Few things bother me as much as efficiency gurus. I find the whole concept of “being efficient” to be fundamentally broken.
I want to talk to you about coffee in a minute, but first, let’s talk about emails. Whenever the topic of email management comes up, the assumption is always that all of us have this bottomless hatred of emails — and we must all loathe our inboxes.
But here’s the thing: I don’t hate answering emails.
I actually think it’s nice when someone sends me a good email. And I don’t mind writing a good email myself, either. Also, I really love it when a blog reader drops me a line to say hello and to connect. If this would happen to me a hundred times a day, then I’d consider myself lucky for having the problem of finding time to respond. Like everyone, I too get spam and other emails that aren’t very good, but I don’t mind tweaking my filters every now and then. I actually enjoy tweaking my inbox rules!
But for some reason unbeknownst to me, I really should a) hate spending time in my inbox and b) do away with any incoming emails as quickly as humanly possible.
I don’t get this. As I enjoy replying to good emails, I craft my responses with care and attention to detail. Does this make me some kind of a freak show?
To add to this utter madness, I also enjoy using language. I think it matters a great deal to find the right choice of words and to string them together in a tonality that serves my intentions. If the correspondence is in English — great! — now I get a valuable opportunity to practice my second language. But, apparently, none of this is as important as speed-writing short staccato email accentuated by an obligatory emoji to make up for any mistakes in tonality.
I’ve gotten caught up in the glorification of doing-things-as-fast-as-you-can myself: I once took a serious stab at both speed-reading and touch-typing. Speed-reading was easy; the secret was to stop making the words with your tongue muscles as you dash through the text. Touch-typing was worse; it was all about practicing not looking at the keyboard. Both techniques, as it turned out in the end, were perfect ways to destroy the artistic enjoyment of both reading and writing.
I’ve stopped making excuses for being who I am. I’m a tactile person and I want to feel what I do. At my computer, I use a clunky mechanical gaming keyboard. I want to feel each stroke of each letter and number. And the text decides how much time it wants, no-one else.
The same goes for my morning coffee. I enjoy each great cup of coffee as if it was my last. I could, of course, down four cups of coffee in ten minutes, but why would I want to do that? And if I did, I surely wouldn’t consider it to be an accomplishment. To me, this goes for doing everything that I love doing. If I would feel the urge to get anything enjoyable over quickly just to get my fix — then it’s an addiction that ought to be kept in check.
What about meetings, then? Everyone seems to be over-the-moon about having short and fast-paced meetings. But I’ve always had long meetings with my clients and colleagues — sometimes meetings that have lasted for hours on end. We would talk, relate to each other, experiment with ideas and concepts, explore various interesting venues of reasoning, and we would laugh, argue, and listen. With this approach, we’ve been able to get to places and results that we otherwise would never have gotten to.
Sure, at some level, I can accept that a bad meeting is less bad if it’s being kept short. But the basic problem here is not the length of the meeting — it’s the quality of the coffee… sorry, meeting.
Don’t get me wrong. I hate bad meetings just as I hate bad emails and bad coffee. But I can’t see the value of conditioning oneself to have more bad short meetings, or to reply faster and shorter to more bad emails, or to drink more bad cups of coffee and do it faster. If that’s what constitutes efficiency, all those gurus can keep all their “efficiencies” to themselves — at least as far as I’m concerned.
Now, I think I know what many professionals fear in this regard. They fear being accused of being lazy or worse — being slow.
But see, this is how experience and passion actually work: If it takes a junior PR consultant 30 minutes to draft a press release, then I could probably produce a press release with the same quality in five minutes. If I get 30 minutes to write that press release, the average junior just can’t match my draft — even if given a whole week to try. And, if would get a good two hours to write that press release, I might even be able to write something worth reading1.
Does this make me slow? Does this make me lazy? For the sake of argument, would that really be so bad, then? For the human side of doing business, I rate passion, craftsmanship, and curiosity a lot higher than output per minute. Any such repetitive tasks should be promptly outsourced to machines and computers anyway. As far as I’m concerned: Fuck Taylor.
Someone might argue that I probably appreciate getting my order quickly at McDonald’s. Sure I do, but let me then remind you how long it took McDonald’s to get where they are today. Make no mistake about it: McDonald’s is about creating McDonald’s itself, it’s not about anyone’s passion for cooking burgers. When I want to experience an artisan hamburger, you don’t find me waiting in line at a fast food restaurant. As for outsourcing repetitive human tasks to machines and computers — isn’t that exactly what McDonald’s is in the process of doing?
As for all of you efficiency gurus, first of all: It’s nothing personal, but fuck you. Your reign must be brought to an end. Your cultural superstardom must its pedestals sawn clean off. Go and solve a sudoku for time, or something2.
We need a society where young people are encouraged to add that little extra oomph to every delivery — even if they might fail to add actual value each and every time. We also need a society where we appreciate the fact that experience sometimes warrants extra time for a level of quality, ingenuity, and innovation that otherwise could never be obtained. Innovation is often attributed to the younger generations, but I would argue that we’re systematically hindering untapped layers of innovation by not appreciating the fact that true progress also requires experience, life-long passion, and enjoying the craft.
There. Now, I’m turning my phone off to enjoy a great cup of coffee. The ritual is mindful, passionate, and slow. I’ll be damned if I don’t take my time to fully experience each and every one of these carefully crafted drops. Also, I know from experience that anything I produce afterwards will be a whole lot better because of it.
- Now, some PR professionals might react to the example of the press release as I’m implying that junior PR consultants rarely produces press releases worth reading. Still, writing press releases is what many junior PR consultants do. To those of you who thinks that I’m out of line here, I’d ask you to randomly collect a whole bunch of officially published press releases and read them through. How many of them, as per your personal estimation, are close to what they could’ve been in terms of quality?
- This, however, is truly not fair. Creating and solving sudoku puzzles at the highest level require ingenious craftsmanship, passion, and experience. If you don’t believe me, check out the mesmerizingly slow but also insanely beautiful channel Cracking the Cryptic on Youtube.