Instant interruption

I once had a manager who apologized if he didn’t respond to an instant message within 15 minutes.

While this might seem polite and courteous, it indicated that the manager thought of a 15-minute response to an instant message to be too slow. As his team, we proceeded to respond to his messages the moment they arrived.

Focused work requires long periods of no interruption – periods that are incompatible with responding to every instant message within 15 minutes. The expectation that instant messages need to receive an instant reply destroys the focus necessary for deep work.

Perhaps we need to stop calling it ‘instant messaging’.

When are we done?

Projects fail when we fail to define when they are done.

A pot of dal is finished the moment we garnish it with chopped coriander. But projects defined as ‘organize home’, ‘eat healthy’, or ‘workout more’, have no clear finish. When there is no clear finish, why bother starting?

Even habits can have finish lines in clearly defined routines. A routine to meditate for 10 minutes daily, or write and publish a daily blogpost have no finish dates. But they have finished definitions.

We move forward when we finish things – not when we start them.

Counter-intuitive productivity

I saw this wonderful internet post that draws an important distinction, when applied to building software.

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Most teams I have worked with are on the left hand side. Yet, excellence sits squarely on the right hand side.

Fast is different in the short-term and the long-term. In the short-term, the left side is faster, and therefore, it is tempting. In the long-term, ‘doing it right’ always outperforms ‘quick and dirty’.

The cost of something’s absence

A good video conferencing setup – one that includes a projector, a mic and a camera, probably costs upwards of €5000.

At a first glance, this cost might just seem too high. Why invest in so much equipment when your employees can manage with their laptop cameras and microphones? Those laptops aren’t cheap either.

Yet, let us assume that a team of 10 people use the conferencing setup to enable hybrid work. Thanks to the setup, the team is, on average, 1% more productive. Of course, 1% is a conservative estimate here. If each of those employees are paid an average salary of €50,000, their economic output is likely to be at least €60,000 per head. 1% of that output for a team of 10 is €6000 per year.

In effect, the conferencing setup, when effectively used, pays for itself within a span of 1 year.

Things are ‘costly’ only in a certain context. A full-fleged conferencing setup for use by 1 person at home is probably costly. Yet, that same setup for a team of 10, turns into an investment.

The presence of a good video conferencing setup costs about €5000. The absence of a good video conferencing setup costs the team at least €6000 in lost productivity.

Which choice is costlier?

To work hard

Who is a hard worker?

Is it somebody who ‘puts in the hours’, or ‘burns the midnight oil’?

Is it that person who has worked themselves into exhaustion, but continues working? Is it that person who fights sleep, and yet, continues to plod away? Is it that person who struggles to stay focused, but make decisions anyway? Is it that person who is too tired to detect their own mistakes?

Or instead, is a hard worker that person who is well rested and refreshed? Is it they who can sustain their focus for a long period and then make a well considered decision?

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, ‘Those who work much do not work hard’. Alas, our culture has long confused busy work with hard work.