The common wisdom behind open office plans and co-working spaces is that doing away with private offices enables collaboration and communication through proximity. However, one unintended consequence of this radical change in office layouts has been the radical increase in the amount of time executives now spend in meetings: 23 hours a week versus 10 hours a week 50 years ago. For a full-on attack on meetings see the HBR article Stop the Meeting Madness.
According to the Inc. article Mark Cuban’s Best Productivity Hack Is Seriously Beyond Brilliant:
Rather than driving innovation, though, much of this collaboration is simply wasted time. Recent research from Bain and Company found that companies in the U.S. waste $37 billion each year on unnecessary and unproductive meetings, a number that’s been increasing steadily for the past decade.
But meetings aren’t the only productivity killer that Mr. Cuban has managed to avoid. Conventional wisdom has it that we should always remain connected, thus subject to untold phone calls, notifications, text messages, and other interruptions from our smartphones or laptops. According to Inc.’s article, it takes the average worker 23 minutes to recover from these distractions.
The real problem with both real time collaboration and communications is that they can both force you to adapt your schedule to someone else’s needs, often sapping your focus and concentration.
According to a recent interview with Mark Cuban there are “no meetings or phone calls unless I’m picking up a check. Everything is email.” The big advantage of email over face to face meetings, texts, chats, video conferences, social media, etc. is that email is asynchronous. You – the recipient – decide if and when to reply to the email. This is why I personally prefer email over synchronous communications channels, despite the fact that unlike Mark Cuban, I’m not “picking up a check. By relying on email I’m in charge of my schedule. My one exception to this is using MIT Venture Mentoring Systems scheduling software, Qipo, which is an excellent platform for coordinating schedules amongst founders and mentors for face to face meetings.
You may be protesting that you are neither a billionaire nor a retired entrepreneur who spends his time writing blog posts and mentoring founders. But as I frequently tell my founders, “You are the company’s biggest asset. How you manage your time is going to make the difference between your venture’s success and failure.” By minimizing meetings and real time communications you can get control of your schedule and allocate your most valuable resource – time – for maximum return: building your product and selling it. That’s a concept I call ROTI – Return On Time Invested. There are two exceptions to the email rule: face to face meetings with customers and investors. F2F is the highest bandwidth communication channel, so make sure you use it for meetings with the highest potential return.
One final note, the author of the Inc. article about Mark Cuban, Geoffrey James, concludes his article by writing “Indeed, I personally have run my business almost exclusively through email for the past 20 years.”