Your time at work isn’t really your own

This is a really good, albeit long, article from Wharton (UPenn) summarizing the different speakers they had at a recent event in SF, and how everyone basically talked about how relationships are central to business success. It’s a good and uplifting article and idea, but you do wonder about rubber meeting road with some of the speakers — like, for example, maybe they all returned to their offices and convened a bunch of pointless meetings about deliverables, didn’t respect their employees, etc, etc. It happens. You never really know if a person walks the walk and talks the talk after they come off the stage from their keynote, right?

Here’s a section that will probably resonate for a lot of people:

Another panelist, Karen White, president of financial technology firm Addepar and a former Oracle executive, agreed that while relationship-building was critical, it’s important to be mindful of the time you are spending on it. “Sometimes, people are perfectly comfortable with a short text rather than a full meeting,” she said. White also urged the audience to “not be a slave to email,” as doing so puts other people, and not you, in charge of your schedule.

I agree about 5,000 percent with that statement — e-mail is the dumbest fucking thing ever, and yet everyone secretly loves checking it. I wish more managers would do things via text or quick hallway check-ins and not call a meeting; if a meeting is slated for 1 hour, it almost assuredly goes the full hour.

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So, that statement got me thinking a little more. When you remove e-mails and meetings from the equation, by some measure a human being does only about 590 hours of actual work in a given year. Think about even those 590, though: you’re getting pinged by e-mails about other stuff, people are asking you for networking lunches, etc.

When you really sit down and think about it, how much of your time at work is actually your time to work on ideas and projects?

The first response to this is pretty obvious: it’s not supposed to be your time. It’s their time. And if “they” give you a check every couple of weeks, well, then you go to those meetings and answer those e-mails. That’s a logical perspective, and I agree with (to a certain extent) and understand it.

But if we’re serious about “purpose” as a future of work element — although admittedly it’s not clear if we really are — then we need to think about letting people have some time back which isn’t controlled by others.

Of course, this is something that should happen at a micro level — for example, if you get invited to a meeting and it’s clearly a Justification Index meeting and has no real work purpose (as many are), you should feel comfortable declining the invite. (Most people wouldn’t.) That’s time back to you and away from a mostly-pointless endeavor. This is a bit similar to the idea of thinking of yourself as a “personal gatekeeper.”

I just think it’s interesting that we spend a lot of time breathlessly analyzing engagement studies showing 13 percent engagement or whatever, and we try to apply logical ideas and principles back to them. We don’t even need all that. Just let people do their thing — and if they’re messing up, well, course-correct them. Don’t force them to justify everything with a meeting and series of e-mails. Just let them have some of their time back.

In honesty, treat them like adults.

My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and I’m a member of the BlogPoets network. My deal: I try to think differently about work, the future of work, leadership, management, marketing, organizational development, customer experience, and more. I’m out here trying to chase real professional connection and collaboration, not just 200K page views. Anyone want to talk? (I also do freelance and ghostwriting work, if anyone’s into that.)

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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