Increase productivity by doing 50% less

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I’ve noticed something funny about toilet paper dispensers over the years. Some facilities, in order to save money, switch to really cheap toilet paper that seems to inspire the need to just use more of the stuff. As I’ve never worked in facilities management, I have no idea whether they actually save that much money doing so. The best restrooms have good quality toilet paper but the dispenser rolls much more slowly than at other places. You can’t spin it like the Wheel of Fortune and win an entire tree as a prize. I’d wager they waste less money on toilet paper, not because they buy the cheap stuff, but because they dispense less of the good stuff. Less is more.

Likewise, most of the effective, sustainable diets out there seem to advocate still eating good stuff, high quality, tasty food, just not as much of it. I’ve never seen a credible diet plan that says eat as much as you can of this crappy, low quality, low calorie food. Less is more.

In contrast, there are an awful lot of “productivity” plans out there that seem to encourage binging or switching to exceptionally low quality communication. There are services and plans that encourage you to limit every email to 5 sentences or 3 sentences or 140 characters. There are productivity plans that encourage you to get just as much email as ever, but only respond to it twice a day. Do these plans work? Sure, in the short term, just like you save a bit of money on the cheap toilet paper or you reduce your weight temporarily by binging on 22 pounds of only celery a day. But they’re not sustainable in the long term.

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So here’s an idea for you to try. See if this makes sense to you. Instead of switching to ever cheaper “email paper” and dispensing just as much, if not more, what if you switched up to the good stuff and dispensed less of it? Try this. Go to your Sent Items folder. Count how many emails you sent on average in the last 7 days. Let’s say you sent 100 emails in 7 days. Now cut that in half. You’re allowed to send 50 emails in 7 days. They can be verbose, they can be terse, they can be whatever you want them to be, but you’re basically allotted 7 emails a day to send, and not a single email after that.

What might happen?

  • You’ll send fewer emails, which means you’ll get fewer replies, which means you’ll have less to send a reply to. That alone will help.
  • This should get you thinking about whether you need to respond to an email at all, or you can just let it be archived and filed away. You might, for example, stop hitting reply-all 250 times a day with what are effectively valueless responses like “I agree” or “Got it”.
  • This should get you thinking about the content of the messages you do send. By having fewer opportunities to send something, you might have to condense your value into a small pile of highly valuable messages.
  • By creating a bit of scarcity in your responses, the people on the other end might even come to value your messages even more. “Wow, he only responds when it’s important, so this must be important.”

If other “productivity” plans haven’t worked out for you for managing your ever-increasing inbox, try this one. See if it changes your habits, see if it reduces your inboxes, and leave a comment with your results.

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5 responses to “Increase productivity by doing 50% less”

  1. Every productivity post needs to begin with a bathroom analogy.

  2. Every productivity post needs to begin with a bathroom analogy.

  3. Great idea. Makes communication more meaningful! 

  4. I dunno man. Don’t bloggers like getting comments? I’m afraid if people take this too far, social interaction will go down. Everyone will be acting like Seth Godin, which doesn’t work if you’re tribe isn’t big enough.

  5. I like the bathroom analogy at the start, but I get/need to reply/initiate more than 50 emails a week that require quality response. It’s a great idea to get rid of the fast food version of emails (I agree, got it, etc.) but when working virtually with teams in three locations and detail information that needs to be reviewed, there are just times when you have to send email. Also, email in many of these cases becomes documentation of the genesis of ideas and or agreements.  So, while I find the idea intriguing, I generally like to save a part of the day for substantive replies and will quick hit my email for items that I can provide a one line (but useful) reply to that will allow a peer or team member to continue their work.

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