How to Get More Done with the Low-Communication Diet
Research shows that the average office worker spends around 23 hours per week in meetings and receives 121 emails per day.
That’s a lot of time spent on merely communicating what to do, when to do it and how to do it. Without actually doing it.
One could argue that some of these office workers never actually get around to doing anything because they are stuck in the never-ending emails — meeting — emails — meeting loop.
Now I know that’s not you. I know that you actually get stuff done. A lot.
But what if you could get even more done by fine-tuning what, how, why, and when you communicate?
Let me introduce you to the low-communication diet. A concept that is — as the name reveals — closely related to the low-information diet.
The Low-Communication Diet is about minimizing the time spend on irrelevant, unimportant and unactionable information.
As a result, you can get more done by re-allocating the time previously spent on unnecessary communication to the work that actually matters.
So if you are still with me, let me show you how you can use a simple 5-step process to streamline your entire office communication and claim back the lost hours in your day:
The 5-Step Communication Streamlining Process
Analyze > Eliminate > Optimize > Automate > Outsource
Step 1: Analyze your communication processes
Self-awareness is the key to transformation. That’s why the first step to taking back your time is to understand how you are spending it! Use these questions to create a comprehensive analysis of how, why and how long you are busy with office communication:
Which channels are you using for communication at work (emails, meetings, calls, Slack, WhatsApp…)?
How much time do you spend on each channel (e.g. replying to emails, time spend in meetings…)?
What’s the purpose of each (informing other people, making decisions, obtaining information, discussion etc.)?
Step 2: Eliminate irrelevant, unimportant and unactionable communication
Elimination is the purest and most effective form of streamlining: Nothing should be optimized if it can be eliminated in the first place! Now the meaning of irrelevant, unimportant and unactionable communication will be different for everyone but here are some examples:
Unactionable Meetings: meetings that are for information purposes only (e.g. updates) and where no decision is taken. These meetings can still be important for other reasons (e.g. team spirit) but their necessity should be evaluated.
Irrelevant Emails: Emails that are sent to people for whom the email content is completely irrelevant (because there is no action point for them and they don’t need to be in the loop about this specific issue).
Unimportant Calls: Calls from a colleague about an issue that can wait until the next project meeting since it’s not urgent or blocking anybody’s work at the moment.
Step 3: Optimize your email, call and meeting management
Once you’ve eliminated unnecessary communication processes, it’s time to find the most efficient way to manage the remaining meetings, calls, and emails. One way to do this is to communicate crystal clear by stating the purpose, context, and action points clearly (this works for meetings AND emails).
Step 4: Automate communication processes where it makes sense
This is usually the fun part! Automation is about using technology to perform manual and time-consuming processes. You can automate the activity itself, the decision about an activity or the trigger for an activity. One way to automate communication is to use scheduling tools like Calendly and Doodle instead of emailing back-and-forth to find a meeting date.
Step 5: Outsource communication processes wherever it makes sense
Many productivity geeks consider outsourcing the holy grail of streamlining. The concept is simply: use money to buy time! The obvious way to do this is to hire a (virtual) assistant to manage your communication for you.
Now that you know the basics, let’s look at some specific strategies for implementing a low-communication diet:
Use an implicit signal that shows you should not be disturbed (e.g. put your headphones on or close your door).
Agree on “no-distraction” times with your team that will be kept meeting- and interruption-free. Furthermore, define which topics classify as “urgent” enough to interrupt someone else.
When you delegate tasks to other people, set up and document standard operating processes for a task so there is no need to come back with questions to you.
Don’t attend meetings where your presence is not absolutely necessary.
Cancel unnecessary meetings entirely (e.g. if there is no decision to be made).
Replace meetings with email if they are for information purposes only and with phone calls if the issue can be resolved in under 10 minutes.
Reduce meeting frequency (e.g. do bi-weekly team meetings instead of every week).
Email and Messages:
Consolidate accounts and channels by deleting or forwarding unnecessary email addresses, merging all your email addresses into one mailbox and choosing only ONE channel for private messages. Only share contact information for the channels you want to be contacted on. You can also use IFTTT to send you messages from other channels to Slack or Skype.
Ask to be taken off irrelevant email groups and leave chat groups that are not relevant anymore.
Set up email rules with your team that will reduce email influx for everyone: > Think twice before sending an email. Is it necessary to send an email now or can it wait until the next team meeting? > Only send the email to people that need to respond. Avoid “reply to all”. > Don’t just forward an email without a summary and action points.
Don’t share your phone number in your email signature, business card and in public directories.
Let every call go to voicemail with a recorded message saying that they should send you an email instead.
Meetings & Calls:
Set a clear agenda and outcome for the meeting and stay on topic.
Only invite people that are absolutely needed.
Make 20 min your default meeting duration.
Wrap-up with a summary, clear action steps, responsibilities, and deadlines.
Combine your lunch and commute with doing meetings or calls.
Do (video) calls instead of meetings to avoid unnecessary travel.
Schedule 2–3 dedicated time slots for attacking your inbox and messages and turn off all notifications.
Use the OHIO method: Only handle it once! Take care of urgent things right away, delegate less important things, delete irrelevant things, archive for-reference emails in specific folders, and use a tool like Boomerang to bounce emails back to your inbox for later follow-up.
Use templates for email replies that occur more frequently.
Agree on additional email rules with your team to increase efficiency: > Be clear and concise, the shorter the better. > Stick to one topic per email. > Start long emails with a quick summary before getting into the details. > Highlight important information in bold. > Give clear action points with timelines and name the responsible person.
Use scheduling tools like Calendly and Doodle to avoid back-and-forth emails to find a meeting date.
Set up automatic email filters that pre-select important emails and archive the rest in specific folders for weekly review (Gmail automatically separates your inbox from newsletters and updates).
Use IFTTT to automatically share information. Some examples: send your partner a text message when you leave the office, post a reminder to slack before a meeting or automatically share an article when you apply a specific tag in Pocket.
Hire a (virtual) assistant to manage all your communication (e.g. pre-filter your email, answer phone calls, coordinate appointments).
Most of us spend way too much time on unactionable emails and irrelevant meetings. By going on a low-communication diet, we can claim back valuable time in our day and focus on the things that really matter. This doesn’t mean, however, that we should stop communicating entirely. Communication is essential for working together effectively and building a company culture that makes people WANT to come to work. But there is a fine line between essential communication, relationship-building communication and simply time-wasting and irrelevant communication.
If you only take away one thing from this article, ask yourself this: How is inefficient and irrelevant office communication hurting my productivity and what can I do to improve?