Working Conversations Episode 167:

Too Much of Your Work is About the Work!


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Do you find yourself bogged down by back-to-back meetings and endless status updates? 

Or perhaps...

You feel like you're spending more time talking about work than actually doing it.

You're not alone.

In this episode, I delve into the startling phenomenon that 60% of our work time is spent on 'work about work'—a staggering statistic revealed by Asana's Anatomy of Work Index.

Join me as I explore the inefficiencies caused by unnecessary meetings, duplicative work, and the constant cycle of status updates that plague remote work culture. These inefficiencies not only drain our time but also diminish our productivity and job satisfaction.

Drawing from the latest research, I share actionable solutions to combat these productivity fails. You’ll learn how implementing meeting-free blocks can free up valuable time and learn the benefits of leveraging asynchronous communication to keep everyone on the same page without the need for constant real-time check-ins.

Whether you're a leader looking to streamline your team's processes or a team member seeking to reclaim your time, this episode is packed with practical strategies to enhance your work life. From setting clearer priorities to eliminating redundant tasks, I provide the tools you need to create a more efficient and satisfying work environment.

Tune in to discover how to create a more productive and satisfying work environment, one that allows you to focus on meaningful tasks and achieve better results.

It's time to reclaim your time and boost your productivity again!

Listen and catch the full episode
here or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also watch it and replay it on my YouTube channel, JanelAndersonPhD.

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Episode 105: How to Do Management by Walking Around in Hybrid Workplaces
Episode 149: The Power of Generative AI to Transform Meetings
Episode 163: Norms Not Working For You? Change Them


Hello and welcome to another episode of the Working Conversations podcast where we talk all things leadership, business, communication and trends in organizational life. I'm your host, Dr Janel Anderson.

Now the shift to remote work during the pandemic led to significant changes of course in how we communicate and collaborate. The loss of spontaneous, informal interactions like stopping by your coworker's desk for a quick question has often been replaced by scheduled meetings. This has resulted in back to back meeting culture that many employees find overwhelming and counterproductive.

This is especially true for organizations where the new norm is not to just call someone up on their work phone or hit them up for a quick audio conversation in teams, or zoom. Your quick question for your colleague becomes a meeting.

In this episode, we are diving into that phenomenon and offering solutions. The rise of Back to Back meetings in remote work culture has significantly impacted productivity, a trend that is well documented by Asanas Anatomy of Work Index.

Asana, if you're not familiar with them, is one of the leading project management tools on the market today. In their recent study, they surveyed over 10,000 knowledge workers from around the world. And according to their report, a staggering 60% of a person's time is spent on get this work about work which includes tasks like attending meetings, writing emails, managing schedules, rather than on skilled productive work in your area of expertise.

And this phenomenon is leading to a substantial loss in efficiency and effectiveness, according to an article on Asanas website summarizing the report. They note, “Work about work is all of the activities you do throughout the day that aren't the actual skilled work you were hired to do, such as marketing analysis or coding. It's the mundane, time consuming stuff that most people just assume comes with a job.”

Overall, they note that there is most to gain when we dial in our focus. Specifically, they call out 3.6 hours of lost time per week to unnecessary meetings. 62% of the workday lost to repetitive, mundane tasks and our focus split between an average of 10 different apps used each day in our day to day work activities.

Now there are plenty of reasons why we need to address this, from personal satisfaction with work and avoiding burnout to organizational efficiency and cost savings to a broader impact on how we think of the nature of work in our society and what it means.

First by cutting down on unnecessary meetings, you'll find a much better work life balance, since you'll have time for more meaningful work and personal activities, it also means less stress and burnout, because you're not constantly switching gears between meetings. Plus, with more uninterrupted time, you will be way more productive, which feels good and looks impressive to your boss. Hello, career advancement.

Overall, you'll feel more in control of your day, you'll get more work done, and you will enjoy your work a lot more. And when organizations cut down on unnecessary meetings, they see a big boost in efficiency with teams working smarter and hitting their goals more consistently.

