Too busy to get anything done? Digital workplace tools can help - Part 1

Our working lives are packed full of opportunities to demonstrate how busy we are. The conference calls we need to lead or join, the messages we need to send and reply to, the presentations we need to prepare and present, the urgent issues we need to attend to, the budgets we need to manage, the customers we need to see, and all the other things we need to do. At home, we can accumulate similar to-do lists and add in our household chores, parenting, caring for others, managing more budgets, co-ordinating schools, clubs, and activities, participating in communities, and keeping up with our own or others' appearances on social media. It's when we're on holiday that we come to realise how much energy this takes and just how little there is to show for it. Being busy can become a habit, it can also be a damaging habit.

In his book "How to thrive in a world of too much busy", Tony Crabbe explains that so-called multi-tasking actually increases the amount of time each task with take by around 40%, but also explains that each time we switch between tasks our bodies release dopamine. Dopamine makes us feel good so when we are rattling through different tasks, or messages, or multiple online chats, all in parallel with our conference call, then we feel good even though our actual effectiveness plummets. Crabbe also explains that the pings, rings, and flashes of the email notification, instant message notification, and calendar reminders can create the same effect, along with the compulsion to just see what it is. We can easily get hooked, always on, easily distracted, letting flashes and pings set our agenda and priorities.

Tony Crabbe's book encourages us to focus, to work out our true priorities are in life as well as in work, and to switch off the notifications, drop meetings that we don't need to be part of, to adopt a planning system that allows us to empty our heads, to take genuine breaks, and to develop mastery in managing ourselves by working on our movement, attention, emotions, and energy. It’s important also that we don’t interpret the need to focus, develop self-mastery, and avoid distractions as a mandate to become a recluse in life or at work. The message is subtler, it’s about making best use of the collaborative and individual time we have. When we need to work with others, it’s about making the best use not only of that time, but of the experience, knowledge, and uniqueness of each of the individuals involved. 

Most people working in offices today have become used to audio and video calls being initiated and received inside messaging platforms. Some even use the video facilities and experience a different kind of interaction as a result. Screen sharing has become commonplace within these calls, and in some cases, whiteboards are used to develop common views together. When it comes to files and documents though, we’re still adding attachments to emails, sharing links to various document stores, or trying to work out how to get at the file that was attached to the online meeting.

There’s something much more insipid too, and that’s the typical and learned behaviour of the conference call audience. The limitations of how we run meetings, coupled with the hiding places offered by calls that are denied by in-person meetings, mean that many people join calls with the hope of playing no role in them whatsoever but still ratcheting up busy points either by being able to declare they were in meetings all day, or by pseudo multi-tasking alongside the call. The additional pitfall for all meetings with larger groups of people involved is that the quieter personalities won’t force their way in over the top of others even if they are concentrating on the meeting. In many cases, the word meeting itself has become synonymous with these traits.

Coming back to the essence of collaboration

Putting the word meeting down for the moment, along with its connotations, our actual challenges are not just how to make the best use of collaboration time, but how do we make best use of the experience, knowledge, and uniqueness of each of the individuals involved, and what is the role of technology in this? Our view is that we respond to these challenges with a combination of the traditional and the new, the blend of human effort and technological support. We return to this in Part Two of this post.

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About Colin Corbett

Global Product Manager, Digital Workplace - Intelligent Collaboration
Expert on UC, mobile, WLAN and security. Loves family, travel, and dance.

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About George Worship

Product Manager for IT Asset Management and Help and Interaction Centre Local at Atos IDM
George has a diverse range of project, service, and business transformation experience and a personal passion for people management and workplace efficacy.

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