A Four-Day Work Week?
The idea that Microsoft, Intel, Google and IBM have banded together to figure out how to deal with the information overload they made—the glut of e-mail, instant messaging and cell phoning that we’re all drowning in—is fascinating.
Great military, political and civilian leaders are successful when they can concentrate on strategy and delegate the tactics—the implementation of strategy—to subordinates.
What seems to be happening is that 24/7 access to our e-mail and cell phones is causing all of us to lose control of our careers and our lives, and turning us all into involuntary workaholics. We no longer own our jobs.
In business, it’s possible to delegate tasks to others. But you can’t delegate e-mails.
From my recent (and current plunge) into World War II—our trip to the Normandy beaches and the hallowed American cemetery, plus a bunch of reading on the subject—one thing is clear: World War II was won by what I call snapshot management.
It worked then. Why not now?
The New Wall Street Journal Spam Filter
Yesterday I hit my vestigial AOL inbox. It’s vestigial because I keep it around only as a backup, having migrated to Yahoo a couple years ago. I consigned 62 e-mails and 22 Spam messages to oblivion in two minutes and five seconds.
All filters are turned off on my e-mail accounts. Being in marketing, I want to see what’s out there.
In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Lee Gomes reported on the new internal Dow Jones spam filter system. He wrote:
When the service was first turned on, Outlook inboxes were suddenly free of offers for prescription medicines, mortgage refinances, crude erotica and all the other mainstays of the spam economy. Regular e-mail life could resume—spam-free. It looked like another victory for technology in the hands of the good guys. If it seemed too good to be true, well, that happens all the time in the tech world.
Nervous about what he might be missing, Gomes asked the Dow Jones IT folks to let him see what had been quarantined. It turned out that out of 150 reader letters that came in as a result of a column, “20% were sent to the spam bucket and would never have been seen by me if I hadn’t bothered to ask to take a look.”
Spam filters simply are not the answer to dealing with e-glut.
George Marshall and Snapshot Management
In a prior issue of this publication, I quoted from Leonard Mosely’s 1982 biography of America’s greatest WWII military leader, Gen. George C. Marshall, Army chief of staff and Roosevelt’s closest military adviser. The crown jewel of his management technique was the daily briefing:
It was these bright young men who organized the briefing sessions at Marshall’s headquarters, which became his pride and joy and the envy of American and Allied commanders at headquarters throughout the world. Every morning authorized personnel could walk into Marshall’s conference room and get a graphic—yet accurate—picture of exactly what was happening in every operational zone in which the United States was involved. It began promptly at 9:00 A.M.
“We had gradually,” Marshall recalled later, “gotten to a point where the presentation of the world picture was of great importance to me and the principal staff—because we had so many different theaters operating at once and along with that the stormy time with things at home. We had available artists of some talent and plenty of them, so we gradually formed the morning show on the basis of presentation by young men who were chosen for their ability to speak in an attractive manner. They got up at four o’clock in the morning and worked on the cables of the night before—and were ready for the presentation at nine o’clock.”
The charts had been set up five minutes before, the team bustling around Marshall’s desk no matter how hard he was working or whom he was seeing. “It just went off like a theatrical thing,” he said. “They became very expert at it, and it was really a thrilling presentation. You saw the whole war up to the last minute—done in such a way that it was easy, in a sense, to comprehend.”
When Marshall later went to a briefing at Eisenhower’s headquarters in London, he was appalled at the ham-handed way in which it was handled. He ordered General Walter Bedell Smith, who was in charge, back to Washington, “to see how it really should be done.”
This was a snapshot in time of the world situation. Action was taken and orders were issued based on what was learned in the briefing. The next day’s briefing would reflect what happened, and Marshall’s staff would proceed from there.
When my wife, Peggy, and I were standing on Omaha Beach, I looked out at the Channel and tried to imagine 11,000 aircraft and 7,000 ships landing 132,500 men—with another 23,400 landed by parachute and gliders—all within 20 hours. What blew my mind was the fact that, back in the Hotel Moderne in Caen, my Apple G4 laptop represented more computing power than all the Allied and Axis powers combined.
