I have a physio friend and people regularly go up to him and say: “It hurts when I do this!”
His response is to say: “Well, don’t do that then.”
Pain is often our body’s way of telling us to do things differently, yet we all do things every day that cause us pain, or am I the only one? Many of the practices we regard as sacrosanct in modern business have no basis in science, yet a global peer pressure enforces them into the life of millions. Some of these practices are just a bit unhelpful, but some are dangerous to health and well-being. Many of the things that we do outside of work are likewise unhelpful and dangerous and yet we continue to do them, and I’m not talking about rock climbing. When questioned we would struggle to articulate why we do them, we just do.
Although I quoted my physio friend, I’m not primarily talking about physical health things, though that can can often play a significant part. My principal focus are those practices that impact upon our productivity and ultimately our well-being.
Perhaps you are living in splendid ignorance, so I’m sorry if this post opens your eyes to things that will now frustrate you when you see them, as all good 12 Step programmes know the first step is to move out of denial.
The first thing to note is that I’ve constrained the length of this post to keep it readable, but the list of self inflicted pain is very long indeed, and I may return to it at some point in the future, it may even become a series, I’ll see.
Are your wasting your productive time?
Many people plan their day around a focus on important work and urgent work with little attention to the timing of the work during the day.
If your diary is anything like mine it is littered with meetings. There is no pattern to the types of meetings and when they happen, they are scheduled at the time when the person arranging it decided it should happen.
We each have different times in the day when we are better, or worse, at different types of work – we have a chronotype. For most, our chronotype is somewhere between extreme morningness or extreme eveniningness, as such for most of us we are more alert in the morning, have a slump in the afternoon and then have another peak in the evening. Yet, how many of us waste our alert productive time in the morning on the trivial tasks that would be better suited to our afternoon slump? We are making our lives significantly harder by expecting our performance to be the same across the day and our schedule of meetings isn’t helping.
This is a particularly difficult challenge for international teams where people are in different time-zones with some in the middle of their most productive time and others in the middle of a slump.
Are you getting outside?
If you are going to recover from a slump one of the best ways of doing it is to get outside into the nature that’s probably around you. Even if you work in a city there is likely to be parkland or some other form of green space available.
Remaining inside and expecting your body to recover from a slump is likely to just extend the slump.
You don’t have to be outside for long, a few minutes is enough to make a huge difference to your focus and ability to get work done.
Are you wearing the right footwear?
Do you work in an environment where you are expected to wear shoes? Perhaps you are expected to wear “smart” (uncomfortable) shoes?
Research in schools has shown that shoeless learning spaces perform better. Is it too much of a stretch to think that work environments, particularly for knowledge workers may also perform better if people ditch their shoes?
I’ve often pondered whether it’s one of the reasons why people prefer home working. Work always feels different at home in my slippers.
How much of a culture change would your organisation need to allow slippers to become the normal footwear in the office? Would the productivity increase be worth it?
Are you wasting time with long meetings?
Back to you diary. How many 1 hour meetings will you be attending today or this week? How many 2 hour meetings? Of the 1 hour and 2 hour meetings how many of them include break times? Not many? None? That’s my experience also.
What is the ideal length of a meeting for maximum concentration? Well, there doesn’t appear to be an absolute definitive answer on that, some say 15 minutes, some say 45 minutes, there’s some evidence for a sweet-spot of 18 minutes, whichever option you choose they are all less than an hour and way less than 2 hours. There are different ways to engineer longer meetings with mini-breaks, perhaps getting everyone to change position, or change subject, another way is to do something interactive but these mini-breaks are only partially successful.
There’s a good reason why the daily stand-up meeting in Scrum is only 15 minutes. Extending the meeting beyond that time can, quite quickly, suck all of the energy out of the meeting.
If you routinely schedule meetings for an hour then you are almost certainly wasting people’s time. Remember the project management adage:
Work expands to the time you schedule for it.
One other thing to be aware of. People are more productive at the beginning and end of a meeting, but only if they know it’s the end. This is where sticking to a timer is really important. People’s productivity will lift as they see the finish line coming into view.
Two 30 minute meetings will be more productive than a single one hour long meeting.
Are you frustrating everyone with a blended remote and face-to-face meeting?
The worst type of meeting is the blended remote and face-to-face meeting. The people who are face-to-face are frustrated by the slowness caused by the people who are remote. This frustration is particularly acute for people who have travelled and are sitting there thinking that they wished they had decided to join remotely. The people who are remote are frustrated by their inability to understand everything that is going on in the meeting room and often get distracted.
- All face-to-face meetings = best
- All remote meetings = OK
- Blended remote and face-to-face = worst
I speak as someone with significant experience of each.
Oh dear, I’ve run out of room…
I think that will do for now, if each of us manged to make these few changes we would all be in a better place, but I suspect that for many of us even these are beyond our grasp, we clearly prefer the pain. There’s definitely more examples to come, so I suspect that there will be another round.