The 5% Doctrine

Like it or not, your email inbox has become a huge part of your life. This incredibly powerful tool revolutionized the workplace, changed the way we interact with each other and seems to nearly have taken complete control of our lives.  Think of the amount of time each day you must dedicate to reading and answering emails; the numbers are mind-boggling.

Recently, I read an article which posed that the email inbox is like a drug; the “opiate of the workplace”, if you will. We really can’t do much at work without it anymore, and this is something that won’t be changing anytime soon. This is likely due to the basic human drive to get our tasks in order, to itemize our obligations so that we aren’t running around from task to task. Because of this, the inbox is helpful, but the major con is that it completely controls your agenda!

How many times have you found yourself needing to complete one task, when suddenly a new email forced you to work on something else? And of course today, we take these inboxes with us everywhere, even on family vacations. Now, I am not here to preach about how good or bad this is. I just want to point out that one major flaw in an otherwise invaluable tool; it can totally control your day.

About ten years ago, my boss at the time taught me an amazing lesson. He said that everyone should spend 5% of their time thinking. Just thinking. The easiest way, he said, is to do something not in your usual routine. Not the usual meeting or the usual sessions; download a new product from the web and play with it. Open a help ticket with another company and review the service. Read an article on something unrelated to your business. Just don’t do the usual stuff (for comparison, 90% of your time will be spent on the usual stuff. The remaining 5% is HR).

I took his advice very seriously, and for many years I have been making sure that 5% of my time (every Friday at noon) is “unusual”.

Recently, I visited one of our customers and asked one of my “usual” questions – what value he finds in our product. His answer surprised me: he said that he usually spends most of his time reviewing tickets, and that those tickets set his agenda for the day. This can be a nightmare, but it’s his “usual”; it’s what he does for a living. Using our tool allows him to spend 5% of his time setting up the performance agenda, and not following inbox demands.

It was nice to see that my old boss was right, both for inboxes and performance.