Marshall did not have rooms full of computers spitting out endless analyses and data, forcing everyone to rethink decisions constantly. World War II spanned two hemispheres and caused the deaths of 55 million people—including more than 20 million Russians. It was ultimately won with hand-cranked adding machines, finger-driven typewriters using carbon paper—the Thermofax copying machine had not been invented—mimeograph, Teletype, telephone and couriers.
Yet with this primitive information technology, it took just 11 months—from June 6, 1944, to May 7, 1945—for the Allied armies to completely overrun Eastern Europe, France and Germany and vanquish the mightiest, most dangerous foe in the history of the world. And just 13 months more to clean up the entire Pacific.
Snapshot management won the War, and its practitioners arranged their lives accordingly:
* Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery “never allowed any crisis, however serious, to keep him up past his 9:30 bedtime,” wrote Michael Korda in “Ike.” The exception was when his boss, Prime Minister Churchill was on the scene and stayed up until 3 or 4 in the morning. Further, I remember many years ago reading that Montgomery in the field operated out of trailers—one for living and sleeping, another that contained all the maps and communications gear. Once the plans were made and the orders given, nothing more could be done on his end. He went to bed, got some sleep and woke up refreshed, able to deal with the results of the previous day’s action.
* “Having made his decision [that D-Day would take place on June 6], Ike left his commanders to get on with implementing it and went back to the trailer for a few hours of sleep,” Korda wrote. “He was not the kind of man to waste time second-guessing once a decision was made. He knew that the tension through the night would be electric at Southwick House, as orders were passed out setting the whole huge operation in motion again. He had no need to be there, and no wish to be part of the noise and drama.”
* George Marshall kept regular hours, going for a morning horseback ride before breakfast and getting home by 6:30 or 7, in time for dinner with his wife.
Life and Business Sans E-mails
Obviously none of these men had e-mails. Gen. Marshall had a dictum that if anyone had something of importance to tell him, his door was always open and he was ready to listen. Woe betided the subordinate who stuttered or interrupted Marshall to report trivia.
This was Marshall’s version of e-mail. However, it was filtered, so that only important information reached him—unlike the plethora of crap that satiates our lives and computers. Crap which Matt Richtel of The Times calls “the drumbeat of digital missives constantly [that] shake up and reorder to-do lists.”
When Eisenhower was at the prestigious Command and General Staff School at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., the students were required to work in teams. According to Michael Korda, Ike teamed up with Leonard T. “Gee” Gerow (who years later commanded V Corps at Omaha Beach). They agreed to work evenings from 7 to 9:30—no later. “He was not to be one of those who approached the next day without fresh minds or an optimistic outlook,” Korda wrote.
The Four-Day Work Week
“By the end of this month, the government in Gloucester Township in New Jersey will turn out the lights on Friday—literally,” reported yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer. “And in Berks County, Pa., a number of office cubicles could soon go dark one day a week.”
The reason: the high cost of energy. This does not mean that police, fire and other first-responder services will go dark on Fridays. But all the Starbucks-sucking, paper-generating bureaucrats, lawyers, judges and clerks will have three-day weekends.
If this comes to pass, my bet is that everybody will work smarter, concentrate harder and the towns’ business—which will rely on snapshot management—will get done. The results of decisions made on Thursday will be dealt with on Monday.
For example, Eisenhower in his European command was a workaholic as well as a chain smoker. In her book, “Past Forgetting,” Ike’s driver, Kay Summersby, described how George Marshall spent time with Ike’s naval aide, Harry Butcher, discussing the boss’s health. “Marshall did not approve of Ike’s regimen,” she wrote. “He was working too hard, spending too much time in the office. Four hours a day should be sufficient, according to Marshall.”
Four hours a day? It sounds ludicrous. But given lunch hours, a.m. and p.m. kaffee klatches, potty breaks, chit-chat, personal phone calls and e-mails, my bet is that Marshall’s four hours of productivity is about right.
Meanwhile, with a four-day work week folks can take a couple of hours over the long weekend to deal with e-mail and arrive back at work on Monday “with fresh minds and an optimistic outlook,” plus a good feeling that they saved money on transportation and contributed to the well-being of the planet.