You’re acting on a calendar. A calendar isn’t a person. It isn’t even a thing. It’s an abstraction. But subtracting an hour from the life of another human being isn’t to be taken lightly. It’s almost violent. It’s certainly invasive. Shared calendars are vessels you fill by taking things away from other people. “I’m adding a meeting” should really be “I’m subtracting an hour from your life.”

As an homage to your continuous improvement mantra, I would like to suggest a full reboot. I want to challenge the notion that your work happens, in large part, through Outlook. It doesn’t have to be that way, and is clearly not optimal. You need thought leadership and mutual agreement to break the cycle. I suggest you do something interesting. Namely, you agree to improve!

Some simple steps to get you started:

  • Use any excuse you can think of to purge and prune your calendars of the “dead wood”. Then Model Behavior.
  • Revise your meeting strategy to include, mainly, working meetings that deliver value as opposed to planning value. (careful not to undermine your need for a collaborative culture)
  • Encourage face to face, “unplanned” discussions when needed, versus standing or recurring meetings (not to be confused with the real value of a 10 minute stand-up)
  • Encourage 25 minute meetings as the “new normal” versus 1 hour. 25 minutes to meet and 5 minutes to get on the “hush puppy express” (in other words, 5 minutes to walk to where you’re going)
  • Encourage ending on time, or before time! There’s a novel idea!
  • Encourage reasonable agendas for planned sessions and the tactical meeting format from “Death by Meeting” for tactical discussions.
  • Encourage team members to sign the email charter at http://emailcharter.org and agree to its content
  • Encourage team members to add the email charter to their email signatures
  • Encourage leaders to proactively “design” team meetings, stand-ups, and All Team Meetings to occur in tight sequences
  • Encourage blocks of “working time” as acceptable placeholders for your thought workers

To be clear, I think there are many ways to take control of calendars and email. These are simple ideas that won’t take much effort, but will constitute a powerful change in team and individual behavior.