Better meeting management means better collaboration and more innovative solutions. Since everyone's time is used more effectively, it also leads to cost savings. Time is money, after all, so fewer meetings can mean a healthier bottom line, plus companies that streamline their meeting culture can respond faster to changes and stay ahead of the competition. It's a win win for everyone, and there's a ripple effect.

Cutting down on unnecessary meetings isn't just good for individuals and companies, it's good for society too. Healthier Work cultures emerge when we prioritize productivity and work life balance reducing stress and mental health issues across the board, plus it aligns with sustainable work practices, lowering unnecessary travel and energy use for those teams and zoom meetings and all the bandwidth that they take.

This shift promotes a more balanced and sustainable approach to work. It benefits everyone in the long run, it's about creating a better, more thoughtful way to work that has positive and far reaching efforts beyond the office. So let's dig into some of the specifics from the Asana report and what to do instead of continuing with the status quo.

First, the cost of unnecessary meetings, 103 hours in unnecessary meetings per person per year. Yes, that's right. The data from Asana highlights that, on average, knowledge workers spend 103 hours annually in unnecessary meetings. These meetings often lack a clear agenda, specific outcomes, or the right participants, making them inefficient and unproductive, this lost time could be better spent on tasks that directly contribute to an employee's core responsibilities and the organization's goals.

Again, this goes back to some of those casual interactions that are lost in the virtual environment. The necessity of scheduling time on someone's calendar for a quick question is onerous and is a significant contributing factor in the back to back meeting culture so many are experiencing.

Now there's a significant opportunity cost to these unnecessary meetings. When employees are stuck in meetings that do not add value, they miss out on time that could be spent on keeping up with their regular duties as assigned, in addition to doing more creative and innovative work, this can hinder innovation and slow down the progress of important projects.

When leaders are stuck in meetings that do not add value, they miss out on strategic thinking, problem solving and decision making that can have far reaching, downstream productivity impacts and leave the entire organization less competitive if they're stuck in back to back meetings all day.

Now the burden of duplicative work, again, the Asana study cites 209 hours annually on duplicative work. So those knowledge workers who were surveyed 10,000 of them, just like me and you spend an average of 209 hours each year on duplicative work. This includes tasks that are repeated due to poor communication, lack of coordination, or ineffective processes.

For instance, multiple team members might unknowingly work on the same project or task, leading to wasted efforts and resources. Now this has me thinking about my small business as well. There are certain files that different employees of mine need in order to get their work done, and I find myself putting files in multiple systems in order to make sure everyone has what they need. I recognize myself as being someone who's doing duplicative work, and I see how it impacts the white space on my calendar. There's no time to figure out a more efficient system, because I'm doing duplicative work and I'm a lean small business.

Just imagine the magnitude of this across a large organization. Inefficient processes is what we end up with so duplicative work often results from inefficient processes and a lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities.

Organizations that fail to streamline workflows and clearly define who's responsible for what are going to end up with employees overlapping on tasks. And this redundancy not only reduces productivity, but it also creates frustration and disengagement among employees, because when you find out that somebody else just did the same work that you did, and their work already got accepted or checked in or integrated into the final project, and yours didn't, that can lead to resentment and disengagement across team members and, of course, toward their manager as well.

And now my favorite result of the study talking about work. The results indicate that 352 hours per year are spent talking about work, not actually doing work, but talking about work. This is the most significant time sync identified by Asanas anatomy of work index, the 352 hours spent annually talking about work.

This includes activities such as status updates, coordination meetings and discussions about project timelines. While some level of communication, of course, is essential for collaboration, excessive talking about and having more and more meetings about the work results in talking about the work and an overall lack of efficiency.

Now, if you have heard one of my sessions about having more effective meetings, which is a topic I train on regularly for my corporate clients, you'll remember that unless there is absolutely value in status updates or in information sharing, it should go into a document, a video, a PowerPoint slide deck or some other format. Rather than use up the valuable time in a meeting, I talk in great detail in those training sessions about how valuable our synchronous time is, where everybody is in the meeting at the same time, regardless of whether they are face to face, logged in from a work from home environment or a regional office, or some combination of both.

