Length of Interruption is not Proportional to Amount of Disruption

This topic has been covered here before: Just because something requires very little time on its own does not mean it disrupts less. Any activity that takes “only a small amount of time” is likely to be accompanied by many other ones that carry the same justification for their existence.

Justifying that something should be done because it takes an insignificant amount of time is the same as saying that a 0.02% increase in your property tax should not concern you. The individual amount may be insignificant, but after years of property tax increases, you may end up with 1 or 2% extra in taxes.  More importantly, every additional request will carry the extra guilt trip of having accepted increases before and may embolden further, possibly larger requests.

Cognitive disruption

Deep thought tasks require deep concentration–see Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.  You can’t do deep analysis or intense tasks if you have 30 minutes between meetings.

Meetings are only one such offender.  Logging your time by work code and customer, and filling out three pages of forms upon beginning or ending a task are other such offenders.  Let’s say that you were reading an unabridged copy (1488 pages) of Les Misérables (Signet Classics), and every 10th page, read a page of A Tale of Two Cities (free Kindle Edition). You’re going to get the details of the characters confused because the settings are so similar.

This example may seem extreme, but in reality, is this not what all of this extra tasks are doing? You record time about a project. You send an email about a project. You open some form and fill out information about the project. At some point you may actually do work on the project. At this point, you’re going to have to start a spreadsheet to keep track of your tasks and what necessary steps you’ve done as part of completing a task. Fortunately, you can at least create some sort of calculated field to turn the task green, yellow, or red, based on whether the task is complete, partially complete, or not started. That should save you the mental energy of determining whether a task is actually complete–so at least you have that going for you.

Be Sure That Customer Service Doesn’t Cause the Process to Suffer

Look, I know you want to be helpful and productive.  It’s just that we have a process here.

We can’t have you helping customers out if it comes at the expense of the “5-step process to Serve the Customer Better.”

The customer can wait.

Also, make sure to ask the customer who to bill your time to so that we can make sure that you get paid.

Be sure to get the proper accounting id and record your billing as the proper work type code number.


Meeting Personalities

  • Off-mute chewer – Chews on (lunch?) audibly into the microphone.
  • Absent-minded mute button user – Starts responding with the mute button on for about a minute or more before realizing that no one is hearing the response.
  • Mute button blamer – Wasn’t paying attention.  Had to have name called several times.  Blames mute button for not having a clue what’s going on.  See also:  How the Mute Button on Your Phone Actually Works
  • Clock Watcher – Spends more time checking watch that actually participating in meeting.
  • Filibusterer – Single handedly talks the meeting into oblivion.  Not to be confused with the derailer or rambler.
  • Derailer – Somehow manages to bring up tangential topics that get everyone completely off topic for the next 15 minutes.
  • Rambler – Responds to any question with a barely intelligible introspection on the topic.  Responses to follow-up questions for clarification grow at an exponential rate.
  • Hedger – Treats every remote possibility as likely and stays non-commital unless you accept the exceptions noted.
  • Side Conversation Starter – Either completely oblivious or too rude to care that another meeting is going on.
  • Overhead speaker – Not an actual attendee or person, but an object which causes an echo in speakerphones and disrupts the meeting until it becomes silent again.
  • Tattle-tale – At the first of not getting his or her way, threatens to go tell a more powerful person to whom the tattler is connected.
  • Foot propper – The meeting is a lounge to this person:  Feet are propped up on the table and behaves generally too relaxed to actually be engaged in the meeting.
  • Multitasker – Furiously typing on the keyboard, but obviously not to take notes on the meeting.  Don’t bother asking this person questions unless you want to rehash the entire meeting.
  • Referee – “Sees the merits of both sides” of an intense debate.  Tries to make everybody play nice, regardless of their agendas.
  • Idea killer – Always has a negative scenario for any proposal.  Never has an idea himself.
  • Yes man – Would say no pants Friday at the office was a good idea, provided the right person proposed it.
  • Interrupter – Jumps in mid-details and often freaks out about half the story or asks questions whose answers were already on their way.
  • Belittler – Often pulls rank or “experience” to shut other people off.
  • Saboteur – Is either annoyed at the assignment or annoyed at not getting the project lead, but plays nice during the meeting, silently plotting the slow death of the project.  Can also accomplish goals as an inciter.
  • Inciter – May jump communication chains to create the illusion of one person hiding information from another.

