Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kicking the Email Habit

When I was reviewing my workload at the end of last year, I had to admit that I had been swamped (yet again) by emails. To make matters worse, it appeared that many of these emails were being generated internally rather than externally.

The problem was twofold:
  • email represented a never-ending avalanche of things to do
  • the messages disrupted our existing plans for the day
With my group we looked at various solutions, and discarded several as unworkable. For example, having fewer emails with multiple messages in each, more addresses, using other ways of communicating etc.

Then for a period of one month we experimented with a new approach: switching off all the email alerts and not looking at the inbox until noon.

You would not believe how difficult we found this at first.

We had all become so accustomed to starting the day with email, or at least dipping into the inbox out of curiosity. Giving up sugar is easier.

In the end, we persisted, even though we certainly under-estimated some of the issues involved. For example, there are occasions when we needed to go into the inbox, and just exercise some real discipline when in there.

What difference did it make? Within a month the results had been very positive:
  • a significant (and immediate) reduction in stress
  • a sense of control over our days; by getting something substantial done every morning, we feel we are again in charge of our workload
  • far from getting less done, we became more productive. Some of this was related to a sense of vitality and energy coming from the previous effects above
  • our development projects have really benefited: things that have been "good ideas" for months are actually getting done
  • we have become so-convinced of the benefits of this - despite the few hiccups that it has caused - that we are going to start a campaign to wean the world from the morning email addiction
Since then I have to admit that we have reverted to our bad habits, but most of us now block out significant chunks of time when we close email and get on with important projects.

You may have other ways of experimenting with email to make your life more productive. If you do, I would be interested in hearing them.

Crispin White
BIE Interim Executive Ltd
Business-changing Interim Expertise

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Be proud of yourself

The recent riots in London hit the headlines and of course, have been much debated. I live in Ealing, where on 8th August at 8pm the riots struck and our little town was the scene of major devastation – and very sadly a fatality in the process. I live 3 streets away from the centre and was determined to continue with my business – and it so happened that I had a meeting the next morning in the centre of town. As I took the short walk into town, it was apparent how quickly the streets had been cleared of debris and broken glass and how many local people had turned up to pitch in. Despite being boarded up, having suffered broken windows and looting (who wants to steal coffee and cups for goodness sakes?!), the coffee shop where my meeting was due to take place was open for business as usual. I was struck that morning with an overwhelming sense of pride for the resilience of the people in the town I have lived in for 20 years.

Pride is an interesting emotion – Aristotle considered it a virtue and yet in most world religions it is considered a sin, too focussed on the self. And it is such a strong emotion - I vividly remember the pride I felt at my son’s first sports day; my daughter’s solo recorder recital, my best friend’s battle with her chemotherapy and at the “standing room only” feel at my mother’s funeral.

The problem is that we can perceive personal pride as vanity and in so doing, not allow ourselves to savour the “unforgettable” nature of it. Without consciously doing so, we dilute the experience and therefore remember it in a very different way.

In the leadership workshops we run at Extensor, we ask participants to consider their “personal best” experience – to think of a time when they took some action or went through a thought process that they knew they performed fantastically well in. They are invited to recall what they did, how they felt, the responses they had, the results that came about. Stories we hear are always inspiring and come from the heart. They come from very different places – from someone running her first 5k race, to another being totally sure of his integrity through a difficult change programme, to a gentleman campaigning to keep his local park open, to a lady who talked of her open behaviour through her divorce. The common theme across all of these stories is the pride exuded by each story-teller. And many are surprised they have been able to articulate it, having not spoken about it in those terms before – as we so often suppress our personal pride for fear of being perceived as arrogant or vain.

So let’s have a proud time this month. List for yourself the times when you were at your absolute best and think about what you did and how you felt. In so doing, you create the opportunity to do it again and recreate that feeling. Most importantly, when you are proud of yourself, you need to “wear it”, to project it and talk about it. You will then be open to new situations when you can again have that feeling of pride.

As Lady Gaga says in the explanation about her song “Born This Way” – it is about being yourself, loving who you are – and being proud.