Edward Everett, former secretary of state and president of Harvard College, spoke for two hours before Abraham Lincoln's three-minute Gettysburg Address.
If the productivity lesson from this isn't already clear, here it is: Say what you need to, and then you are done. Simple takes more work than complex. Simple teaches. Simple is remembered.
Working hard is a big part of the battle, but working smart is just as important. There are some basic things I do each day to help me get more done, like keeping communication short. I picked up most of these habits by learning from people, like Abe Lincoln, who are highly successful.
1. Keep emails to seven or eight sentences at most.
I have suffered from insomnia for twenty years, and I find that reading emails is very useful in getting me to sleep each night. They are usually way too long and typically do not have a clear end point (much more Everett than Lincoln). The vast majority of emails should be less than seven to eight sentences. Sometimes, I wonder if people are writing emails to other people or to themselves.
2. Schedule meetings in 15-minute increments.
Certainly, in the United States, we seem to schedule meetings in hour-long increments. I'm not sure why this happens, because it's as random as scheduling meetings in seasons. In my experience, most meetings take nowhere near an hour--and they should not take an hour.
I break my meetings into 15-minute increments. If a meeting is really going to take an hour, I give it four, 15-minute increments. I learned this from Ambassador Thomas Melady, who I worked for while I was in college. Perhaps he was also very familiar with the Gettysburg Address. He scheduled meetings in five-minute increments.
3. Begin every meeting by stating its purpose.
Every meeting should begin with the organizer stating the purpose of that meeting. It should go something like this, "The purpose of this meeting is to determine if we are going to add this new feature to the product."
I learned this from Intuit when I licensed our software to them. This will avoid what I would charitably refer to as "meeting drag," where you start out with one purpose but eventually end on the development of a unified theory. I suppose we are all guilty of this.
By the way, a meeting is a baseball game, not a football game; we play our innings, and then we are done -- we don't run out the clock. Again, think about what Lincoln accomplished in three minutes. We all tend to try to fill up vacant space during meetings, so ending a meeting after the objective is achieved is a good thing.
4. Decide whether a meeting is even necessary.
I think one of the reasons God invented email is because, if it is used properly, it should reduce the need to meet with people. I still find myself in meetings that could have been eliminated through the simple use of email.
None of this is rocket science but these easy adjustments can help increase your productivity. More is less. Simple is better. Simple is remembered.