Last week I suggested that email has its limits: That is, there are tasks for which it is unsuited. But it appears that in some work environments, email has *no* limits: That is, it Just Never Stops.
In the most striking of the studies he cites, researchers found that the average worker had a total of 75 minutes every day that didn’t include a check-in on email or instant messaging—not 75 minutes in a row, just 75 minutes of total uninterrupted work, sprinkled throughout the day. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if humans were good at multitasking. But, as Newport lays out in the beginning of his book, we aren’t.
– Email broke the office. Here’s how to fix it.
If this describes your proposal work environment, it’s time to consider how to manage it.
It makes sense that, as a computer scientist, he believes stopping that flood is a matter of optimization. Better systems will lead to better results. But that might underestimate the complicating factor in all of this—one that Merlin Mann, the inventor of Inbox Zero, touched on back in 2016, after he’d given up on the very system he created.
“Email is not a technical problem,” he said. “It’s a people problem. And you can’t fix people.”
No, we can’t fix people. But proposals-in-a-congregate-setting — you know, in the Before Time — used techniques to manage/communicate and that also limited the need for emails:
- Daily 15-minute stand-ups
- Scheduled meetings of technical experts
- A big honking Kanban board that pushed all kinds of information: schedules, section status, writing themes, questions for discussion
And you know what? There are online versions of all of these:
- Daily Zoom, Blue Jean, or Microsoft Teams calls for daily stand-ups
- Scheduled Zoom/Blue Jean/Teams meetings of technical experts or the entire proposal team – what the boss of my current gig calls a group hug
- A big honking Mural where people can post questions for discussion
Dispersed proposals often have to contend with time-zone differences, too, and for sure that makes things harder. But it’s mostly a matter of thinking to do it. The making-it-so part is relatively straightforward.
Almost anything that cuts the email clutter is worthwhile: That, and fostering better email habits.
We can’t fix people or proposals but we can try to make it better. Or, at least, try to keep it from getting any worse.