I've really done it this time ...

The other day an associate, with the very best of intentions, sent me an article on how executives can free themselves from the tyranny of email (ironic, isn't it?) by having 15 email-free minutes for planning and prioritisation at the start of the day.

I’m thinking of changing my name to Job …

There I was, tearing up the right wing after the puck into the offensive zone, went for the big, ice-spraying stop in the corner — so I could scope out what the defencemen were doing before I decided whether to pass across to the centre or skate the puck around behind the net — but I got my weight all wrong, caught an outside edge on the ice (the Zamboni wasn’t cutting the ice properly and it was really, really rough) and rolled my right ankle.

I just thought I’d twisted it but an x-ray the next day told a different story. A couple of days and a night in Middlemore and I now have a bunch of metal work in my ankle, the pleasure of six weeks in a cast and the dawning realisation that my playing season is over.

Still, it’s not all bad and I’m not feeling at all sorry for myself … it’s just the unfortunate byproduct of a full and active lifestyle. I’d rather suffer the odd bit of damage than die of heart disease or deep vein thrombosis or, even worse, boredom.

More from the “seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time” files …

Apart from spam, the other thing email is really good for is stupid advice. The other day an associate, with the very best of intentions, sent me an article on how executives can free themselves from the tyranny of email (ironic, isn’t it?) by having 15 email-free minutes for planning and prioritisation at the start of the day. One particular bandwagon-jumping (US dot-com) CEO had though this was such a sterling idea he’d bought all his staff whiteboards — for their planning — and prohibited them from opening Outlook for the first 15 minutes each morning.

On the face of it, this all seems to make fundamentally good sense.

After all, email can be a distraction and it’s all too easy to get bound up in it without actually doing your job. What with spam, some co-workers’ pathological need to exert their own self-importance by CC-ing the entire company on everything they send and, of course, the jokes and personal banter, email can take up a lot of time. Using it effectively is something that a lot of people seem to struggle with.

Yes, spending the first 15 minutes of your day planning and prioritising is critical. Yes, not getting bound up in other peoples’ problems and priorities (especially the morons that CC them to all and sundry) is important, as is treating email as a tool and not the job itself, but banning Outlook from the beginning of the working day is just plain silly.

Blaming email for the fact that half the workforce can’t/won’t/don’t organise themselves effectively — and that their managers can’t/won’t/don’t manage them effectively — is naïve. It’d be like a builder blaming his hammer because he can’t drive a nail in straight.

Why not ban bathroom visits, fetching drinks, wandering around the office with a fistful of mail or any one of the squillion other things that people do to defer the inevitable first thing in the morning or waste time during the day? Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never found setting stupid rules and treating people like infants to be an effective management technique.

The other side of this is that I personally do all of my planning and prioritisation in Outlook. All my appointments are in there, my to-do list is in there and most of my appointments and to-do’s are booked, delegated or otherwise communicated and dealt with using email. Often the shape of my day depends entirely on the contents of my inbox first thing in the morning.

You might as well tell me not to breathe for the first 15 minutes of the day.

Swanson is IT manager at W Stevenson & Sons in South Auckland. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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