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E-mail: the first Social Dilemma


Last week I was watching the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma. It tells you all about how tech companies design their algorithms in order to maximize the time we spend on social media. We’re being aggressively entertained and kept occupied with intermittent messages. Like a slot machine, we never know when the next hit of dopamine might come – which makes us, in a way, addicted. We find ourselves in a toxic relationship with social media: the platforms give us just enough to keep coming back for more.

Entertained by our in-boxes

Let’s think for a minute about this concept of “being entertained.” Spending time on social media often makes us feel like we are doing something, but it takes time and energy away from us that we could use to actually create something substantial. In business terms, I think processing our constant flow of e-mails works in a similar way: rather than creating, we are being constantly distracted and entertained. It’s difficult to focus on a major, long-term change project when there are 100 e-mails waiting in your inbox to be processed, sorted and answered.

Problems: occupation therapy for managers

E-mails are one of the major sources of “business entertainment”, keeping us fixated on distractions rather than working towards long-term improvements. A sign of this dilemma is the continuous focus on problem solving that I see in many organizations. Managers are confronted with ‘problems’ (big and small) in many different ways, all the time. They pop up in e-mails, but also in meetings, in the walkways, phone calls, and so on. We feel like we need to act aggressively to solve the problem.

To an extent, we are actually grateful for the problems: it’s easier and more satisfying short term to fix a problem than to deal with the insecurity of creating something new. When we’ve had a busy day, we feel satisfied – and we don’t ask ourselves if we moved anywhere closer to achieving our goals.

But where do we find the time to Create?

But when do we find time to Create? This is the big question for many organizations now, facing uncertain futures and major strategic transformations. In times of COVID-19 and the digital revolution, we can’t afford to just solve the small everyday problems. We need time and attention to think about where we’re heading, and what the right direction is. To set new goals, and to eliminate projects that aren’t going anywhere. To do that, we need a delicate mental peace and quiet. That will be hard to find if we let ourselves get distracted every time the phone rings or an e-mail comes in.

Reflection and tips

So, I want to ask all of you, my readers: how much time do you spend answering e-mails and solving problems? And how much time do you spend thinking about your major change projects? Do you have any strategies to reduce the number of distractions in your life – numbers of e-mails and problems-to-solve? How do you organize your working life so you can Act and Create?

Some of the strategies that our clients use are the following:

  • Start every day, week, month and quarter with your Goals. Using a framework like OGSM can bring these to the forefront at all these occasions, making sure that your focus is constantly brought back to the things that really matter.
  • Use the mornings for creative work, and afternoons for reacting and problem-solving. Creative work requires more energy and focus, so it’s best to prioritize it.
  • Avoid using e-mail as your primary communication tool within your organization and team. Tools like Slack or a task management board can reduce the inflow of e-mail and reduce the amount of processing that needs to be done.

Beat stress and procrastination with Bizaline

Keeping your major transformation and change projects on track, without losing your everyday efficiency: it’s a major challenge. At Bizaline, we have years of expertise with certified methods for planning, strategic execution and task management – including OGSM and Getting Things Done. Send me an e-mail at if you have tips or stories to share. And if you’d like to learn more, I’d love to schedule a call to discuss how we can help you get your projects under control.