When we are in synchronous meetings, it is expensive, it is challenging to get schedules coordinated so everybody can be in the same either physical or ether space at the same time.

Now this also leads to meeting fatigue, constantly discussing work without making tangible progress can lead to that sense of, are we even getting anything done? What I like to think of as meeting fatigue. Now, employees may feel acutely that they are spending more time talking about what needs to be done rather than actually doing it, and this can really demoralize teens and reduce their motivation to tackle the actual work, much less leave any time left on their calendars to tackle the actual work.

So the results from Asanas study indicate that there is some room for improvement, and we have got to stop doing so much work about the work. So let me give you some strategies to improve productivity.

First of all, implement meeting free blocks. One effective way to combat the productivity drain caused by all of these excessive meetings is to implement meeting free chunks of time. So some organizations will say meeting free Fridays where they have no meetings on Fridays, designating specific times or entire days. Meeting free allows employees to focus on their own tasks without interruptions. This uninterrupted time can be used for deep work, which requires concentration and focus. You can also leave some of that time on your calendar as drive by or drop by time, so that you don't miss out on all of those casual interactions that you used to have when people stopped by your desk, but in this way, you're controlling it on your calendar, letting other people know when you want to have that time and when you don't.

The second thing you can do is encourage asynchronous communication. Remember how I just said that it's very expensive to have synchronous meetings with people occupying the same time, whether that's in the ether or in a physical location.

So asynchronous communication tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams or project management software can help reduce the time needed for those real time meetings. These tools enable employees to share updates, ask questions, and collaborate at their own pace, without the need for constant meetings and without filling up each other's inboxes with excessive email.

Now this not only saves time, but it also allows for more thoughtful and thorough responses when people reply in those platforms. Now I'm also a big fan of synchronous when it makes sense. Now, if you're a longtime listener, you may remember way back in episode 105 when I shared ideas on how to do management by walking around in the virtual and hybrid environments.

Well, back in that episode, I discussed some of the more nimble and innovative virtual office platforms, where you can see who's in various virtual conference rooms or who's working quietly at their virtual desk with a do not disturb, sign up on screen. It looks like you're looking at a map of your office. You can go into a virtual room with someone and lock the door so that you can have a private conversation. You can invite others into the meeting without sending a meeting invitation. See equivalent to walking over to somebody's desk and saying, Hey, you got a minute join us in this conference room.

And once you're in that conference room or in an office, you can do all the things that you could do in zoom or Microsoft Teams. You can share documents. You can draw on a whiteboard to collaborate or express your ideas. You can set up break rooms and ping pong tables and create social spaces to hang out and have people get to know one another.

Now we are due for another episode of ozos technologies, because episode 105 was a long time ago, so I'll leave all those details for another time, but for now, just know that there are tech solutions to support effective collaboration and stopping by someone's desk without a slew of meetings landing on your calendar.

Next up streamlining processes to address the issue of duplicative work, organizations need to streamline their processes, and this involves clearly defining roles and responsibilities, improving communication channels and ensuring that tasks are assigned to the right people and only the right people. Using project management tools to progress and avoid overlaps can also be incredibly beneficial, and you probably already have a bunch of those tools, or some of those tools at your disposal, just make sure you're using them effectively, and everybody's trained up on them.

And finally, well, not quite finally and next, shorter and more focused meetings, limiting the duration of meetings and ensuring they have clear agendas can make them more effective. Instead of having an hour long meeting with 10 people, consider two or three short meetings with just one or two agenda items per meeting and then only inviting the people who care about those agenda items.

Shorter meetings that are well planned and focused on specific outcomes can reduce the amount of time spent in discussions and increase the time available for productive work. Sometimes 10 or 20 minutes can be way more productive than an hour, and let's not overlook and lastly, the role of technology, automation tools can play a crucial role in improving productivity. I've done a number of episodes about these, and we'll link those up in the show notes as well.

These tools can help schedule meetings at optimal times, automate routine tasks and provide actionable insights from meeting discussions, for example, AI driven. Dating assistance can summarize key points, assign tasks and track follow ups, ensuring that meetings are more productive and outcomes are more clearly defined.

