Meeting Reminders Kill Time, Too

tl;dr: Use 5-minute meeting reminders unless people have more than a five minute walk/travel time to the meeting site.

The Problem

Copyright: neyro2008 / 123RF Stock Photo

Meeting reminders are just as much an impediment to productivity as meetings themselves are. Ok, fine, meetings aren’t always an impediment to productivity, but they do prevent attendees from accomplishing their own individual tasks, etc…

Anyway… back to meeting reminders. What happens when your Outlook pops up a reminder? One of several things happens:

  • You completely ignore the reminder.
  • You acknowledge the reminder but go back to what you were doing.
  • You dismiss the reminder, hoping that you’ll actually get another for this meeting you’re supposed to attend.
  • You fully acknowledge the reminder, attempt to go back to work until meeting time, but you focused on not missing the meeting.

As you can see, the only option that gives you a solid chance of making the meeting means that your focus cannot be on something else. Add to this the setup/teardown time involved in switching contexts from your normal tasks and being engaged in the meeting. (This assumes that you are only going to meetings that you actually engage in—I’m sure that’s not an issue for anyone, right?)

A Solution

All of this brings me back to the problem of the meeting reminder. Think of the meeting reminder as a part of the meeting as well. If you have a 15-minute and no one has to travel more than a few feet to attend (or just has to boot up GoToMeeting), then don’t make the reminder 15 minutes as well (or worse, AN HOUR before). A five-minute reminder should be enough for a 15-minute meeting. Realistically, five minutes should be adequate for anything that isn’t going to block out a significant portion of the day.

Actually, no… reserved reminder more than 5 minutes for abnormally early meeting start times. And make them end-of-day reminders for the previous day.

Workers Want Recognition!

I spent a long part of my career working for a company whose CEO was huge on the power of recognition. (He even has a new book out about it. And it’s true; you can’t get very far if you don’t give your workers the recognition for doing a good job. Unfortunately, for knowledge workers, being recognized for stepping up to the plate to hit a home run is the tip of the iceberg. Recognizing someone for doing a good job is nice, but isn’t the expectation that workers will do a good job? Why are you still paying workers if doing a good job isn’t an every day occurrence?

Ok, maybe you are recognizing people for doing a “good job” but a great job. You’re still on a hedonic treadmill here. If a “great job” is truly exceptional, then you aren’t rewarding your employees that often. When a “great job” is routine, then why aren’t you shifting your expectations and paying accordingly?

Spot rewards are nice, but can be demotivating

There is nothing like found money (or praise), but it generally is spent quickly. (Unless your spot rewards are allowing the employee to take a year off or retire, but that would seem to defeat the purpose.)

If you’re leaning on spot rewards, then you may be training your employees to set gradually lower expectations, then beat them for rewards. Oh, no raises this year? Well, I can always game the rewards system!

Invest in people

Make permanent commitments to the reward you’re giving by delivering a raise and higher expectations. This is excellent, and I would like to see this continue… in expectation of this continued performance, here’s a larger financial commitment from us.

Give your people whatever tools they need to perform at a higher level. Offer the training. Provide educational resources. Send them to conferences. Allocate time for them to develop themselves. If you can’t afford a 2-5% contribution to potentially improve an employee by 10%, then you may not have any idea what you’re doing with that employee. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the business of employing those people and should find someone else to hire them and pay that company for effective use of those resources.

Invest in capacity

Stop skirting by just barely making your commitments. If you don’t have excess capacity, the minute something goes wrong, you’re in trouble. The alternative is depending on heroics from your employees. Heroics are like firefighting: Yes, they put the fire out, but now everything is water-damaged, and your firefighters will get sloppy and exhausted if used too often.

Invest in figuring out what is reasonable to do

Yes, you are in competition with everyone else who wants to please your customers, but all those customers you’re gaining are going to bail if your people break down and can’t perform.


You cannot put a price tag on trust.

Trust your employees to:

  • appreciate the capability you’ve given them.
  • be capable of working wherever.
  • work whenever they need to.

