Conventional wisdom says that "collaboration" is the key to success. Indeed, companies have spent umpteen billions of dollars on open plan offices specifically to increase the number of meetings between office workers.

The predictable result has been a sharp increase in the number of meetings inside the average firm. According to research conducted at the University of North Carolina, executives now spend an average of 23 hours a week in meetings, versus only 10 hours a week five decades ago.

Rather than driving innovation, though, much of this collaboration is simply wasted time. Recent research from Bain and Company found that companies in the U.S. waste $37 billion each year on unnecessary and unproductive meetings, a number that's been increasing steadily for the past decade.

Conventional wisdom also says that it's essential, in between the meetings, to use your phone to "remain connected" to your colleagues, customers, managers, and stakeholders. Unfortunately, every time you accept an unscheduled call, you're interrupting whatever you're currently doing, and it takes the average worker fully 23 minutes to recover from such distractions.

In other words, while meetings and phone calls are supposed to make you and your company more productive and successful, they actually have the opposite effect, not because collaboration and connection aren't good ideas, but because meetings and calls often consume more time than they're worth.

In particular, meetings and calls force you to adapt your usage of your own time to someone else's needs. In the case of meetings, your schedule is at the mercy of the other attendees, even if you called the meeting yourself. In the case of phone calls, you're interrupting your concentration, forcing you to pay an extra penalty of elapsed time as you recover your concentration.

Now, there are volumes upon volumes of books that provide ways to make meetings more productive and equally as many books intended to help hone phone skills. But what if, rather than trying to manage the damage from these behaviors, it makes more sense to bypass them altogether?

That's what billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban does. According to a recent interview, his "secret life hack" is "no meetings or phone calls unless I'm picking up a check. Everything is email."

This advice might sound a bit strange, considering that email can also be a huge waste of time, since only a small percentage of the emails that you receive are likely to be relevant or require a response. However, email (and social media for that matter) has a huge advantage over meetings and phone calls: it leaves you in control of your schedule.

As long as you don't pursue the Sisyphean task of "zero inbox," eschewing meetings and phone calls in favor of emails puts you in near-complete control over how you spend your time. That's a huge deal because controlling how you spend your time not only increases the likelihood you'll achieve your goals, it also  helps ensure you remain healthy during the pursuit of them.

In case I haven't made it clear, the key to making Cuban's strategy work is to limit your use of email (and social media) to certain set periods of the day. You want to turn off push notifications and resist the urge to constantly check email. As Cuban puts it: "Don't wake up in middle of the night or email or anything."

Lest you think this is one of those "only a billionaire could get away with it" pieces of advice, I might point out that two first-time entrepreneurs recently used cold emailing to get Cuban to fund their startups. Indeed, I personally have run my business almost exclusively through email for the past 20 years.

So I'm living proof this brilliant hack works for us mere mortals.

Published on: Aug 1, 2018
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