In his book, Alchemy, Rory Sutherland talks about how a consultant once asked Henry Ford (founder of the Ford Motor Company) why one of his employees sat in their office with his feet on his desk and didn't appear to do much at all. Apparently, Henry Ford's response was that this person once had an idea that saved him $10,000,000. And when the person had this idea, he remembered that they were sitting just like this. So he had no problem with it at all and in his mind, his employee was worth every dollar he was paid.
Henry Ford recognised that by allowing this person to stop, he was more productive than caught up in the busyness of everyday life.
A working day is often very busy, so much so, that we can forget to stop.
How does that affect communication, whether in writing or in person?
To find out, I'm going to cover:
- How a busy mind affects communication
- Why being busy doesn't always equate to being productive
- Why stopping is important
Think about a typical day at work. Quite possibly you may need to juggle a number of tasks at once. Having a busy mind has become a norm for many people but it doesn't mean that is always a good thing.
Have you ever had a day that felt like for every step forward, you felt that you were being pushed back two? We've all had those days, haven't we? And then the to-do list seems to get longer and longer.
These kinds of days can mean that it becomes difficult to focus on one task, as other tasks are also taking up some of your attention.
What happens then to your written communication?
The number of emails arriving into an inbox seems to be growing at an exponential rate nowadays. So if this is happening for you, it will also be happening to your colleagues and clients.
The ease of emails also means that it's easy to type your message and press Send so that you can move on to your next task. This may also mean that your email may not be as well-crafted as it could be, resulting in confusion for your reader.
What about your face-to-face communication?
Because you're easily distracted by all those balls you're metaphorically juggling, you won't be able to pay close attention to what others are saying. And even if you do hear what's being said, you may miss some important underlying messages.
Some people wear the 'busy' badge with pride. Yet being busy may not equate to being productive.
When a person is busy, they may be trying to do too much, resulting in not doing anything well.
If I were to describe the result of being constantly 'busy', the words that spring to mind are:
frustration, tired, overwhelmed, rushed
How do you feel when you're constantly busy? Do you have words to add to this list?
Yet stopping helps you to clear your mind and approach your communication refreshed.
Tim Ferris, in his book, The Four-Hour Work Week, says that we should focus on being productive, not busy. Busy means the focus is on how much time is spent on something. Productive means making the results the priority.
In a writing context…
A busy person may be inclined to provide too much information, or to the other extreme, too little information in an email. Confusion for your reader will inevitably follow.
This could result in a stream of emails going back and forth to check what you wanted them to do. Or worse still, inaction. This could mean follow up emails, meaning more work for you. Now, didn't you already have a long to-do list?
A client of mine once said to me that he didn't want to bombard his team with too many emails. Fair enough. But his emails were very long with multiple messages, which often meant that he got little or no reaction from his team. And then he'd re-send the email in the hope his staff would read it the second time. Again, little response. You know where this is going, don't you?
As soon as he stopped, evaluated his approach and made adjustments, he started to see an improvement in responses. By working out what was a priority and focusing on one main message rather than multiple ones, his staff became more responsive to his emails.
In a face-to-face conversation…
If you're just 'hearing' and responding but not closely listening because you're too busy, you can miss underlying messages.
These messages, if explored further, may help to address bigger issues. The end result of not listening closely now could mean more effort from you in the future.
You may be thinking that this may be a little extreme. I acknowledge that in many cases, a major issue may not emerge. But smaller, issues may, by stopping to give your attention to the other person, be easily averted. For example, it could just mean that your team member feels 'heard' and valued because you listened to them and took the time to explore their concerns further. The follow-on effects could include increased trust, improved teamwork and increased productivity.
Now I'm not saying that you're to sit at your desk and do nothing but wait for the next great idea to come to you.
'Stopping' can mean taking as long or as short a time that you need (and make available in a day).
When writing an email, walk away briefly before reviewing it. By taking this short break, you're able to review your email with fresh eyes. That way, you can check if you have provided your information in the best possible way for your reader to understand and action.
When speaking with a colleague, stopping and turning away from your computer (and other technology) can let them know that you are paying attention. Or if meeting with them virtually, minimising other apps and screens to help you focus on the other person. They will notice the effort that you've made for them.
Physically moving yourself, whether walking away briefly or turning your body, will help your mind to re-set. Stopping, whether for a minute or a few hours, will help you to have a clear mind when communicating both in writing and in person.
- A busy mind can have a negative effect on communication
- Being busy doesn't always equate to being productive
- Stopping is important
Although you may not be able to stop and sit back with your feet on your desk, you can stop, even if only briefly. Stopping may mean different things at different times of the day and working week. Finding what works for you will help you to become more effective with your communication.
The Writing Effective Emails Self-Study Course gives you techniques to help you stop and approach your writing so that you're productive rather than dealing with the effects of being busy. Find out more…