Toast Note - 30 November 2017

I watched a reasonably good TEDTalk today that surfaced on our internal social group devoted to flexible working. I say reasonably good mostly because the core message (as is often the case with TEDTalks) is actually 60 seconds long rather than 19 minutes. We ADHD folks <voice=”Jack Nicolson”> can’t handle the repetition </voice>.  I’ll save you some time. With some handwavy logic, we can use sleep as a metaphor for work (effective work like effective sleep is a sequential, phased activity). Managers and meetings work against productivity. Work places are the one place you can as a rule expect to get very little done and virtually everyone knows this.

He makes a somewhat radical and potentially uncomfortable suggestion -- Cancel the next meeting you own. Don’t move it. Don’t reschedule it. Just cancel it.  Damn… that made me literally laugh out loud. The shock in the room felt almost identical to the reaction I get when I tell people to just delete all your email. All of it. Start over. Delete the whole damn thing. His argument is the same as mine; Nothing bad will happen. You reclaim time for the organisation and for yourself through the simple expedient of not doing something. What this implies, I know, is that a non-trivial fraction of our ‘work’ isn’t work at all; it’s being busy instead. We make work for ourselves. We do business with ourselves. We talk talk talk and chew chew chew on every morsel until we’ve pulverised it to its last atomic bit. We live and breathe the Voltaire aphorism “Perfect is the enemy of good” or good enough.

There are enormous implications to this behavioural norm of going to a building in a place to meet many times to discuss things. There is so much to unpack on how our organisations got here: fear of failure, the desire/need/obsession with inclusiveness, group think, the perception that information must be distributed through controlled, unidirectional channels rather than distributed, time-shifted demand driven ones. And we could spend weeks of Notes just surfacing the negative externalities beyond just simple boredom produced by box<>meeting<>thing<>email additions for which I think productivity loss might the least consequential.

The bottom line is that most of us do our best work somewhere else. We do it outside of email, away from our peers, buried in our own little bubbles somehow somewhere. In bursts of intense, almost euphoric concentration we pump out ideas, widgits, things, concepts, words words words and then toss them into the box maw to see what happens to them. We do it on the ferry and over the weekend and in those precious hours before the kids wake up. And in those moments we are in a zone of absolute Do Not F* With Me deliciousness whose memory we nurse as we endure the umpteenth ‘weekly check in’ for Project X.

“To reclaim the ability to simply get shit done, we actually have to stop doing shit.” ~ Toast

(I know… the last time I quoted myself, many of you gave me a whole lot of guff, but I honestly couldn’t find a quote today that captured my feelings. My blog my rules.)

Karen ToastComment