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Getting things done. Or not

Getting things done. Or not
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First Published: Thu, Sep 23 2010. 09 02 PM IST
Updated: Thu, Sep 23 2010. 09 02 PM IST
Have you ever visited a site called Lifehacker.com? You should. As soon as possible. But kindly wait for this column to get over first.
The site is an interesting collection of ways to better do the mundane things in life. For instance, as I write this column, the Lifehacker homepage includes posts on how to keep computers quiet by cleaning them regularly, how to make a compact workstation, and how to make daily household chores more educational. (Don’t ask.)
However Lifehacker’s metier is the concept of “getting things done”, or GTD.
GTD, I gather from all the blogs and books, is now a global productivity cult. The idea is to use all manners of tools, to-do lists and techniques—from Moleskine notebooks to smartphones—to turn individuals into lean, mean work-completing machines.
Now, like most people, I am quite enamoured by the idea of being efficient and productive. Haven’t we all secretly admired colleagues who have clean workstations and meticulous timetables? They are our heroes.
Unless, of course, if they are in our team. In which case they are self-absorbed schmucks who make everyone else look bad. If we had a GTD to-do list, the first item is going to be “9.15-9.20am: Firebomb schmuck’s cubicle”.
Now I know what most people are thinking. “Aha. Surely this fellow is going to take all this ‘getting things done’ logic and make some tired Commonwealth Games (CWG) joke!”
I am appalled. How could they even presume such a thing? I don’t know about your standards. But this column has standards which are different. I have no interest in raking up the CWG here. Kindly let sleeping dogs lie.
Instead I want to talk about people in the office who don’t want to get things done. Where are the blogs and books for them? These people, for perfectly valid reasons, do not want to deliver projects, reports or presentations on time.
For example, assume you are a summer intern. You have been asked to do a review of the company’s staffing policies. After a week of analysis you suddenly realize that there is only one serious problem with your company’s staffing policy: Its summer internship programme is a pointless sink of time and money. Oh dear.
Suddenly you are asked to email your findings to a group of reviewers. What to do? You can’t just disappear from office and never come back again. Stipend cheques are pending, as always. You can’t present false results. That is just immoral. You can’t say you haven’t found anything. That would make you look incompetent. So what do you do?
After much thought, I have decided to share with you readers some of my favourite ways of not getting things done. However, you must understand that many of these have been honed after years of observing people in IT, HR and the Delhi Development Authority.
So I can’t just give away all of them. Only the ones that involve email. But these are sufficient for most people with less than seven years’ experience. And they work on all operating systems.
1. The Format Feign
Grab your half-baked report, convert it into the most obscure document format and then mail it out. For instance, many people still have no idea what docx files are. Don’t even start about pptx files. Recipients will be too embarrassed to ask you how to access your attachment.
Time gained: 24-48 hours
2. The Con Call
People love conference calls. So send them a file with complete gibberish and promise to explain over a conference call. There are a hundred ways to sabotage a conference call. My favourite is sharing the telephone number with one digit off.
Time gained: Variable. Right after this column I have to attend a con call to discuss an old employer’s vulnerability to the Y2K problem.
3. The File Guile
Promise in the email that details are attached. And then send the email without the attachment. Recipient will immediately point out error. Look puzzled. Send email again. Again without attachment. And so on. Blame technology.
Time gained: 12-24 hours without IT involvement. Up to six months with.
4. The Full Inbox
Perhaps the most devious of all email tricks. But never within the same office. Send email but attach something huge. Like a video file of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. Mail should bounce. Then send him another email with select parts of the bounce message. Tell him you don’t know what to do now and everything is bouncing. Offer to courier a CD.
If initial mail doesn’t bounce, just apologize. Most people will then start watching the trilogy.
Time gained: Same as point 3 above.
5. The Nothing Mail
This is to be used rarely. Ideally only in an emergency. As soon as someone sends you a query, hit reply and then send. Basically you have replied with a blank email. In my experience, everyone assumes this is a mistake and waits for a proper response. Sometimes they will wait for a whole day. But the brain soothes them with a false sense of closure.
Time gained: 5 minutes–24 hours.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at cubiclenama@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Sep 23 2010. 09 02 PM IST