Today, we have a guest post from Baxter Denney, Manager, Database Marketing at Citrix Online. Baxter recently returned from a month-long trip to New Zealand that was half vacation, half workshifting. Below are some tips on how Baxter stayed connected with limited bandwidth.
Simply stated, Americans are connected. We are information obese – with broadband and unlimited data plans feeding phones “more computer power than all of NASA [had] when it sent two astronauts to the moon.”
You would think this constant stream of information would breed expert sifters able to navigate the deluge of data efficiently, but the truth is the human brain cannot handle so much information so quickly.
Josh Foer, author and memory champ, sums up the current information wave pretty well in Moonwalking with Einstein: “Much as our taste for sugar and fat may have served us well in a world of scarce nutrition but is now maladaptive in a world of ubiquitous fast-food joints, our memories aren’t perfectly adapted for our contemporary information age.”
The hyper-connected among us argue that the fire hose of information is a competitive advantage when it comes to business: more information allows things to move more quickly. But with all due respect to the late Senator Ted Stevens, are we just clogging up our own series of tubes?
I have been conducting my own personal experiment in connectivity during a month-long stint in New Zealand. While the main goal of the trip is to vacation, I am workshifting half the time. Knowing I would need Internet, I booked hotels with wireless access.
What I did not realize is that bandwidth in New Zealand is scarce – in my first hotel, the daily limit was 50 MB (about 10 songs, a few minutes of video or 10-15 medium-sized slideshow or spreadsheet files). Just downloading my work inbox after a few days away took at least half my daily amount. I could try and adapt, or I could break out the credit card time and time again as I hit my daily limit repeatedly. Since I neither trade stocks nor put lives at risk if I reply slowly, I had some flexibility in addressing the low-bandwidth challenge.
Here is how I have adjusted:
- Download judiciously.
- Meet sparingly.
- Unplug and execute.
- Forget your status.
Office workers are used to instantaneous email messages, with giant attachments just begging to be opened and viewed. In Outlook, you can set the server to only download “headers” – the subject and sender information, the first few lines of plain text, no graphics or attachments.
You can then make the download call on an email-by-email basis. I found that about 80 percent of the emails I ended up filing for later action or deletion did not need a full read.
Before agreeing to meet online, make sure the cause is worthy. If the meeting invitation doesn’t have a clear goal, or your input really isn’t going to add value, decline it. It may seem like heresy to refuse to meet with someone, but you can often ask the organizer for the meeting objective and then achieve the goals without having to actually meet.
If you do need to meet, keep a laser focus on the meeting goal. (David Allen suggests picturing the ideal meeting conclusion and then working backward to figure out how to achieve it.)
In order to save bandwidth, I often find myself having “IM meetings” as a nice complement to GoToMeeting. You get the spontaneity and real-time response of a meeting without the usage concerns. In GoToMeeting sessions, disable webcams (both showing and viewing) and limit the time you share your own screen.
At my organization, very few job descriptions have “read and respond to email” as a
primary requirement. Yet it’s not difficult to get buried in your inbox all day only to find
you haven’t accomplished much at all.
Much of the urgency we feel in email communications is an effect of recency. Whatever
is happening RIGHT NOW is most important, right? Maybe, but probably not.
While correspondence with colleagues is a critical component of my job, I also need to
spend time thinking, planning, reviewing and creating – most of which can be done
offline. After handling the truly urgent requests (and, of course, noting meeting times and
such), I will close Outlook and work through my offline tasks. I have been able to make
significant progress on project planning, reviewing thought-leadership pieces I had set
aside, responding to older, lower priority messages and completing many administrative
tasks I was continuously putting off.
With no threat of interruption, I was able to get these things done much quicker than
usual. On a typical day, I might be able to do 3-4 significant tasks, but when
disconnected, I am doubling that.
Image-heavy sites like Facebook, Pinterest and ESPN are bandwidth killers. They are also ways we distract ourselves from our job. When the natural wonders of New Zealand are outside my hotel room, the last place I want to spend time is online reading about my friends’ lunch check-ins or checking NBA scores. I limited myself to 2 sessions each day of 5 minutes or fewer for social networking sites and have not missed it since.
The bottom line is that most job challenges are ones we create ourselves and not a function of how connected we are or how quickly we respond. While it would be a lie to say I am as good at my job in New Zealand as I am in the U.S., I have tried to turn my connection challenges into advantages. (I am writing this on a coach bus from Picton to Nelson, for instance).
Hopefully, I can apply these lessons to my job when I am stateside. I would love to hear how others have adjusted to similar challenges while workshifting in foreign lands, so please share them with me via the comments or @tbdenney.