E-mail existed, but wasn’t widespread, so if something was urgent it usually meant either picking up the phone or sending a fax. In fact, if it was really urgent it might mean sending a fax and then picking up the phone to make sure the message had got through and was legible. I’m aware as I write this that this makes me sound about 100 years old….
This sounds so archaic now and we have so many great ways of communicating and collaborating, I can’t remember the last time I used a fax machine. However, one thing I do miss about that period is having time to reflect. Perhaps it’s just me reminiscing and looking back with rose-tinted spectacles, but communication seemed more purposeful back then. Because it was time-consuming, and it took effort and time to send, it was completely fine to pause and think. After all, if you’re sending something in the mail, it really doesn’t matter whether it leaves your desk at 9am or 4pm if the mail isn’t collected until 5pm… Whilst I wouldn’t want to replicate the inefficiencies of that bygone era, I wonder whether injecting some tactical speed-bumps into our working lives might be a good thing. This is particularly important for us as BA practitioners, as so much of what we do relies on us thinking—we synthesize ideas from different sources and help understand issues and possible solutions. If we have no time to think, this becomes really difficult...
Velocity of Communication
Fast forward to the present day and we’re barraged with communication on a whole range of different channels. The sheer velocity in which we can communicate with colleagues over the other side of the globe is amazing. Yet the relative ease with which we can communicate tends to increase the volume of communication. That in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can lead to a somewhat reactionary approach where we are continually reacting to incoming communication. It can very easily start to feel like our entire day is either spent in meetings or responding to all the communications that have accumulated between the meetings… which begs the question when does the other stuff get done?
Perhaps it’s an unpopular view, but this is an area where I think tactical speed-bumps can be extremely useful. When we get stuck in reactive mode we are having our agenda dictated by others. We’re responding to questions that other folks have sent us; which may or may not be ‘urgent’. We’re like a ship without a sail, responding to each wave of communication as it occurs, and even worse we’ve probably all found ourselves firing off a ‘quick reply’ that actually causes more confusion rather than clarity.… is that really the way we want to live our professional lives?
Speed-Bumps for Creativity
Think about some of the best work that you’ve done as an analyst, the most creative work that has really got results. I’d anticipate that you needed lots of thinking time to make that happen. Perhaps you took the results of a workshop and synthesized it into a model that everyone could understand and buy into. Or perhaps you managed to find a creative approach to get agreement on a particularly thorny issue. With the velocity and volume of communications we receive, achieving uninterrupted thinking time take conscious effort.
This might be a parallel example of what Tom de Marco called ‘Slack’ in his 2001 book ‘Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency’, and it is an effort worth taking—if we want to get to the root of problems and think differently we need this uninterrupted reflective time. We might conclude that to speed up creativity, we have to take the counterintuitive step of slowing down all the ‘busywork’.
This is where tactical ‘speed-bumps’ can be helpful, ways of reminding us to slow down and to avoid getting caught up in a never-ending doom-loop of communication. These speed-bumps might include:
- Don’t respond immediately: Communication can become a feedback loop. How many e-mails truly need an instant response? If you’re not blocking someone, if it’s something that can wait, then it’s probably better to let it wait.
- Block time: I used to have a colleague who would ‘book meetings with herself’ to have time spare in her diary. With the current expectation of back-to-back virtual meetings, having some guaranteed free time each day seems like a good idea!
- Stop typing and don’t feel guilty: In our current world of activity it feels odd to suddenly slow down and reflect. Do we measure a painter by the number of brush-strokes they put to canvas per hour? Would we think it unusual if an artist spent 2 minutes staring out of a window whilst ideas percolated in their head? Probably not; yet we’d probably look very worried if a colleague stopped typing and stared out of the window. Maybe we shouldn’t…
- Change formats: If you are adept at typing and drawing on a computer, try sketching in a notebook or on a large sheet of paper. There’s something liberating about changing the format and working differently. I personally find exploring an idea on paper is a great way of clarifying thinking.
Of course, there are many other ways of injecting ‘speed-bumps’ into our daily lives too. I’d love to hear yours, please do connect with me on LinkedIn and share your tips. I’d love to hear them!