If you don’t know what results you want or the value of those results, keeping employees in the office from 8 to 5 is an expensive way to hide that fact. If you can’t trust an employee to get things done, then it doesn’t matter where they’re working, they’re going to make a fool of you at some point, and it will probably take you longer to figure it out if your measure of productivity is whether they’re in the seat or not.

Risk vs Volatility

As Taleb mentions in Black Swan, there’s a difference between risk and volatility. Trusting your employees seems like a risk, but you’re really lowering volatility of bad experiences near term in exchange for systemic risk of trust issues. So are all these other investments in your employees. Not making the investments may be penny-wise, but they’re pound foolish.

Project Math, or How to Double Project Timeline

Project math really follows its own rules. You don’t get linear benefits from adding to the number of people on a project. Sometimes it seems like throwing four people at a project makes the project span 4 months, when a single person could have completed the work in a couple of weeks.

Yes, if you have one thousand letters to write, and each worker can write their own letters, this works. That sort of thing might linearly scale.

But on most projects, your communication lines are O(n^2) (actually, (n^2-n)/2)… 2 -> 1, 3 -> 3, 4 -> 6. If you’re not doing mostly independent pieces, you’re creating an unofficial management position for every 2-3 people you sign up. Realistically, 6 would be 15 units and 12 would be 66 units, so a mere doubling in time is really optimistic unless the 6 extra workers are making sure that project managers and customers don’t bug the workers actually building the car.

Worse still, usually, the extra 6 workers will need to be brought up to speed mid-project by the other 6 workers on top of introducing the extra ongoing communication complexity.

In other words, (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻

Why Isn’t “The Process” Followed?

“We have a ticketing process for all of these things. Anything you do needs to go through that.”

The assumption is that, by going through a proper ticketing process, every request will be funneled through some sort of prioritizing and that that will minimize disruption.

Imagined scenario–total support/development time, 30 minutes:

  • Person needing a change to something files a ticket.
  • Magical “prioritization” takes place.
  • Technical worker executes in perfect order from off the queue.

Real attempt at following the process, 2 days:

  • Person needing a change contacts a random technical person.
  • Some effort to redirect or funnel through ticketing process is made.
  • Urgency communicated.
  • Another manager included on email chain, all the while missing managers who also need to be involved.
  • Random forwarding of emails to managers who also need to be involved.
  • Restart of the story from the beginning.
  • Someone else is left out of the loop.
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • Something blows up in production and things have to be reset to where they were before.
  • Crisis averted.
  • Technical person tries to remember where they left off.
  • Technical person spends time reorienting to the original task.
  • .
  • .
  • Technical person takes care of what should have been a 30 minute task in the first place.


How Long Will This Simple Concept Take to Build?

How long does the business person asking for it think it will take? Double that.

Is there a model system that it is being compared to? Double your estimate again. Double your estimate again if it’s being compared to more than one system.

Is it the design going to undergo audits for standards or compliance? Add 50% for each.

Does Agile mean “work before requirements are figured out in a process that’s really Waterfall”? Add all the effort up until your last new specification to the end of the project timeline.

Is “concept” or “pilot” being used in the place of “live production product that will be expected to scale and configure from day 1”? Double your estimate again.

Congratulations! You now have a very conservative estimate for how much effort things will take.

RASMMAMSTCCHWE: Results And Some Mandatory Meetings And Make Sure To Cover Core Hours Work Environment

ROWE is awesome. We all believe in ROWE. All meetings are optional.

Except everyone has to attend the bi-monthly two hour update meeting.

But aside from that, ROWE is great. You can work anywhere.

Except that our online meeting software sucks, and this is an important meeting, so you really need to be on-site for it. (There are meetings for which we don’t care about the quality of the online meeting software? Why are we having those meetings?)

Other than that, you can work anywhere, at any time as long as the work gets done.

Except for core hours. You must work core hours.

Features in Microsoft Outlook that would do some *good*.

(Outlook client and Exchange server are lumped together here.)

“Reply to all” goggles.