Now you may remember that just back in episode 149 I discussed the power of generative AI to transform meetings. Now only the content of the meetings and the catching up of latecomers and the agenda items and to do items, but also crisping up audio and video through audio and visual data sampling and then filling in the gaps when bandwidth or processor speed lags. So there are a plethora of ways that AI and automation can improve, not only our technology in meetings, but also across the board in terms of productivity.

And I would be remiss to not mention advanced collaboration tools, like I was just alluding to before. So investing in those advanced collaboration tools can enhance productivity by making it easier for teams to work together even when they're not in the same physical location, which is still often the case still so tools that offer real time document editing, virtual whiteboards and integrating project management features can reduce the time that we need for all those meetings and improve the overall efficiency.

And again, I will give a nod to the usual suspects like teams Zoom and WebEx as meeting platforms and Slack, Trello, Asana, JIRA, Basecamp, Zoho and oh, this list goes on and on for project management software. And back to the virtual office platforms that I discussed back in episode 105, tools like unmet.

And back to the virtual office platforms I discussed way back in episode five and back to the virtual office platforms. I discussed way back in episode 105 tools and back to the virtual office platforms. I discussed back in episode 105 platforms like SoCoCo, teamiko Kumo space and gather that bring the best of the virtual world and the face to face world together in innovative ways that show you a map of the office and you can grab office space together and pop in on people and so forth.

As I said before, we'll leave those for another day, but I'll leave you with these final ideas on this important topic, to address the productivity challenges posed by back to back meetings and the associated work about work.

Organizations must take a strategic approach. This involves not only implementing practical solutions, but also fostering a cultural shift towards valuing outcomes over time spent in meetings, so that cultural shift towards valuing productivity and results, rather than the visibility of being constantly in meetings. Well, my friends, that is absolutely essential encouraging employees to prioritize their workload and their individual contribution is key. Focus on key deliverables and communicate effectively so that you can create a more balanced and productive work environment across the board.

And changing norms is part of that cultural shift. If you listened to Episode 163 about changing organizational norms. You'll know that it can be done. I gave you a recipe for doing so in that episode, you'll also recall that it's challenging to change cultural norms, but I challenge you to challenge the norm around having so many meetings, or at least shorten the length of your meeting times it can be done. I know you can do it. I believe in you.

I've got your bonus one. And leadership support. Leadership support is crucial in driving these cultural changes. Leaders must set the example by minimizing unnecessary meetings themselves, using technology effectively and empowering their teams to make decisions when they do so, they can create an environment where employees feel supported in managing their time and their workload more effectively.

Now, in conclusion, addressing the productivity impact of Back to Back meetings requires a multifaceted approach. By implementing meeting free blocks, leveraging asynchronous communication tools, streamlining processes and fostering a culture that values outcomes and is willing to change norms, organizations can reclaim lost productivity and create a more efficient and moreover satisfying work environment for their employees.

This shift not only benefits individual employees, but it draws organizational success in an increasingly competitive and dynamic business landscape. I urge you, I implore you, to spend less and less time on work, about work, and more and more time on the activities that contribute to your company's products and services, whether that be in research and development and design, in sales and marketing, in support, or in any of the important back office functions that make organizations work, like human resources, accounting, project management and oh so many more wherever you are on the organizational chart, do a little less, or maybe a lot less, work about work, and more work that you find deeply satisfying.

Remember, the future of work is not only about technology, it's about the values we uphold, the communities we build and the sustainable growth we strive for, we need to keep exploring, keep innovating and keep envisioning the remarkable possibilities that lie as always. Stay curious, stay informed and stay ahead of the curve.

Tune in next week for another insightful exploration of the trends shaping our professional world.

If you enjoy this content and you're watching on YouTube, make sure you hit the subscribe button and knock that little bell so that you get notified every time there's an episode out, hop on over to youtube.com/JanelAndersonPhD, if you're not following me there already, and if you're listening on a podcast player, please, please leave me a review and a rating. It helps other listeners find me, and that helps grow the show until next time my friends be well.

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