Chat, Conversations and Collaborations: A Productivity View

We need to break some default practices at work to improve productivity. Stop making everything a meeting. Stop assuming the best interactions are in the same place. Both of these practice waste a great amount of time in our organisations.

Friday morning was one of those mornings where there was too much to do. As the saying goes, ‘if you want something done give it to a busy person’. The good news was that I had only two appointments: a physical inspection of an office for 15mins and an introductory meeting with partners for 30 mins. Having not locked my time into one hour blocks of meetings I was able to maximise my personal productivity. Even the travel time could be used to advance work.

Between 9 and 12, I managed to complete my two appointments, reshape two projects, answer a half dozen queries, plan a new project, have calls with colleagues and chat online with others. In 3 one-hour blocks, I achieved at least a dozen things.

Keys to Productivity

As noted in the tweet above there are some keys to improving personal productivity:

  • Understand the purpose of the interaction: What do you want out of each an every interaction?  That will help you assess how much time it needs and how best to conduct the interaction.  It will also help you assess when it is over or when to stop because the goal can no longer be achieved. It also helps you understand what should not be a meeting.
  • Separate Chats, Conversations and Collaboration: Each of these interactions has different time demands.  Make sure you allocate the right approach for each. If you just need to answer a quick query or exchange information, do it in a chat and you will be able to manage many chats asynchronously. For conversations the time is extended but usually less than you expect.  A lot can be discussed in 15 minutes if both parties are focused and prepared. Collaborations may not even need conversation. Perhaps you are best to jointly work on a document before getting together to have a conversation about open issues.
  • Move away from the 1-hour paradigm: Most conversations take an hour. Few take an hour exactly.
  • Use the tools to be convenient: If anyone has to travel to a meeting, then everyone loses time. The person who has travelled is going to get their value back by talking. Tools now offer a multitude of different ways to connect, to share and to shift between chats, conversations and collaboration. We need to pick the tool that best suits the result we are trying to achieve. One size does not fit all in interactions. At least one of my conversations on Friday, started as a chat thread and included two short Skype calls and an exchange of documents for shared editing. That was a very efficient way to manage the time of two busy people.
  • Use ‘in-between’ time: Weaving tasks around each other can enable you to use in-between time effectively if there are short and long waits in your work. To avoid the productivity penalty of multi-tasking each activity needs to be a complete unit of work.  However, managed well you can get a lot done ‘inbetween’ tasks, meetings and interactions.  Walking to the office inspection, I made quick calls, sent messages and answered emails, advancing a range of projects and learning more for my other meetings and conversations.

Personal productivity is personal. Because we each have different preferences and styles of work, collaboration and interactions, each of us will work most effectively in a different way.  The challenge we each face is to keep challenging the accepted way of working, to use the tools available to us to their best advantage and to keep learning better and more productive ways of working.

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