Why work does not happen at work: the M&M's

- Motivation

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by Vasco Duarte

The most fabulous thing about not being real is that you have plenty of time to roam the Internet. And really, you can find some quite amazing things out there. (Have you always wanted to know how to make a cool sock puppet? Here you go!). Of course, I also use the Internet in my everlasting search for happiness (and no, that doesn’t include a profile on a dating site).

Last week I came across this movie. It’s about M&Ms. I don’t know about you, but that got my attention.

Where do you get things done?

It’s a TED talk by Jason Fried, who by the way turned out to be co-founder at 37signals. He asks himself why work so often doesn’t happen at work. You know, offices really seem to make sense. You want people to do work for you, so you put them together in an office and make sure they have all this stuff they need like chairs, tables, computers and so on. It sounds pretty effective. But is it?

If you ask people ‘where do you really want to go if you really need to go get something done’ you typically get three different kinds of answers. One is a place, location or room. Another one is a moving object and the third is a time.

Jason Fried

Work, just like sleep, comes in phases

Fried says that when you go to the office, “You trade in your work day for work moments.” He compares the door of the office as a shredder that cuts your day to bits. Fifteen minutes here, a one-hour meeting there.

“How often have you had the feeling that you’ve been busy all day at the office, but haven’t done any work?” he asks his audience. According to Fried the problem is that in order to do creative work (writing, programming, thinking) you need uninterrupted time.

He compares it to sleep; there are several phases you need to go through. If someone or something interrupts you, you need to start over again, just like with sleep. You can’t just pick up where you left.

The M&Ms

There are different kinds of interruptions, though. Voluntary, and involuntary. The first kinds of interruptions, the voluntary ones aren’t a problem. Why? Because you choose to be interrupted when you are ready, says Fried. Checking Facebook, walking the dog, watching TV while working at home? No problem, apparently you need distraction. Fried feels that things like Facebook and Youtube shouldn’t be a problem at the office as well. He calls them ‘modern smoke breaks’. They are useful distractions. But there are bad distractions as well, the involuntary ones. Who are causing them? The M&Ms, Fried calls them: Managers and Meetings.

What causes interruptions at work? M&M’s, Managers and Meetings

The truth about meetings, they are toxic

Fried says (and I’m not sure it was a joke), “Managers are basically people who’s job it is to interrupt people…They don’t really do the work, so they have to make sure everyone else is doing the work which is an interruption.” There’s truth in this statement. Checking on people, no matter what the reason, doesn’t always happen at a good time. And then there are the ‘toxic’ meetings.

There’s no way all ten people at a meeting are ready for it right at the same time. You have to stop doing what you are doing, or you just don’t start anything new because you will have to be in a meeting in half an hour. There are always too many people present anyway. Not actually doing work, but talking about ‘something you should be doing later’. And to make things worse: meetings lead to more meetings. They are expensive as well, a one-hour meeting with ten people costs the company ten hours.

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Don’t talk, don’t meet

Is there a solution? Well, Fried has several solutions. He suggests that, like casual Friday, you could introduce ‘no talk Thursday’. Even if it’s only half a day, just once a month. Just try it and see how much work gets done.

Next, he urges managers to let their people use passive communication methods as much as possible. So, no meetings or tapping on shoulders in the hallway, but e-mail, instant massaging and collaboration products.

Basically things that you, as a worker, can put off. You can’t put off your manager or colleagues, but you can close your e-mail or instant messaging apps. Last, but maybe the most important: cancel meetings. Just do it, don’t reschedule. Just don’t hold it. You’ll see, it won’t hurt anyone.
Will Jason Fried’s tips work? Well, they sound quite right to me.

I’ve never been in a meeting myself and Happy Melly is doing great so far…

Photo by Mika Stetsovski

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