Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Pace of High Tech Life

How many times have you heard yourself or a colleague or a customer or a business partner say things like the following:
  • I'm up to my eyeballs in work
  • I'll have to get back to you once I get a breather
  • I'm triple-booked; can you reschedule?
  • Sorry--I dropped the ball on that
  • I'm using lunch to dig myself out of email

Not to mention all the work emails timestamped after 10:00pm, or the fact your inbox already has 40 new emails when you get into work although you stopped checking it after dinner.  Its starting to become an unsustainable pace.

Here's a quintessential example--a picture taken of a colleague's inbox.  It's a little blurry, but if you can't make it out it says 1355 unread emails.  (I happened to take this pic when she and I were both on a conference call, and I've been too busy to ask her why on earth her inbox was that full.)

1355 unread emails?  Indeed, which is why I had to take a picture. There could be a lot of rational explanations about this, but here's one easy explanation.  I myself get roughly about 150 emails a day.  My coworker travels a lot, and she was gone the week before.  So, it's easily conceivable that this is just backlog from her trip for a single week.  That's just a sad statement for living high-tech today. I know that I'm busier than I've ever been, and every time I talk to anyone else (in my company or anyone else's), I always get the same reply--I'm swamped.

I've been thinking about blogging about this topic for a while, but ironically, I didn't have the time.  I did have time to tweet about it, earlier though.  (That's one of the things that makes me love Twitter--it's so much less of a commitment.)

How are you doing at your job?  Busy?  Yep, that's what I thought. Is it everyone in high tech? Is it endemic to the whole Western world? If you've got a spare 10 seconds, I'd love to get your comments.


  1. Andy, I would have commented earlier, but I was busy responding to one of your emails...

    But yes, seriously, it's a problem. Mind you, I am sure that most people with "positions of responsibility" have always been busy. It's just that email now provides a virtual paper trail of your day-to-day interactions -- interactions that, at one time, would have occurred face to face, or phone to phone. That said, I don't think every email I receive (or send) is necessary. Sometimes, too many people are included in an email thread in the spirit of consensus or transparency, or in some cases, cya. (Yes, I too am guilty of these crimes.)

    And then there's the issue of priorities. The minute you set priorities is the minute you decide that some lesser tasks will never get done. When applied to email, this principle dictates that some emails never get a response. Which explains, I am sure, the 1355, or at least some portion thereof.

    - Paul

  2. I'm busy when I choose to ;-) It's easy to come up with more things to do on the do to list, but I keep it of reasonable size. Enough to be entertained but not too much to fill swamped. I delete most mail that are over 1 week old. Granted I'm not a manager and only have to deal with technical issue and it will stay that way ;-)

    I like this quote (a translation) from Henry Laborit: "In times like these, escape is the only way to stay alive and keep dreaming."

  3. That icon shows 312560 unread emails here. Recipe: Subscribe to 10 mailing lists, then get a life for one month and come back. :)

    Recipe Two: Dump the mailing lists into a Gmail account, browse through it with a cup of coffee once a month.

    1. Recipe Three: Don't read any of it older than one day!

      This plan can backfire, but usually if it's really important I find people will get back to you.

    2. Andy, this is exactly what's causing the e-mail flood and leads to a lot of wasted time. I don't know how many, but too many of my e-mails are just getting back to people that didn't respond. To a question I wouldn't have asked, had someone done their job right (i.e. tested a network driver before publishing it for customer consumption).

    3. I agreed--it's a plan but a problematic one for important emails as your Malte. The issue is how to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Answering every email can be practical only to a certain point, after which you have no time for any work unless you prioritize. And this is one form of prioritization. I try not to never do it as I think it's rude not to respond to emails, but its happened lately due to no other choice.

  4. Right Andy. What I found as a (partial) solution is sorting e-mails from Inbox to Priority 1, 2, and 3 boxes. I found this to be much more efficient than what I've seen others doing (they mostly have folders for companies or individuals). I spent most of my time on the Priority 1 folder. When there's nothing I can actively do today for Priority 1, I look at Priority 2, and so on. Needless to say, Priority 3 doesn't get a lot of attention, but this way I get the most important things done.