Test Mail Goggles
Test Mail Goggles (Photo credit: tchuntfr)

GMail once offered “mail googles” in Google Labs that would require you to solve 5 basic arithmetic problems in a certain amount of time in order to send a late night email. You were able to preset the difficulty and hours that it was active.

In an Outlook version, the mail server administrator could set the difficulty and type of problems required and possibility a minimum threshold of participants before it was required, so that a team of 3 people could “Reply to All”, but someone couldn’t reply to everyone on an email about health benefits with a question about their preexisting condition without at least jumping through a few hoops first.

Automatic large image converter and scaler.

Does Outlook still by default embed images from Windows as .bmp files? Being able to email screenshots is nice, but 1024×768 bitmaps will quickly eat up a stingy mail quota. The more tech-savvy users can quickly figure out how to emails as a web page and images as a lighter weight image format, but the users sending you screenshots of something that “isn’t working” aren’t as likely to be Outlook power users.

Split large attachments in Calendar invites into a separate mail message.

How often do you receive party or big event invitations that have an embedded 8.5″x11″ bitmap file that was exported from a PowerPoint slide in which the invitation was drawn? Isn’t it lovely that *everyone’s calendars* by default have that 3+ MB file in their Calendar, and when you look in Outlook folders for the messages that are eating up your [ridiculously small] mail quota, you can’t find them because they’re in your calendar?

At the expense of adding duplicate emails to my inbox, I’d rather have the message with attachment split off as a separate email that I could send immediately to my trash than a Calendar invite that I have to modify to save space.

Out-of-office replies only to original sender on an email chain

Out-of-office replies only get sent one time to a sender, but nothing is more annoying than having to reply-to-all on an email chain, only to get blasted by “out-of-office” replies.

“Unsubscribe” for email chains.

Imagine that someone included you on a email about a topic because they thought you were a stakeholder, or maybe that people are replying to all on an email list that has wide distribution and are committing all sorts of faux pas as part of their replies. Wouldn’t it be nice to just be able to reply with “unsubscribe” like you could do with listserv and magically have the email replies stop appearing in your inbox?

“Me too” for email chains.

Seems like 80% of an email chain’s replies are saying the exact same thing that someone else said two replies ago. Wouldn’t it be nice if Outlook could figure out that those were “me too” replies and tally them up for the original sender like the poll functionality can do and leave everyone else’s email clean?

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Here’s an Email to Justify My Existence…

“Stay tuned for another email on this topic!”

Nuvola-like mail internet
Nuvola-like mail internet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you ever find yourself thinking, “Gee, I don’t get enough email these days.” Me neither. Yet, it seems as though any time someone wants you to pay attention to something that they’re doing, they send out not only emails telling you about it, but also emails notifying you about upcoming emails.

I tune into TV series if I want additional suspense in my life. How many of those do I actually watch? Approximately zero, unless I’m coerced by someone else into watching them.

Regardless, I don’t want extra emails in my inbox, especially if they’re emails notifying me of upcoming emails. At some point, you’re going to make me train my spam filter to throw away all emails. Oops. Too late.

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Requirements Confusion, the Last Refuge of a Developer Slacker

Imagine that you, as a developer, are at some stage of the project cycle in a large corporation in which you find yourself not “on time” with your planned “project deliverables.”

You find yourself in a project meeting, and everyone is giving their updates. Then, just like a freak snowstorm for a kid who didn’t study for a big test at school, key project stakeholders get into a heated discussion about a key project requirement.

All of a sudden, you are now able to justify, if only to yourself, that your inability to get to project milestones downstream from this contentious requirement was actually a saving grace of the project. You didn’t burn yourself out on a piece of the puzzle that was going to ultimately be made useless. YOU CAN GO OUT AND PLAY IN THE SNOW BECAUSE SCHOOL IS CANCELED!

But wait…  You still have that test you didn’t study for, or back in the real world, new project requirements that are to be made downstream from the updated requirements being discussed, and the ultimate release date still won’t budge.

Congratulations. You’ll now have to work 80 hours/week to make up for the major requirements shift. At least you didn’t waste any effort on the original requirements, right?