For the time pressured, the title of this post is the conclusion. Read on to find out why.
Hmmm – a year (almost) since the last blog entry. Are blog entries important? Yes, in the sense that they help me reflect and plan. Yes also in the hope that they are at least some times useful to at least some people.
The problem is that blogs – along with reflection, reading, planning and scholarship activities – are important but not urgent; what Covey (and others) would call ‘Quadrant 2’ activities. And much of the last year has been spent in Quadrant 1 – the urgent and important. Firefighting.
The year of a Teaching Fellow is rather ‘spiky’ – which means it’s important to use the slightly less hectic time or strategic thinking and planning. Over the last couple of months I have caught up with quite a lot of reading, including the seminal ‘7 Habits‘ – which is appears to have continued relevance. I don’t subscribe to all the thinking – I am not about to craft a ‘family mission statement’ any time soon- but many of the principles outlined have considerable resonance. I offer one nugget as an example [btw I listened to this using a popular ebook reading app …] :
“Have you ever tried to be efficient with your spouse [or child, or team member] on a tough issue?”
“How did it go?”
(I laughed out loud)
Covey goes on to say:
“You can’t deal with people as if you’re dealing with things. You can be efficient with things, but you need to be effective with people”
Anyway, back to the point, Covey goes on to say we should try to spend more time in Quadrant 2. The important but not urgent. The quadrant that stops quadrant 1 overwhelming us tomorrow. The quadrant that builds effectiveness.
So how do we do this? Obviously we can’t stop quadrant 1 activities – these are the emergencies and crises that demand our immediate attention. So what about quadrant 3 – the urgent but not important? (not to mention quadrant 4 – timewasting or displacement activities).
email is quadrant 3
I know, I know, we’ve heard this all before, yada yada. After all, 7 Habits is an old book (and Covey now deceased) – but the principle is still relevant – and largely ignored!
And it gets worse. Passing a 2nd hand bookstore I picked up a copy of James Noon’s “A time”. Have a look at this quote:
“.. the sixth [!] form of procrastination is the priority inverter. It is typified by putting low priority work in front of high priority work. Very often this happens at the beginning of the day when a manager erroneously decides to ‘get rid of’ the minor tasks so he [sic] can concentrate on the ‘big’ tasks of the day. However the low priority tasks take more time than expected, other minor tasks enter the day and the high priority work is eventually started in the afternoon…”
Doesn’t it sound like he is talking about email?
And yet this book was written in the 1980s, long before emails became commonplace (and apparently before female managers, but we’ll let that pass).
Noon’s notion of ‘A time’ is protected time to do high priority work – usually in the morning, when energy levels are high, directly after daily planning.
So – an old principle, still valid. Will it work? I tried to implement a simple rule
No email in the morning
I learnt quite a few other things from these books, but this one principle will do for now. And I have been putting it into practice. In fact often I don’t turn to email until my train journey back hone. It’s surprisingly difficult to ignore that welcoming signal from the inbox – there are always emails waiting for you to keep you active, if not productive.
So what is the result? Does it work?
Firstly 2 caveats. You have to tell people you are doing this! (I also embedded it into my email signature). Otherwise people still think of email as instant messaging.
A second caveat. Give people an alternate route to contact you in the case of a crisis. I would suggest the phone! Or face to face. Email was never the right tool for that job anyway.
Now to the results. As an agile enthusiast, I track my weekly progress using a burndown chart as shown
You can see that of the hours available in a week (once meetings and teaching are subtracted), I typically use about a third for high priority pre planned work (the rest for stuff that turns up in the week, or low priority, or unplanned faffage).
Now after implementing the ‘no email in the morning’ rule I can achieve a ‘velocity’ of over 50%
In addition, I have shifted the balance of my work more to ‘important’ jobs (though I don’t have the data to prove that, it’s more of a feeling).
Of course, the firehouse of activities for 2014-15 has not yet started (hence I have the time to write this blog!). But I am hopeful that this will be a useful practice.
So – why not give it a try and see if it works for you?
No email in the morning