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Beware the Unexpected Blight… Counterproductive!

Oddly enough, technology is often detrimental to our productivity. (Photo: Tyler Franta for Unsplash)

Stained job! It’s a section where Oliver Schmocker answers your toughest questions [et les plus pertinentes] In the modern business world…and of course its quirks. A reading date Tuesday and the Thursday. Would you like to participate? Send us your question at [email protected]

s. – “I get the angry impression that I spend my time answering useless emails, attending meetings from which nothing tangible comes out, or completing tasks whose purpose I don’t understand. All in all, I’d say this represents an average of 12 hours of ‘wasted’ work a week! Is there anything that will help me feel more useful?” – Elodie

A: Dear Elody, I can tell you that you are not the only one who feels partially “useless” at work. At the very least, to lament the fact that you are not able to be as effective as you would like. Rather, we are facing a veritable pandemic of inefficiency.

Evidence of this is the decision of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, who decreed in February that 2023 would be his company’s “year of efficiency”: the absolute priority would be to increase productivity at all levels, collectively and individually. . In other words, various initiatives are being taken at this very moment to simplify and improve the work of employees and teams. And I promise to follow this closely to find out at the end of the year, if not the beginning of 2024.

I also want evidence of this in a recent survey conducted by Visier, a human resources management software company in the US, which highlighted several startling statements on this topic:

– 43% of employees admit to devoting “more than 10 hours per week” on average to tasks whose sole purpose is to lead others to believe they are productive, i.e. the so-called “show off” tasks.

22% of employees admit to devoting “more than 20 hours per week on average” to ostentatious tasks.

What are the exact tasks? Those that do not serve a specific purpose, but give the illusion of being crucial to those who are not looking closely at them. It amounts, for example, to rushing to respond to an email from your boss or colleague to show that you are quick on the trigger, even if they interrupt you on an important task or if other emails should be dealt with urgently. Another example: participating in a meeting when you know very well that you don’t have anything useful to contribute, but it will allow you to show others that you are where you decide the important things. Or do unnecessary extra research to “inflate” a file that you have to redo, only to have others think you worked like crazy on it, or even that you’re an expert in the field.

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I confirm that bragging about tasks has become a real disaster. One last item that will allow me to convince you of this, Elody. The Shopify e-commerce platform analyzed the content and results of all meetings held last year by nearly 11,600 employees. And in January, senior management canceled 12,000 of those meetings, explaining to those affected why it was no longer worthwhile to hold them. The result is a total of 322,000 man hours “saved” annually!

good. Now how do you gain efficiency in your daily work? And that is, knowing that you are not in control of the emails you receive and that you must respond to compulsively, than the meetings you must participate in, even if you realize that your presence is not really necessary.

There is already a solution. It is called the conscious struggle against … counter-productivity!

Philosopher Ivan Elish described the fact that many technological gadgets save time and money at first glance, but in reality this saving is just smoke and mirrors.

Take an example of email. In itself, it’s a great invention: the letter is written quickly, sent quickly, quickly archived if necessary, and all for free. You can’t do without it at work, can we? But that’s forgetting the other side of the coin: constant spam that requires constantly renewed filters; the constant stream of emails we still have to read, even if we know in advance that they will be of no use to us; redundant filing system; Etc. In the end, emails take up a lot of our time. And often, in vain!

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One last point: are emails really “free”? Well, no. Just think of the cell phone you carry everywhere with you, the monthly subscription you have to pay, the paid apps you use, etc. The bill is astronomical!

Let’s take another example: PowerPoint presentations. How long does it take to decorate it with bright colors, improbable stripes, or even supposedly funny cartoons? And how many subtle hums usually go off shortly after the conference room lights have dimmed? This type of software is supposed to increase productivity, but all of us know very well that this is not the case…

Thus, anti-counterproductivity amounts to following a very simple rule of life, advocated by Swiss entrepreneur Rolf Dobelli in his book Die Kunst des guten Lebens (The Art of Living Well, in French): Cut out the excess.

“Technological gadgets, which always seem so promising, often backfire on our quality of life. Hence the interest in cutting out the excess in terms of technological gadgets. Thus, before rushing into the next gadget (app, software, digital tablet, headphones) wireless, etc), turn on your brain instead!”, he notes.

what I say? It is important to realize that technology is not always your friend in business. And then, you should make it a habit at work to limit your use of technology, as much as possible:

Do you need to send a message to a colleague? Don’t email him about it, get up from your desk and take a couple of minutes to talk to him in person. This time will never be wasted, on the contrary, it will allow you to strengthen the bonds that bind you with this person.

Need to highlight highlights in a file? Forget PowerPoint. Memorize the three main points, and make a short explanation for each of them with one or two catchy sentences. Then all attention will be on you, and your sentences will not fail to strike the spirits.

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Should you participate in a video chat with colleagues? Tell them that at that time you will be in the office and that it will be easier to see each other in the audience. And if the video is about a business partner or customer, offer your insight in person, arguing that communication is always better that way.

That’s not all. Also, get in the habit of putting technology away. For example, Elodie, you told me that you were overwhelmed with emails, and that you had to respond to them. Keep answering because you have no choice, but only do it for 5 minutes every hour, or better, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. Of course, delete notifications that are a distraction. This will free your mind from emails, allowing you to focus on relevant tasks.

Ditto, you told me that you should attend meetings where you have nothing to do. Look at your calendar and mark a recurring meeting that you can gladly do without. Then go talk to the person who organizes it, and explain how useful it is to devote an hour of your time to something else. You should easily find common ground. Then repeat the process with another recurring meeting. And so on.

In short, Elody, counter-productivity is largely responsible for making you feel useless at work. Adopt Rolf Dobelli’s motto – cut out the superfluous – and you will see that your daily working life simplifies itself and thus becomes more interesting for you. As if by magic, then you will feel that you are doing a really useful deed. For your greater good and for the good of those around you.

By the way, the French philosopher Montesquieu noted in his book “The Journal”: “What is not good for the swarm is not good for the bee.”