Defragmenting Your Mind

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Defragmenting Your Mind

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By: Nicholas Hill
Chief Executive Officer

22nd March 2017

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What do you do with company email when you are on leave?

Here’s a quick survey.

Do you?

a) completely leave it behind
b) take a peek now and then
c) follow it daily but tend not to respond
d) treat it just as if you were on a business trip, engaging with it fully whenever your smartphone connectivity provides access

I’m firmly in the ‘a’ camp – I don’t look at email when on leave and I encourage our staff not to. And I fear that this view seems to be increasingly in the minority.

One of the big issues for people in business, especially in a management role, is getting enough of a break from the problems of the here and now to stand back, observe how things are working (or not) from a high level and get things into perspective. And if you don’t do that, you can’t plan for a better future and improve the business.

defragingmindUnfortunately, this time won’t make itself available, you have to create it. And the solid break of a week or two’s leave is one ideal opportunity. You have the potential to disconnect from the flood of daily small issues and unload completely. I picture the mind as a heavily fragmented disk, which over time has become full of concerns large and small, some unresolved, some part resolved, with new concerns piling in all the time and having to be cut into the already overloaded space. The effort of managing all these increases and your capacity for strategic thought dwindles. If you leave the office behind while on leave, the mind can defragment itself, sort the wheat from the chaff, tidy up, and discard the trash. This will not only generate some open space for clear thinking, it will also leave you with a better sense of what is important and what isn’t once you get back in the office.

If you are looking at your email while on leave, the regular drip, drip of reminders about all those issues acts to retain the whole lot in your head and the defragmentation process can never get started. Sadly, this will be the case even if you only spend a very short time doing it each day, so just having a peek now and then isn’t an effective compromise. You’ve just got to turn it off and leave it behind.

full-inboxSo what is driving people to take the email with them when on holiday? Well, a couple of obvious concerns, for me, is that some crisis is going to occur that demands my input, and there will be a huge pile of email that will have collected in my inbox when I get back.

Let’s look at the first issue. Aren’t particular individuals critical to the operation of the business? Let me consider my own situation. If I am required to intervene daily in business operations then I would say that I am failing in my job. A business should be like a carefully crafted machine that once running does not require constant intervention or correction from its designer. And likewise at any level within the business, it should be possible for any individual to walk away from the job for a period of time without a crisis unfolding. And if it isn’t possible, something in the business is broken. Fixing this concern isn’t just down to the individual’s state of mind, it should be enabled by appropriate business processes, management and training.

And what about the overwhelming feeling you get when coming back into the office and facing an inbox with many hundreds of unread emails? That is a pretty grim prospect. If you are in the ‘b’, ‘c’ or ‘d’ group in the above survey, you may have been spending a certain amount of time during your holiday looking at your email precisely to avoid this huge inbox. Consider instead, spending that cumulative time in one block when you get back, perhaps during the evening before you start work. You will then fix the problem and give your brain the break it needs.

If you see another employee’s ‘Out of Office’ message when they are on leave, be considerate about whether they really need to be cc’d on those emails you might be sending while they are away. And if you have influence over corporate IT policy, encourage a general minimisation of the amount of email traffic around the office. You don’t need to go as far as Daimler, where the ‘Out of Office’ message states that the employee is on vacation and cannot read your email, that the email is being deleted, with an alternative contact if the issue is really important, and recommending that the email is resent after the employee is in the office. But you could consider it.

In our highly competitive business environment, we all need to strive hard and be committed to the organisation’s success but, next time you go on leave, make sure company email is not on your packing list.

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What do you do with company email when you are on leave?

Here’s a quick survey.

Do you?

a) completely leave it behind
b) take a peek now and then
c) follow it daily but tend not to respond
d) treat it just as if you were on a business trip, and engage with it fully whenever your smartphone connectivity provides access?

I’m firmly in the ‘a’ camp – I don’t look at email when on leave and I encourage our staff not to. And I fear that this view seems to be increasingly in the minority.

One of the big issues for people in business, especially in a management role, is getting enough of a break from the problems of the here and now to stand back, observe how things are working (or not) from a high level and get things into perspective. And if you don’t do that, you can’t plan for a better future and improve the business.

defragingmindUnfortunately, this time won’t make itself available, you have to create it. And the solid break of a week or two’s leave is one ideal opportunity. You have the potential to disconnect from the flood of daily small issues and unload completely. I picture the mind as a heavily fragmented disk, which over time has become full of concerns large and small, some unresolved, some part resolved, with new concerns piling in all the time and having to be cut into the already overloaded space. The effort of managing all these increases and your capacity for strategic thought dwindles. If you leave the office behind while on leave, the mind can defragment itself, sort the wheat from the chaff, tidy up, and discard the trash. This will not only generate some open space for clear thinking, it will also leave you with a better sense of what is important and what isn’t once you get back in the office.

If you are looking at your email while on leave, the regular drip, drip of reminders about all those issues acts to retain the whole lot in your head and the defragmentation process can never get started. Sadly, this will be the case even if you only spend a very short time doing it each day, so just having a peek now and then isn’t an effective compromise. You’ve just got to turn it off and leave it behind.

full-inboxSo what is driving people to take the email with them when on holiday? Well, a couple of obvious concerns, for me, is that some crisis is going to occur that demands my input, and there will be a huge pile of email that will have collected in my inbox when I get back.

Let’s look at the first issue. Aren’t particular individuals critical to the operation of the business? Let me consider my own situation. If I am required to intervene daily in business operations then I would say that I am failing in my job. A business should be like a carefully crafted machine that once running does not require constant intervention or correction from its designer. And likewise, at any level within the business, it should be possible for any individual to walk away from the job for a period of time without a crisis unfolding. And if it isn’t possible, something in the business is broken. Fixing this concern isn’t just down to the individual’s state of mind, it should be enabled by appropriate business processes, management and training.

And what about the overwhelming feeling you get when coming back into the office and facing an inbox with many hundreds of unread emails? That is a pretty grim prospect. If you are in the ‘b’, ‘c’ or ‘d’ group in the above survey, you may have been spending a certain amount of time during your holiday looking at your email precisely to avoid this huge inbox. Consider instead, spending that cumulative time in one block when you get back, perhaps during the evening before you start work. You will then fix the problem and give your brain the break it needs.

If you see another employee’s ‘Out of Office’ message when they are on leave, be considerate and consider whether they really need to be cc’d on those emails you might be sending while they are away. And if you have influence over corporate IT policy, encourage a general minimisation of the amount of email traffic around the office. You don’t need to go as far as Daimler, where the ‘Out of Office’ message states that the employee is on vacation and cannot read your email, that the email is being deleted, with an alternative contact if the issue is really important, and recommending that the email is resent after the employee is in the office. But you could consider it.

In our highly competitive business environment we all need to strive hard and be committed to the organisation’s success but, next time you go on leave, make sure company email is not on your packing list.

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Further Reading

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