Luise Freese

digital clutter and how we use our time

Digital Clutter and how we use our time

Do you sometimes have that feeling of being busy and under pressure for the whole day (or even the entire week) and still couldn’t check off all tasks from your list? Do you have the presentiment that although we all focus on productivity, efficiency, and getting the most out of everything, we still scratch the surface and even get in our way with how we structure our workdays? Well, welcome to the club; you are not alone.

This is the 3rd part of my series about digital declutter - you can catch up with Part 1 Digital clutter is evil and Part 2 digital clutter and your 168 open tabs before you continue reading.

focus time & meetings

Collaboration is critical; we are better together in achieving goals, and teamwork is our reality. But sometimes, it seems as if we forget that there are not only teamwork-oriented periods but that we also need focus-time to prepare, process, and evaluate content as well as leverage ideas. How often are our days full of back-to-back meetings, how often do sessions overlap? How often do we feel that we do not even have enough time to eat, go to the restroom, get a fresh coffee? Not to mention taking a break or get some fresh air? I know, we are all swamped, our days are all tightly timed, even lunchtime needs to be productive.

But why do we attend all these meetings without taking the time to capture and condense the insights, process information, and reevaluate decisions? How intense is our commitment towards these meetings' goals if they only consume our time, but we don’t make time to reflect on them? How do we decide if we should be part of a meeting? Because we’ve been invited to it? Because a particular process requires the attendance of the role that I incorporate? Because we noticed a lack of information flow and want to talk with a group of people synchronously? I like to apply the ‘rule of two feet’ from the Barcamp approach: If I can’t learn nor contribute in a meaningful way, I will leave (or not even accept the invite) respectfully - and no one feels upset. Why? Because my presence is not required in all meetings and a good summary sometimes is more valuable than trying to squeeze in another meeting.

These days, it sometimes feels as I was talking 8 hours straight into my webcam, which is energy-draining not only because I miss meeting people in reality but also because quickly switching contexts and needing to focus on the next bunch of people is exhausting. No time to take a moment and work through what happened in a meeting makes many meetings pointless. Good meetings add value to our work, and we can add value to other’s work. And: in good discussions, every attendee is present.

If you zone out, leave

Heard your colleagues saying: “I will mute myself because I need to work on something aside, but I still listen with one ear”? Please ask them to leave in these cases. Multitasking is an illusion, and if some participants can’t fully commit to contribute, it’s instead a waste of time than adding value in a meaningful way.

Sometimes, people zone out not on purpose; it just happens. This is a coping mechanism to deal with information overload. Meetings all day long, all week without time for ourselves result in our minds going elsewhere, which again means that we joined a meeting but are not present in the moment.

Throwing Tech solutions on people problems

Working in tech and loving all things Microsoft 365 would be easy to search for technical solutions to solve these issues. And of course, some features assist us to maintain a healthy work behavior:

  • notification in Microsoft Teams that the meeting will end in 5 minutes, to make everyone aware, to not go over time

  • setting in Outlook to end meetings a couple of minutes earlier by default so that we at least have time to grab a coffee.

the real issue

But as much as I appreciate a hot coffee, these 5 minutes in between are more cover the problem that we don’t take time to reflect on and force every colleague to come up with a workaround how to solve that instead of working on an organization-wide healthy strategy how to avoid mental overload and aim for a corporate culture in which having focus time is as important as collaboration time.

Don’t accept meetings by default

To determine if you should attend a meeting and then also commit to be present, you can ask yourself:

  • What’s the meeting’s purpose?
  • What value can you can add?
  • What is the most critical information you want to deliver, and what more do you like to contribute?
  • Do you have an essential role to play?
  • What exactly do you hope to learn from the call?
  • Which specific questions do you have?

Once you can answer these questions, even jot down your answers, you can more easily make a better decision whether to attend or to decline and still be prepared to continue collaboration. Taking time to clarify intent is a step that we should consider to do before taking action.

structure your work

The best life advice I ever became, was from the flight attendant in any plane: “Put your own oxygen mask before you help others.” Some suggestions:

  • No back to back meetings, schedule half an hour upfront and after a meeting to prepare/postprocess to reflect and note down which impact the content of the meeting has on your work and about which implications you need to think
  • Beyond that, schedule focus time. I use Cortana for that and I never postpone my focus time to squeeze in a another meeting.
  • Don’t read or process your emails as the first thing you do in the morning, but reserve a slot for processing mails. To enjoy my inbox zero, I follow this process
  • schedule your breaks. This is even more important when working from home.

If we first schedule breaks, processing time and focus time to actually get work done, and then see, if meetings fit in our calendar as well, we will establish more healthy working habits as if we want to be everywhere and block ourselves because we can’t get anything done anymore. My post on how to avoid overcommitting relates to this.

What does this mean in the context of this series to digital declutter?

Conscious decisions on how to spend our time will improve our focus and minimize distractions. It’s of course not the goal to exclude ourselves from collaboration or all meetings, but once meetings and a fragmented calendar eat up our time, we will need to find balance and ways to protect our productivity. Awareness of our goals and of which commitments will work towards them can help us to select those meetings which are important to us in the context of a shared vision with our coworkers and teammembers.

How to start and what’s next

  • Start to elaborate on your personal goals and the goals of your team
  • work out, which committments work towards these goals
  • go over your calendar and get rid of jour fixes and similar events, that don’t support these goals
  • eliminate as well meetings that are usually poorly prepared , lack of an agenda or tend to go over time

What are your strategies to feel connected and get work done? How do you plan your days, weeks, months? Or do you more have that feeling, that other plan work for you? How do you perceive that in terms of sovereignty and being in control and charge? Curious to learn what you think, please let me know.

About Me Author

My name is

Luise Freese

Microsoft 365 Consultant, Power Platform Developer, Microsoft MVP for M365 development and Business Applications and member of M365 PnP team, based in Germany. I’m into open-source, Lego, running, and my favorite number is 42 🤓. Read More

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