Of all the problems the country faces, very few of them make their way to Oval Office.
Yes, there are many problems for the president to solve. There is a lot on his plate. But for every one problem the president is briefed on, there are hundreds — maybe thousands — that never make it to the West Wing. They are intercepted along the way, solved or deemed not critical enough for the Commander in Chief.
It’s hard to communicate with The President. It’s hard to get in touch with the President. Politicians campaign on the promise of addressing everyone’s concerns. But that’s not what they do in office, not even close. It would be impossible. The flood of information and data flying in would crash the whole operation.
So they make it hard to reach the president. Any problem that actually gets there has been vetted and analyzed by many layers underneath him. This happens on purpose. It makes things work. Communicating with the president is hard.
Maybe your organization should take the same approach. Maybe your open door policy is making it too easy for people to hijack people’s time. Maybe adding a little friction to communication could be exactly what you need.
Ask for written communications
Time and time again we’ve celebrated the advantages of writing things out. At Amazon, Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos asks executives to create six-page narrative memos for communicating ideas to him. Why? It forces clear, structured thinking. And it ensures any ideas that make it up to the CEO have been thoroughly analyzed and shaped first. It’s a harder way of communicating. And it avoids a lot of high-value time being wasted on stream-of-consciousness ramblings and half-baked ideas.
Try this yourself, you’d be surprised how many “interesting” ideas don’t stand up to the pressure of a six-page memo. If the idea can’t support a few thousand words of text, how is it supposed to function in practice?
Schedule office hours
In Google’s early years, former executive Marissa Mayer — like many important leaders — was inundated with requests for her time. Mayer instituted a policy she’d picked up while teaching at Stanford. She started holding office hours. Googlers could sign up for slices of time with the boss from 4-5:30 p.m. each day. Anything was on the table.
It made getting in touch with the boss easier, but added a layer of friction to the communication process. Employees had to go to the trouble of signing up for a slot, scheduling the time, planning what they would say. Many bad ideas didn’t seem worth such trouble. And many great ideas, like Gmail, started in these conversations.
Control the notifications
Notification management is going to be the new email inbox management. Wait and see. It seems every new app comes with the desire to ping at any whim. Left unchecked, your days will be filled with reacting, never creating. Checking email, Facebook notifications, Twitter notifications, Slack messages — it can be overwhelming.
Start editing your notifications. Do you really need Facebook alerts on your phone?
Remember the old days, when you’d sign in to your email thinking “wonder if anyone messaged me.” It was walking to the front yard and checking the mail. It was fun to find new messages. Try getting back to this by curbing the notifications coming through your phone and computer. Yes, you’ll be harder to reach.
But you’ll get more stuff done.
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