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Rational Thoughts on Rationing Around The Office

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One of the great ironies of the technology age is that all of this "stuff" was supposed to make us so much more efficient and paper-free that time would free up and trees would get a chance to grow ancient again.

It's not happening; quite the opposite, in fact.

Years ago now, I conducted one of the last interviews with David Packard, Sr. co-founder of Hewlett-Packard and asked him about this. As a pioneer of Silicon Valley, I asked him how he felt about all this technology and yet we, as a culture, are busier, stressed and more pressured to produce than ever.

He just shrugged with a forlorn look and said he didn't feel responsible. He was an inventor and how people chose to use his innovations was beyond his control.

Stream of consciousness #2

My mother was a child during World War II and remembers rationing very well; gas, sugar, etc. She would be the first to tell you that although those were hard times, they were formative in a positive way. Rationing made everyone value what they had and use it as efficiently as possible.
Many have asked during this post 9/11-era why we haven't been called on as a country to ration our resources (namely energy consumption).

Maybe the answer to that question that I asked David Packard so many years ago is that technology has freed us up too much. Getting more done in less time, being accessible all the time and being able to access more tools and information has buried in us excesses that we continue to abuse like drunken sailors on shore leave.

Maybe it's time to sober up.

If you want to make you and your staff more efficient in both time and resources, here are some areas to start rationing right now. It's another way of setting up some boundaries.

1. Ration e-mail. It's one of the biggest time wasters in the office. We get too many, write them too long and threads are deadly to productivity. Rationing strategies: set hours, set a time limit spent on e-mail a day, set metrics-based goals to lower the amount of e-mail.

2. Ration utilities. Don't just look at the monthly bill and moan. How much is the office consuming. Set company-wide goals (again metrics-based) to lower it. Let it factor into bonus formulas.

3. Ration paper. Audit just how much paper the company is plowing through each month. Appoint a committee of employees to come up with a organization-wide strategy to print less. Set goals and reward the troops for meeting those goals.

4. Ration ink. Have that same committee do the same to conserve ink and toner consumption. (May I suggest calling them the "pen & ink" team or "green" team).

5. Ration daily network time per employee. Set work hours both in the office and during off-hours. In may sound contradictory, but doing extra work from home is here to stay. I won't suggest eliminating that piece. It's a losing battle and workers today, need the freedom to catch up from home to make up for stepping out during business hours for a soccer game or parent-teacher conference. However, like everything else, it needs limits. The 24/7 employee is not the dream employee. Eventually, they all burn out and get cranky and resentful.

Last updated: Mar 24, 2008




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