Summary: Come Up for Air By Nick Sonnenberg
Summary: Come Up for Air By Nick Sonnenberg

Summary: Come Up for Air By Nick Sonnenberg

The Scavenger Hunt

Let’s say you need to find meeting notes from last week in order to complete your work, but you just can’t remember where they’re stored. Were they in an email? A Slack message? Was that in a direct message or a channel? Which channel? Or maybe they are in a Google Doc . . . Was the link to the document in a text message? Maybe a group text message?

All of a sudden what should have taken just a few seconds is taking five, ten, maybe even fifteen minutes. Perhaps you can’t find the information at all. Maybe you have to pull in someone else to look for it, and now their time is also being wasted.

If you think about it, transferring information quickly is actually quite easy—just text everything! Most likely, nothing is faster. But the downside is that it becomes very difficult to find past messages and the information you need to get work done. So in order to work effectively as a team, everyone needs to optimize for the speed of retrieval by putting information where it belongs—even if it’s painful, and even if it’s longer in the short term.

In short, the best way to eliminate the Scavenger Hunt is to optimize for the speed of retrieval and to align as a team on when to use which tools in your tech stack. Just like a team has different roles that fulfill specific purposes, so do tools. When everyone is clear on the purpose of each tool and when to use them, it becomes very easy to retrieve past information because everything lives where it’s supposed to live.


More People, More Problems

more people to get everything done. It’s a natural inclination—if you need more bandwidth, hiring more people will quickly solve that problem. That is, after all, how you grow a business. But there’s a fundamental flaw to this way of thinking that can actually cause more problems than you had in the first place.

What many organizations fail to realize is that complexity scales exponentially with team size. The more people you hire, the more complicated things get. You have to manage more people, your workflows become more complex, and it becomes significantly harder to improve the way people work. If you’re not already operating efficiently, you’re just bringing people into a broken system, and you’re missing out on their full potential.

To put it another way: would you rather bring more people into a broken system and fix it later, or fix the system first and bring more people into an efficient system? The answer is obvious. Fix the overflowing sink, don’t mop faster!


The Efficiency-Driven Mindset

Peter Drucker, often referred to as the father of modern management, famously said, “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”

No one wants to hear that they’re doing something inefficiently, and no one likes having to change the way they operate, especially if they’ve been doing it that way for years.

But it’s a simple fact: you can never improve if you just do things the way they’ve always been done. If you want to improve, you have to purposefully dig for ways to move faster, decrease risk, and improve the way you work as both an individual and a team. It just comes down to a simple mindset shift: “There’s always a better way!”


Flow States

A “flow state” is a period of peak productivity, which is linked to the state that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first called “flow.”

It’s the feeling you get when you’re so focused on a project that, when you look at the clock, all of a sudden three hours have gone by in what feels like ten minutes.

One simple behavior change is to stop worrying so much about immediately responding to notifications. Fifty-six percent of people feel they need to respond immediately to notifications at work, but it’s a terribly inefficient way of operating—and in most cases, entirely unnecessary.

Another way to maximize flow states is to use a productivity technique called “batching.” The premise is simple: it is more efficient to batch related individual tasks and do them all at the same time than to constantly switch between tasks. This is due to the negative effects of “context switching,” which simply means that any time you switch between types of tasks you lose productivity as your brain is forced to shift gears to accommodate.

The Power of Automation

Automation—letting a computer do it—is one of the best ways to implement productivity principles. Automations can quickly save time, take ideas out of your brain (and store them in the right place), and maximize flow states by removing small mundane tasks from your daily life.

The idea is that if a computer can do something, it probably doesn’t require much creative thought. The task is usually something low level, menial, and not particularly interesting. In other words, it’s not something that should be taking up your time.

The Power of No

Working efficiently is great, but it’s equally important, if not more important, to consider whether the work on your plate is even worth doing in the first place. If you’re truly drowning in work, the best way to come up for air is to eliminate or push back work that is irrelevant, is unnecessary, or will not provide the results you and your team need at that moment.

Joe Polish, founder of the Genius Network, has distilled this concept into what he calls your “not-to-do” list, which he says is even more important than your to-do list. The idea is that any time you say yes to something, you are implicitly saying no to an infinite number of other things—therefore, we should really be saying no far more than we say yes.


Principles of Efficient Communication

PROBLEM: With so many communication methods available, the modern workplace has become distracting and overwhelming. Messages can be hard to find or go unnoticed, affecting culture and making it difficult to move work along.

SOLUTION: By aligning on when to use each type of communication method available to them, teams can limit distractions, reduce the Scavenger Hunt, and free up their time to get work done without all the headaches.


External Communication

PROBLEM: Most people have had bad email habits for decades. They use it for the wrong purposes because they fail to see email for what it truly is: a to-do list that others can add to. This has caused the inbox to become an incessant—and hugely inefficient—nuisance in our daily lives.

SOLUTION: By learning simple time-saving tricks and implementing an email management system called Inbox Zero, they can spend less time in their inbox. Aligning on when to use email as a team will take this to the next level, with exponential results.

What Is Inbox Zero?

Inbox Zero is a method for managing your inbox that allows you to quickly and easily deal with every email that comes into your inbox. The idea is to not just read the emails sent to you but to process them and get them out of your inbox so there is quite literally nothing left on your screen.


Internal Communication

PROBLEM: Teams need to communicate internally, yet much of this is done through email and text messages, which are not built for this purpose. The result is a disorganized communication system in which conversations become siloed and information is difficult to retrieve.

SOLUTION: Implementing an internal communication system allows teams to create a central command center where communication is organized by topic, communicating is fun, and conversations are focused and flow just as naturally as they would in person.


Efficient Meetings

PROBLEM: More often than not, meetings are ineffective and, at times, completely unnecessary. They’re one of the largest sources of inefficiency in organizations, preventing teams from getting their actual work done.

SOLUTION: The cost, frequency, and length of meetings can be reduced through simple techniques like asynchronous communication, agendas, prework, and more. The result is more time for important work and less time spent in unnecessary, unproductive meetings.


Workloads and Capacities

PROBLEM: Most people don’t know their true bandwidth because they’ve never taken into account how much time they spend in meetings and other activities within their role. This results in unrealistic estimates for how much time they have to spend on new work and forces them to work long hours to get everything done.

SOLUTION: Estimating the amount of time spent in meetings and on administrative work is the key to calculating how much time someone really has for new work. Once everyone has done this calculation, people can assign themselves a realistic workload while still ensuring that the highest-priority work gets done.


The Knowledge Base

PROBLEM: Most companies don’t have a system for organizing information, keeping it up to date, and making it accessible. This wastes time as people ask questions they should be able to answer on their own, and it poses a risk that company knowledge will be lost when people leave.

SOLUTION: Knowledge-based tools can be used to create a central repository for a company’s most important information, so that everyone can get the information they need—and know it’s correct—without distracting coworkers.


Process Documentation

PROBLEM: Processes are the backbone of an efficient organization, yet they’re often neglected. Inefficient and undocumented processes can slow a team down or, worst case, cause work to come to a grinding halt if someone leaves abruptly.

SOLUTION: Optimizing and documenting key business processes ensures consistent results, reduces the risk of error, and allows for steps to be automated or delegated. When this is done in a process management tool, it can turn any team into a well-oiled machine.