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Email and Meetings: They Aren’t Work

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Employee productivity. We all want it. But when we spend so much time doing email and going to meetings, is it possible to be a productive employee? One article presents a curious analysis.

If anybody should be talking about using your professional time appropriately, it’s the folks at LinkedIn. Their post, Email and Meetings Aren’t Work, opens as follows:

Email and most meetings aren’t work. We all know this to be true. But huge swaths of our days are allocated to meetings and answering email. It’s impossible to accomplish much aside from information dissemination.

A close friend, who like me is a productivity nut, asked me a question that made this point clearly:

What fraction of your day is spent in meetings you asked for compared to meetings that were asked of you?

I didn’t know the answer but I calculated it. I was disheartened by the result. Over the past three weeks, my ratio is 6 to 4. For every 6 minutes I spend in a meeting I arranged, I spent 4 in a meeting I was invited to.


© Flickr user kismihok

The author goes on to explain that he assumes “meetings I request are more productive than meetings I’m invited to”, so a small shift in the ratio will have a big impact on productivity.

But is the person who called the meeting really the one who is most productive? As any employee knows, pretty much every meeting is a sinkhole of productivity. And the same goes for email as well: how many times do you write email messages that are a waste of time? As one of our colleagues recently noted:

Why yes, I’d love to take a half hour of my day to have a call with you to reiterate exactly what I said in my email I sent to you.

The author of the post does make a really good point, however:

Email and meetings consume big chunks of time. And though it’s easy to convince ourselves they’re productive, they aren’t.

That’s typically true. Unless the meeting is use to make a decision. Or brainstorm a new idea. Or help drive the conversation forward.

And email is unproductive, unless it’s used to confirm an action, delegate work, or otherwise create the pathway for progress.

What is and is not work is not a question of the vehicle. It’s how you use it. You can make any part of your workday unproductive. But if you’re focused on results, you can make things happen in meetings, in email—or anywhere.

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