What do you do on calls all day? A not so accurate analysis

Following on from yesterday’s post: The 10 Rules of Conference Calls – A Not So Definitive List, and the feedback that I received, I thought I would do a quick, not so accurate, analysis of what I did on calls all day:

A graph showing what I did on calls...
What do you do on calls all day? I think I may have over-estimated some of these.

Did I miss anything?

I think that there may be ways that we can optimise this process?

The 10 Rules of Conference Calls – A Not So Definitive list

The conference call is now ubiquitous in many working environments, but wherever I have worked a number of universal truths seem to apply:

  1. The number of connectivity problems that you experience is directly proportional to the importance of the call. This rule applies in most connectivity situations, but is particularly applicable in situations where connectivity is normally reliable.
  2. The key member of the meeting will join the meeting precisely 2 minutes after you decide to close the meeting down having made numerous attempt to try and contact that key individual. This is a two part rule. The moment that you close the call all other participants will become unavailable making reconvening the meeting impossible.
  3. If a colleague asks you how much longer you’ll be on your call and you say 2 minutes the call will last for at least a further 20 minutes.
  4. If you are on a call while working from home a delivery person will knock on your door at the precise moment when you need to be contributing to the call. Other distractions are available.
  5. If anyone is going to have problems going on mute it will be the person on the call with the most background noise.
  6. You will be speak whilst on mute when you have your best idea. When you repeat your idea once you are off mute it won’t sound quite as good as it did the first time.
  7. If a colleague asks you how much longer you’ll be on your call and you say 20 minutes the call will only last for a further 2 minutes. In these 2 minutes your colleague will have already left or become unavailable.
  8. The delay between the published start time and the actual start time is directly proportional to the number of people expected on the call. This has nothing to do with any technical limitation.
  9. If the conference call has an online Q&A capability your question will be answered by the speaker at the very instant that you post the question.
  10. Any meeting that finishes early will be closed with the words “I’ll give you XXX mins back.” This rule applies to any meeting that closes more than 4 minutes early, but may still be applied to meetings that finish up to 30 seconds early.

I’m sure I’ve missed some?

Heaver Image: This is the beach at Rossall, Lancashire which is a wonderful place to walk and watch the sun set over the Irish sea and across the Cumbrian Mountains.

Concept of the Day: Parkinson’s Law

There are certain phrases in the English lexicon that are almost universally known, but their history is less well known – this is one of those phrases:

“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”

Cyril Northcote Parkinson

These words appear at the beginning of an article in The Economist in 1955:

It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Thus, an elderly lady of leisure can spend the entire day in writing and despatching a postcard to her niece at Bognor Regis. An hour will be spent in finding the postcard, another in hunting for spectacles, half-an-hour in a search for the address, an hour and a quarter in composition, and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not to take an umbrella when going to the pillar-box in the next street. The total effort which would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this fashion leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil.

Parkinson’s Law, The Economist, 19th November, 1955

Parkinson’s initial observations were made in relation to the volume of civil servants and the amount of work being done. This is an ongoing discussion 64 years later, but not one that I feel in any way qualified to comment on. Parkinson was quite cynical about the reasons for an expanding civil service of his day – but I’ll let you read the original article and draw your own conclusion.

(Personally, in 2019, I find the caricatures of the “elderly lady of leisure” and the “busy man” jarring in their reinforcement of stereotypes.)

Where I can comment is in the business world where I see this law at play every day.

Meetings that are scheduled for an hour generally last an hour. This is remarkable when you consider the lack of preparation that goes in to most meetings. Interestingly enough meetings that are scheduled for 30 minutes generally last 30 minutes. Furthermore, there is, often, little discernible difference between the outcomes of a 30 minute meeting and 60 minute one. This is Parkinson’s Law at play.

Someone given a few hours to prepare material to present to a client will generally finish it in the time allocated and the material will be of a good quality. Given more time they would still produce material of a good quality.

Projects that are planned to deliver something over several months will rarely deliver anything in a few weeks, even when the project plan was highly speculative when created. Interestingly, it’s not unknown for projects that are planned for months to last several years, but I don’t think we can hold Parkinson’s Law wholly responsible for that.

I don’t think we can remove Parkinson’s Law altogether, what we need to do is to recognise it and contain it.

One of the powerful aspects of incremental delivery techniques like Scrum and Kanban is that they reduce the impact of Parkinson’s Law by breaking larger activities down into smaller constrained entities. Each entity is still subject to Parkinson’s Law; the constraint contains the impact within the increment.

The impact of constraints is easy to understand if you think about an 8 hour working day. Imagine within that day that you have 16 different subjects to discuss. Add to that scene 10 people sitting in a room for those 8 hours working their way through the agenda from top to bottom. What is the likelihood that with just 2 hours remaining there are still 8 items to discuss? Now imagine those same 16 different subjects and a schedule split into strictly enforced 25 minute slots that gives people a 5 minute break before the start of the next subject. What’s more this schedule requires conclusions to be reached within 20 minutes. Which of these two approaches will result in each of the 16 items being discussed? But will the conclusions reached be of the same quality as the ones discussed for longer? The impact of time on decision making is a complex one, and probably worth a post another day, but there’s evidence that decisions made quickly (not rushed) are often better than those made over a protracted period of time.

What I’ve outlined above is similar to the Pomodoro Technique. This techniques also utilises a set of time constrained slots, typically 25 minutes, and is often highlighted as a way of overcome procrastination, but I think it works just as well as a mechanism to constrain Parkinson’s Law.

My 25 minutes of writing is nearly up, and I want to read through what I’ve written, so I think I’ll leave it there.

Header Image: This is the view from Kirkstone Pass looking down towards Brothers Water and Glenridding beyond. These are some of my favourite hills partly because, for the most part, they are rarely visited.

Because it’s Friday: “Earth’s Rotation Visualized in a Timelapse of the Milky Way Galaxy” by Aryeh Nirenberg

A change of perspective on the star time-lapse videos that are so popular. This is what it looks like when we focus on the earth rotation.

If star time-lapse is your thing, Aryeh Nirenberg has many more on YouTube and Instagram.

When was the last time you were bored? Are you too distracted to be creative?

I recently watched this video by Kyle T. Webster entitled: Make Time for Boredom.

When was the last time you allowed yourself to be bored? We live in a world of constant distraction, spending hours interacting with our screens, mostly doing nothing at all.

We flick from Instagram to Message to Email to Twitter to Facebook to Netflix to YouTube and back again hoping that something there will distract us. Apart from wasting time, have you ever wondered what all of that time-slicing is doing to your brain? Perhaps, if your brain wasn’t doing all of that stuff it would be bored, but perhaps that boredom would help you to be more creative? That’s what the video is about, and I think it’s a message many of us need to hear:

Header Image: a rather dull, yet pleasing seascape across Morecambe Bay from Silverdale. I stood for a while and pondered.

“Time can be an ally or an enemy. What it becomes depends entirely upon… Zig Ziglar

“Time can be an ally or an enemy. What it becomes depends entirely upon you, your goals, and your determination to use every available minute.”

Zig Ziglar

Header Image: This is the water and rocks below Birks Bridge in the Duddon Valley. It’s a great place for a STORIES adventure, particularly for a swim.