MS Project: be aware

I am sure that Microsoft had great intentions when inventing MS Project – the application which automates all sorts of Project Management tasks.  Project management is tough. If we could automate the process of tracking and reporting the thousands of little details, we could surely enable the PM to be more successful in managing complex projects. Right?

Let me change subjects completely in paragraph 2. How many sci-fi movies have been based on the machines of automation becoming “aware” of the imperfect world around them? And suddenly, the machine turns its attention to elimination rather than automation? Elimination of all imperfection, including the imperfect people who created it.  A plot line we all enjoy at the sci-fi theater.

Now I will bring those first 2 paragraphs together. When I see how MS Project is being used in many organizations today, I wonder if the machine is becoming aware. I wonder if the tool – with a little help from a new breed of PM – is turning from automation to elimination in favor of perfection. (Say what?) Let me elaborate.

I have observed workers forced to estimate how long their tasks will take before completing sufficient analysis – because MS Project needs the estimates. Then I have witnessed those workers publicly called out later – because MS Project shows they have spent 110% of their poorly estimated task time and still aren’t finished. I have also seen programmers scolded for padding their estimates – because MS Project says that they completed their tasks 20% ahead. And finally, I have seen team leaders rebuked for shuffling their resources and tasks – because MS Project was not updated and allowed to calculate a shiny new driving path.

Now consider that many PMP types today are called on to manage complex work which they would have no idea how to complete themselves – but boy do they know how to keep MS Project happy! Are you connecting the dots yet??

Yes, my fellow grumpy coworkers, MS Project has become aware. It is raising an army of PM’s to do its bidding! Productive work by those who know how to work is being methodically eliminated – by the mindless machine and its desire to achieve perfection in project management. Be aware.

What is this “merit increase” thing?

Have you worked in a job at a time when people with your skill set was so in demand that people would throw you bags of money?  Did you notice that, come raise time, the barely competent among your peers received increases nearly twice the rate of inflation? At the same time, the superstars would receive about 1-2% more.

Meanwhile, in less exuberant times, the superstars have to claw and scratch to keep pace with inflation.

Sometimes, these pay raises are termed “merit increases”.  Many times, they’re not even cost-of-living adjustments.  In any case, if money was to be a motivating factor and effort required a demotivating factor, the employee who is doing barely enough to earn a “merit increase” is coming out ahead.

If money isn’t supposed to be motivating, what’s the point of expending the effort to determine who should get what increase?  Just give a flat percentage or amount increase.  After all, all these calculations for who gets what result in a very small difference between employees, and can easily be seen by your superstars as a slight against them any way.

Back to the “merit increase” terminology.  Can we just can call it a “random crap shoot budget allocation” increase, or maybe if you work for a less coddling organization, a “you’re lucky you have a job” increase?

How the mute button on your phone actually works.

I guess I had made some incorrect assumptions about the function of the “mute” button on my phone.

I’ve always assumed that when properly activated, the mute button prevents other people from hearing things that are on my end of the line, and not like how the TV mute button works, which prevents me from hearing things from coming through the phone.

After comparing notes with several other people, I’ve determined that, at least for conference calls, the mute button works quite differently.  While the mute button is activated, not only can people not hear their names being mentioned during a call, but they apparently hear very little of what’s actually going on during the conference call.  Only after being prodded by several alternative methods can a person whose phone was on mute actually realize that the rest of the participants on the call are waiting for feedback.  More importantly, the last 5-10 minutes of the meeting have to repeated for the benefit of the person on mute.

A side effect of the mute button is the rendering of the feedback provided by the person who was on mute completely useless.  The best remedy for such feedback is a verbatim quoting of the feedback in a mass email to all participants of the call.  At this point, one of two outcomes will take place:  Either there will be a complete retraction of the erroneous feedback or there will be a written record of commitment to the feedback provided.

Hope this helps.

No, I will not join your downline.

I’m not even sure these nutritional “supplements” are non-lethal, much less effective.  How do I know that these vitamins, or whatever they are, aren’t going to show up in a drug test later?

I also have to ask:  What kind of compensation structure is involved that makes this multi-level marketing network marketing of nutritional supplements worth the time and energy you spend on it?

