I am the guiltiest person when it comes to disturbing my boss for these quick one minute chat sessions. And as in any given situation one minute is really not one minute. Ever. These ‘quick chats’ are probably the most biggest productivity killers i can think of.
I know this because it takes me ever to get back into work mode after ever time one of the people in my team comes over to have a word with me.
Communication is Vital. I agree. There are many things that just can’t wait. I agree on that too. But the problem is, most of us are sloppy at deciding on what can wait and what cant. To add to that, what might seem head-breaking important to us, might not be of that great an importance to our manager who has got a whole lot of other things in his plate.
Digging down a little we might realize that there are actually three scenarios when one wants to have a “quick chat” with his manager
- He wants to inform something, a result / observation which he thinks is very very important.
- He wants to share an idea that needs a quick brain storming.
- He has to take a decision and is not inclined on either way and wants to deliberate with his boss on the plan of actions.
1 is mostly unidirectional. and most of the times an email can do the trick. 2 can drag on as there is a need for some conversation. However brain storming over email is a great way to start. Transcribing into the written medium helps you in organizing your thoughts. Additionally you will give your manager the background, some time to think about it and also request time from his schedule to discuss this instead of walking into his room casually with an “I have an idea, lets talk” face. And as far as 3 is concerned, this is definitely going to take some serious time and you better not have an impromptu meeting, having one, I will bet you, will make you walk out of it undecided anyway.
I am now reminded of college days and how a few of our professors had very strict office hours. They will not discuss anything anywhere unless its during their office hours. And during their office hours they will listen to you, get in depth, and solve your dilemma with singular focus.
As managers we should start scheduling office hours for all our reportees, and during that time we should shut our phones, our emails, make sure we have done the background work for the meetings and try to solve the problem with them in singular focus.
As people who report to others we should try as much as possible to keep communication async over emails. If an f2f is inevitable, we should write ahead with the context and the dilemma and be organized in our arguments before we even head into the meeting. I would rather spend 15 mins preparing and 20 more discussing than spend an hour beating around the bush without making progress. That’s a criminal waste of everyone’s time.
Perhaps we should do the 4 day week? Hmm, i am not sure, there is a lot of talk about how people should shut themselves up for 4 days and work and on the fifth cram all the meetings and beat it till you find a solution. I am not a big fan of that style. Most meetings that *need* to happen, can only wait a few hours and not a few days and then i have also come to realize that we can never complete a whole set of discussions when we pool them all together. We will spend until the last hour on the first point and then spend the rest of the time on all the other points.
What I am going to Try at Work
- Every manager should publish an office hour schedule to his subordinates. During that period he will not do anything else but fix problems that the subordinates bring. These office hours will be everyday.
- These office hours do not conflict as much as possible with other managers.
- Not schedule more than 4 appointments during the office hour and have singular focus during those 4 meetings.
- Also plan 2 meeting slots one just after lunch and one just before end of day when there can be a team meeting.
- Hard stop every meeting in 15 mins. If it cant be solved in 15 minutes it cannot be solved in a whole day.
- And do not encourage meetings outside of office hours, and make sure people reserve for slots during office hours and while doing so set up the context for the meeting.
You will not only be saving valuable time for yourself but will also be saving a lot more valuable time for your subordinates as well.