Back in 1985 or so I worked for GTE and we had just put DEC VT240s on everyone's desktop so we could access the state of the art in word processing (non-WYSIWYG SCRIBE), spreadsheets (if you would call DECCALC a spreadsheet) and email. Within in weeks were were deluging each other with up to 10 whole emails per day - my boss was outraged. He said there was no way we could get our jobs done if we each wasting all our time writing and reading as many as 10 emails per day, and he tried to put "no email hours" in place.We called it "Gerry's quiet time."
Parenthetical historical note: Back in the day, everyone was actually more worried about deluges of faxes (for you junior readers, faxes are like emails that someone remotely prints on your printer, its complicated) and the rise of voice mail systems and word processing software replacing secretaries and receptionists (for you junior readers, these were employees (generally women) who would actually pick up the phone, see who was calling, see if you were in and if you weren't they would take a message on a little pink piece of paper and put it on your desk. You could also write or draw (this is where you used a pen back in the day) something on paper and give it to them and they would type it up for you, or create graphics for you. They also provided pretty much the only way to meet women for most IT people and engineers - luckily Internet dating and Internet porn sites came along about the same time that female clerical employees disappeared.) (Could it be that all the women who would have been secretaries are now Internet porn stars instead?) (Since this is a parenthetical aside, I tried to use lots of parentheses.) (I'll have to check Eats Shoots and Leaves but I think the period goes inside the parentheses, because doing it this way doesn't look right).
This was back in the day when 70% of your working day would be spent in conference rooms in meetings. This lead to Steinberg's law, which said "When meetings exceed more than 50% of the working week, it leads to more meetings to discuss why there are so many meetings, followed by more meetings to discuss why no work is getting done, until 80% of the work week is taken up by meetings. It would be nice to believe that there is then some downward pressure on the volume of meetings, but there is not - the only reason it is not 100% of the work week is because people have to go to the bathroom occasionally." What we determined was that 90% of the actual work got accomplished during the 10% of the time that individuals spent together in HDRs (Hallway Design Reviews) or CPFOs (Coffee Pot Face Offs). The 70% of the time in conference rooms and the 20% of the time behind your desk was pretty much accomplishment-free.
So, where are we today? I am now in conference room meetings less than 5% of the work week, mainly because I work at home. I'm probably in the multi-party teleconference equivalent of the old style conference room meeting another 5% of the time, but in my job most of my meeting and telephone time is spent directly with clients vs. internal nit picking - a very good thing. However, I now deal with 200-300 emails per day, not counting spam or non-work email addresses. Realistically, I spend 30-35% of time reading or writing or dealing with email - and email is essentially an asynchronous, geographically separated, temporally draaaaggged out version of the old conference room meeting. Pretty much 90% of the work gets accomplished during SPCDRs (Spontaneous Phone Call Design Reviews) and IMFOs (Instant Messaging Face Offs) - or UF2FI (Unexpected Face to Face Interaction). Now, that's progress!
Note: the graphics for today's blather were sent in by alert readers Greg Y. of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Sascanada, and Kelly K. of Dumfries, VA.