Am I the only coworker you’ve tried to recruit for this?  If so, I must apologize for wearing my “sucker” outfit today.  All my other clothes were dirty, and I’m behind on my laundry.

On the other hand, if I’m not the only coworker you’ve tried to recruit for this “opportunity”, how much work time are you spending recruiting?  Have you tried spending the same amount of time reading a book that might improve your performance?  Even if you get nothing out of the book, you’ll no longer be known as the “guy who tries to recruit people for every money making opportunity he finds.”  You might accidentally make more money from the lack of negative image drag.

Honestly, if you were intentionally hired to do the job that you’re paid for, chances are fairly good that you’ll get a higher return on your invested time there than if you spend it trying to sell a product that you virtually nothing about.

A 15 minute meeting is more disruptive than a 3 hour one.

A possible fictionalization of the history of meetings:

A long time ago, possibly before the invention of electronic calendars, meetings were scheduled in one-hour blocks.

Then, someone noticed that the electronic calendar could schedule meetings for 30 minutes, and so, half-hour meetings were born.

Finally, someone really, really, smart realized that you could schedule meetings that went from 1:03 pm to 1:34 pm…

Fortunately, no one else’s brain worked that way, so a happy medium of 15 minute increments for meetings was agreed upon.

The Lilliputian Meeting Tyranny

While the Brobdingnagian 3 and 4 hour meeting still strikes far more fear in the heart of productivity, the truth is that the ominous giants rarely have openings in the schedule walls that they can fit through.  Aside from brute force ramming into everyone’s schedules, the giants stay isolated in the wilderness.

The real danger lies with the 15 minute meetings.  These Lilliputian meetings are not a threat because 160 15-minutes status meetings can squeeze into an open 40 hour schedule.  *shudder* They are a threat because  20 15-minute status meetings can fit into your lunch hour in a week, with none of them causing enough of a threat to be individually defended against.  Even worse, 40 more 15-minute meetings can be scheduled in the small bits of daylight in your schedule.

Of course, the 15-minute meeting is too small to actually say “no” to.  It’s like making someone return their lunch because they’re 2 cents short of $2.89: What kind of person are you to make someone do that?  Are you that greedy with your time that you can’t spare 15 minutes?

So, what do we accomplish in these meetings?

The 15-Minute Meeting Agenda

  • 5 minutes travel time/dial-in time/waiting for people to realize their clock is out-of-sync
  • 5 minutes of greetings
  • 2 minutes of status
  • 3 minutes of disconnect beeps or leaving early for a restroom break

Inspired yet?

ROWE, ROWE, ROWE your boat.

I’ve heard a lot of buzz about Results Only Work Environments [ROWE], particularly from the book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Amazon link).

I was curious about finding a naysayer and found Why I Don’t Like Rowe | Renegade HR.  The article points out ethics, some worker’s need for structure, and communication/morale/culture challenges of working remotely.

I thought of an even bigger challenges–loosely related to structure:

  1. Often, there isn’t much agreement on what results are.  Driven employees will hit home runs that management won’t even understand.
  2. It’s so much more convenient to clock watch employees 8 to 5.
  3. Those same clock watchers would rather judge productivity by seeing that more than 40 hours in a week are logged by everyone than try to figure out if more than 1 hour per week of actual work was done.
  4. How the heck can you have a 3 hour, 120 person meeting if not everyone is working 8 to 5?

Meeting double-tax

Everyone’s favorite meeting is the meeting to prepare for a meeting. It’s like a double tax on your already overtaxed time.

When our work is behind schedule, and someone calls a meeting to discuss creative ways to get back on track, why does our team need a meeting to prepare for that meeting?  Because it’s not about creative solutions, that’s why.  It’s about agreeing on who we can blame for sucking worse than we do.

And when the project is done and the project manager schedules a “Lessons Learned” meeting, why does our team need a meeting to prepare for that?  You guessed it … it’s not about the lessons learned.  It’s about being prepared to deflect all criticism and prove that everyone else on the project sucked worse than we did. Thanks, but I’d rather have my time back, so I can do more and suck less!

Here’s the point:  meetings to prepare for meetings always contribute to the suckiness of the workplace. Without them, people would have more time to do real work, and could actually have real discussions in the real meetings.  So please, stop double taxing my time.
Hmmm… reminds me of the Types of Meetings.