Voice Over - 15 March 2018

There must be practical ways we can “Just Stop Asking” beyond just … you know… stop. As with “Just Say No”, it feels like there should be a practical guide to reducing my distraction footprint on others. However, unlike the No topic, I am not having much success in my Google prowl to find good resources I can share with you. There are a few things that we could try, however.

Let’s start with Bundling.

Bundling accepts that we frequently need to exchange a tiny bit of information with someone with whom we closely work or associate whether partner, child, manager, or co-worker. It might be a quick question, a “just so you know”, a “handing over to you”. Now in our current frictionless information environment with email and text and social, we take that tiny bit of information and we immediately throw it into the world. This relieves us of the burden of remembering it and passes the obligation on to the other person. The problem with this is that while that tiny bit of information is by definition tiny, the way the human brain works, it will inevitably derail the recipient’s current train of thought for at least a few minutes. Ten seconds to read, 30 seconds to reply, at least a minute or two to get back to what they were previously doing. You see the problem? To make our lives easier, we’ve just made something that should take a few seconds suck the vital attention blood out of our victim. I mean good for us, Creatures of the Night. But bad for them.

One way to make this more efficient is to bundle those tiny bits into a package. Again, brain science comes to our aid here. When we pass over the bundle of tiny bits, the recipient processes them all sequentially boom boom boom each taking the few seconds you’d hope for and then moving on to the next bundle. If the bundle takes a few minutes to work through, it’s still considerably less than the multiple hits of ‘few minutes’ throughout the day that each individual bit would have taken. Brains really are a lot more like machines that we like to admit, by the way. Don’t let me go any farther down the bits and packages and TCP/IP metaphor. (Some of you just snorted your coffee, amirite?)

What does this mean in practice? Okay, simple experiment I’d like you to try for two weeks with me:

1)      Set up a system to capture your information bits on your computer or phone. I experimented with draft email messages, txt documents, Word and Outlook Notes. They all work equally well for this. The key is to have a section/email for each person with whom you routinely interact, and it must be utterly frictionless, so you can pop into it easily. My gut tells me this won’t work well with an analogue solution. Too much friction.

2)      From the moment you start work till about mid-afternoon, jot down your tiny bits for those people on the note instead of sending them via email, text, or spinning your chair around. Unless the building is literally burning down around your head to get an issue sorted, just make a note.

3)      Block a few minutes in your mid-afternoon to process your bundles and send them on to their recipients. (e.g. Send the draft email messages or copy and paste the notes into your chat apps).

4)      Before you leave work at the end of the day, make a point of processing any bundles you receive from others playing the game. Make it a priority.

This exercise has a strong social network effect. The more of us that do it, the more benefit we get. Remember, we lose time when we bundle for other people, but we get it back multiplied when we receive tiny bits in bundled packages from our co-workers. Since there’s only a few 100 reading Voice Over, this will work better if you either share this blog or at least the idea with as many people as you can. Let’s revisit this in a few weeks to see how it works.

"The great thing in life is efficiency. If you amount to anything in the world, your time is valuable, your energy precious. They are your success capital, and you cannot afford to heedlessly throw them away or trifle with them." ~ Orison Swett Marden