How to get Work done at Work

Have you ever tried to get meaningful work done but just couldn’t seem to accomplish it during a normal workday? Why is it that you have to save really important work for “quite time”? The plane, train or automobile ride home / your next destination? Why do we reserve quite time after dinner when the kids are put to bed, or come into work early in the morning before the barrage of colleagues, phones, e-mails, meetings, etc.. (i.e. INTERRUPTIONS start)?

Jason Fried’s insightful Ted Talk

Having started off last Friday listening to Jason Fried’s insightful Ted Talk entitled Why work doesn’t happen at work, I’d like to share with you some key tangible solutions that go a bit beyond Jason’s simplified solutions of No Talk Thursday, Passive Communication & Canceling Meetings. These quick fix / band-aid solutions can actually be very damaging to your company when you never address the root cause of your problems.

Don’t get me wrong, I respect Jason / his accomplishments. In fact, I’ve used & benefited greatly from some of his collaboration products, such as Basecamp. That said, I’m concerned at having often picked-up the pieces from over simplifying a deep rooted problem in today’s professional environment. This is the kind of stuff that creates high employee / customer turn-over, not to mention, eventually drive a company out of business when not adequately addressed.

No talk Thursday

At the root of the issue is either (a) no effective plan / strategy in place for people to be able to link daily tasks to in order to progress toward a successful outcome; (b) there is a plan but it hasn’t been effectively communicated / bought-into by the team, and therefore they don’t understand which tasks will make them successful; (c) the work environment is indeed not conducive to performing effective work & therefore you have to understand the root causes of the interruptions in order to eliminate them, including the dismissal of employees who just don’t have the skill, the will & the motivation to improve. This last bit could be as simple as disciplining the office socialite that wants to foster healthy interexchange between colleagues which needs to be reserved for “programed” breaks, lunch or out-of-office time.

The term “programmed breaks” now leaves it to the individual to decide if he/she is willing to interrupt productive work to go off and have a break which they hadn’t planned. It also means blocking all of the pop-ups (e-mail, instant messaging, etc) that people typically have programmed on their computers. It could even be as wide-spread as educating people about noise levels from impromptu meetings in open spaces which distract others who are trying to concentrate. No talk Thursday will fix the latter, but it’s neither effective nor scalable because most companies I’ve seen, the significant challenge has more to due with lacking effective plans, strategies, outcome focus and or buy-in.

The best tool that I’ve seen to effectively nail-down the root cause / impact of breaks / interruptions on productive work is the tools WorkMeter based on grass-roots empowerment principles.

Passive Communication

I’ve bought into the collaborative tools, as long as the strategy or plan their working towards has effectively been thought-out and individuals / teams have bought-into (Clarity, Unity & Agility) the tasks that are necessary to reach a predefined successful outcome. What I don’t see as effective is the use of e-mail or instant messaging, especially in getting things done that are best served by two people actually having a face-to-face discussion. I would also promote the use of a tools such as Yammer in place of, or as a compliment to, the traditional bulletin boards. Lastly, when communication isn’t handled properly, Jason’s approach lulls your teams into passive thinking, which means that solutions to BIG problems will take much longer to resolve. You don’t want passive, but rather active / pro-active & apply rhythmic processes.

Canceling Meetings

Yes, the majority of the meetings I’ve witnessed are ineffective and disrespectful of people’s time, but again, simply canceling meetings won’t address the root cause of the problem. If you have (a) an effective plan / strategy, (b) staff alignment & bought-into the necessary / appropriate processes & tasks, and (c) rhythmic processes, then you won’t have a need for ineffective meetings.

Rather than canceling meetings, how about you educate people on the power of effective meetings? At minimum, an effective meeting has:

  1. A predefined & stated purpose
  2. A logical agenda & timeline that leads to…
  3. Who, What, When & Where of SMARTER Decisions / Action Items
  4. Preferably is organized so that relevant people come in & out of the meeting as needed
  5. A conclusion, wrap-up (for buy-in) and next steps processes

I’m also a fan of auditing meeting outcomes. Randomly spot-check meetings to ensure they cover at least these “5 basics”, and in addition, review the decisions / outcome (action items) and measure them as to how they relate to the stated & agreed company strategy. This will save you a lot of head-aches down the road, and give you much more than just “feel-good” meetings.

So what do you think? Anything here that you’d consider new & you could learn from? If so, please act on that thought and put it into action. Also, if you know anyone else that could benefit from this post, please be generous & pass it along! I’ll guarantee you the recipient will be grateful!

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