Mon | Sep 25, 2017

How to Stop People From Grabbing Your Valuable Time Away - Part 1

Published:Sunday | December 20, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Email and meetings have become two of the biggest productivity killers in Jamaican corporate life. In this first article in a two-part series, we will focus on the cost of bad email.

You are in your office after 6 p.m. with the door closed. Unfortunately, you are struggling to catch up while at that moment, the Time Grabbers who wasted your attention all day are at home, relaxing. Even if it happens to be the rare person who can't stand to leave with important work unfinished, you probably still think it's not fair. How did you reach this point?

Fact: earlier that day, Time Grabbers cc'd and bcc'd you on unproductive email threads. Sometimes you were only peripherally involved. But most of the time, you were included in order to help achieve some unspoken political purpose.

What the offenders don't know (or don't care to know) is the amount of time it takes others to process their messages. It only takes a few of these emails bouncing from one department to another to decimate an hour of your best time. It's the reason you are still there after hours and why you may be one of the 74 per cent of workers who report that they are more productive outside the office.

How can this problem be overcome?

The challenge is that Time Grabbers are unaware of the social chaos they are causing, having never received factual, quality, feedback. While it's true "they know not what they do," they shouldn't be forgiven too readily. Instead, here is an idea for a software app that would help everyone connect the cause (ineffective email) with its effect (wasted time/costs).


In companies that share the same email system, an "email budget allocator" is a programme that could be used to make a difference. As a plug-in designed for use inside your current system (such as Outlook), it would automatically display the cost of an email even as you are drafting it. How would this be calculated?

It's easy. The app would compute the cost by taking into account the number of words, plus the number and level of the recipients. Furthermore, this sum could be modified by a programme like Hemingway, which instantly reports the complexity of an article. For example, this column registers at a reading level of grade nine.

But that would be just the beginning. To help change actual behaviour, you and your colleagues would receive an internal email budget depending on your respective roles. Each message you send would debit your budget, much in the same way that a prepaid call debits a mobile phone's credit. At the end of the quarter, your manager would review your expenditure, and together, you'd make the necessary adjustments.

The final feature I can imagine would be a private-feedback mechanism for individual messages. Once an email is sent, the system would take note of the number of times it is deleted without being read. Also, a recipient would be able to anonymously indicate when an email is a waste of time by forwarding it to a special address. There, the programme would aggregate all wasted email, compute the total cost, and further debit the sender's account.


This app might work because it brings a hidden, pernicious cost out in the open. By contrast, we are acutely aware of our expenditure on cell-phone calls because each one reduces our hard-earned credit. While this system does not involve any loss of dollars and cents, it would raise the profile of wasted attention. As it is, the average professional spends 1-2 hours per day on email, an ever-increasing number. Even then, most companies don't offer any training on email productivity, resulting in not only lost time, but frayed nerves.

But here's the good news. You don't need to wait for this app to be invented to use these ideas in your organisation.

For the most part, your colleagues have no idea of the cost related to clicking the button. You can remedy this by actually determining a dollar value and sharing it widely. Compute the time it takes people to process email of different kinds, depending on their level in the hierarchy. Use estimates to teach them how much the average email costs the organisation. For the first time, Time Grabbers could understand the impact of their behaviour on other people. Their behavioural changes, according to my calculations, would more than pay for the price of the training.

Most organisations are far too willing to let their employees work long hours for reasons they can control. Cutting the expense of wasted email could free them from having to do unnecessary work that keeps them from their families.

Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of 'Perfect Time-Based Productivity'. To receive a free summary of links to his past articles, send email to: