How to Work Less and get More Done
In the days before email entered our lives (up till the mid 1990’s) the most pervasive interruption for the average manager was a ringing phone. Even then, more managers had secretaries who screened their calls. Then along comes email. Managers now receive dozens of messages from anyone – including spammers. The problem gets worse as employees who are sending email messages within a company can easily send copies, no matter how trivial, to everyone else – including to other managers. The end result is that with the advent of email it’s easy for a manager to spend an entire day reacting to other people’s priorities.
That’s why when it comes to a manager’s productivity, email is the silent killer. To demonstrate the impact of this, consider the productively of a successful business advisor who minimizes his use email.
Farm boy wisdom
I’m referring to my father, Bill Mowatt. Dad is a little like Michael Corleone in The Godfather. He keeps trying to retire but they just keep calling him back. Born on a farm in Saskatchewan during the Depression, Dad quit school with a grade ten education. Eventually, he started an oil and gas service company that grew to employ over 400 employees with annual revenues of over $40 million. In the process he created a network of some 30 successful spin-off companies. By the time Dad officially retired as President and CEO of CEDA International, the Royal Bank of Canada had nominated him as being one of Calgary’s most successful entrepreneurs. Not bad for a Saskatchewan farm boy. One of the secrets to his success is the way he manages his time.
Since his ‘retirement’ executives in the oil patch have sought “Bill’s” advice when considering new business startups and acquisitions. Frequently, he’ll be acting as an advisor to several companies. Because he’s ‘retired’, Dad only agrees to work a maximum of five to ten days per month so that he can spend more time working with his horses. The days that he does work, it’s only for a few hours. After all, he doesn’t really need the money – he only does it because he enjoys it. In other words, he doesn’t want to work hard or long. In observing how he works though, I think one of the smartest decisions he’s made in his consulting practice is minimizing the correspondence he does with his clients by e-mail.
By rarely giving out his email address, Dad doesn’t feel obligated to respond to the myriad of messages that are being copied to him simply because it’s easy to send him a copy. If someone needs a fast response from Dad they pick up the phone. That way he’s not spreading a conversation over five emails – he’s doing it once. Most importantly, the time that Dad would have spent sorting through other people’s email messages is instead spent focusing on corporate strategy. That’s what his client’s are paying him for. In other words, he consciously minimizes e-mail so that he’s less ‘busy’ and more ‘productive’.
I’m not saying that e-mail is all-bad. I use it regularly and recognize that it has its benefits. I’m just sharing an example of how one manager is actually more effective by minimizing the ‘labour saving’ technology. Most of us can and will continue to use e-mail. But we need to recognize that e-mail can be one of several factors that are taking us off-track from the strategic project work that we should be working on. In other words, when it comes to labour-saving technology, managers need to ensure they are not sacrificing their effectiveness on the alter of efficiency.
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