We’re an odd bunch, and we’re passionate about weird things.
Another one of our passions is the uber-geek concept of Inbox Zero. Basically, Inbox Zero is a communication paradigm to help manage an overwhelming email inbox. The concepts of Inbox Zero are similar to those espoused in Rework, the best (and shortest) business book of the decade.
The concepts are designed to cut through the clutter to “find the time and attention to do your best creative work.”
Many of my co-workers have implemented the practice, but in very different ways. Our CTO literally has zero messages in his inbox. He reads, prioritizes, and organizes every single inbound message. He’s one of the best virtual communicators I’ve ever witnessed. Despite reading everything, he’s fast and efficient.
A CTO must dot every “i” and cross every “t.” Likewise, our customer satisfaction representatives absolutely must answer every customer inquiry. They have some pretty amazing techniques to do it quickly and efficiently. A startup CEO, on the other hand, is pulled a million different directions and must prioritize his day. The prioritization of an endless, overwhelming task list is my biggest challenge.
A CTO absolutely must read everything that crosses his desk. A CEO does not. The job requirements are radically different, so I utilize a much different system. I’m even more efficient than Jim… this efficiency comes at the expense of occasionally missing an important message.
While our CTO and CSRs strive for zero unread email messages, I have 12,986 unread, non-spam messages. I’d venture to say that at least 12,980 of them are unimportant. Among other things, I use Gmail’s Priority Inbox Feature to separate the signal from the noise. And it works extremely well.
Fred Wilson spoke about Email Pain this morning. Reading his post, it appears he has a similar system to mine. It’s unfortunate, but it’s necessary. If I don’t respond to your email, I apologize. Send another one… I’ll see it, I promise.
In addition to this method, I’ve used some other pretty extreme measures to ensure that my workflow is not interrupted. Non-vital communication kills the productivity of a workforce.
As another example, I flat out refuse to answer my phone during the day (unless it’s my wife.) My voicemail message says, “I don’t check this voicemail and never answer my phone. Email me.” In fact, I leave my voicemail full so morons who somehow misinterpret the message can’t even leave a voicemail.
Unless one of my children is hurt, or a server is crashing on Black Friday, please don’t interrupt me while I’m working. Send me an email so I can communicate with you when I’m in communication mode. Better yet, if you do need me instantly, send me an instant message or a text message. It’s much less intrusive to my workflow.
The last thing a worker needs is a 20-minute phone conversation to answer a 30-second question.
Don’t get me wrong. I love conversation… just not while I’m working.
Unnecessary meetings are another time killer. People just don’t realize how expensive (and intrusive) meetings are. Next time you sit down for a meeting, crack this meeting cost ticker open. It will cut the meeting in half.
Effective communication is vital, but it doesn’t need to take the form of a two-hour weekly staff meeting.
As another extreme solution, I’ve resorted to leaving my office at 2:00 every day. I go to a corner of the Barnes and Noble cafe to work. It’s my work cocoon. It’s how I escape. Nobody can bother me while I’m there. Some days I sit there for several hours. Some days, I return to the office after 30 minutes. It’s by far the most productive part of my day.
I do a similar thing in the morning. I wake up early, usually before my kids, and work from home. I only go to my office when I’ve completed the vast majority of my work for the day. Some days that’s 8:00, some days it’s 10:30.
Yes, I flat out disappear for up to half of the work day.
(John James, M.D., is a physician turned serial Internet entrepreneur. His latest venture is Acumen Holdings, a rapidly growing ecommerce company based in Fayetteville. Each week, his DoctorPreneur blog will appear in INOV8. Buying overalls or coveralls from his workwear store will help him keep the virtual lights on.)