According to research from Connected Commons, most managers now spend 85% or more of their work time on e-mail, in meetings, and on the phone, and the demand for such activities has jumped by 50% over the past decade.
Companies benefit, of course: Faster innovation and more-seamless client service are two by-products of greater collaboration. But along with all this comes significantly less time for focused individual work, careful reflection, and sound decision making. A 2016 HBR article dubbed this destructive phenomenon collaborative overload and suggested ways that organizations might combat it.
We started by creating models of employees’ collaborations and considering the effect of those interactions on engagement, performance, and voluntary attrition.
Not surprisingly, it was found that always-on work cultures, encroaching technology, demanding bosses, difficult clients, and inefficient coworkers were a big part of the problem, and most of those challenges do require organizational solutions. But in many cases external time sinks were matched by another enemy: individuals’ own mindsets and habits. Fortunately, people can overcome those obstacles themselves, right away, with some strategic self-management.
The researchers uncovered best practices in three broad categories:
- beliefs (understanding why we take on too much);
- role, schedule, and network (eliminating unnecessary collaboration to make time for work that is aligned with professional aspirations and personal values); and
- behavior (ensuring that necessary or desired collaborative work is as productive as possible).
Not all recommendations will suit everyone: People’s needs differ by personality, hierarchical level, and work context. But they found that when the people studied took action on just four or five of them, they were able to claw back 18% to 24% of their collaborative time.