January’s newsletter from McKinsey Quarterly included an article to help senior executives cope with information overload. The advice boils down to four must-dos:
1. Stop multi-tasking. It’s addictive, makes us anxious, slows us down, and impairs creative problem solving. Acknowledge, reevaluate, and adjust the mind-set that glues us to futile work patterns.
2. Focus. Resist intellectual over-consumption. Create and protect “alone time.” According to article authors Derek Dean and Caroline Webb, each day senior executives should shut down email, close web browsers, send phone calls to voice mail and – if they must – leave the BlackBerry or smart phone where they can’t check it.
3. Filter. Look only at the things that matter or need a decision. Delegate. Don’t read “cc’d” emails and consider only matters that have been researched and prefiltered by the sender.
4. Forget. In short, regularly do something that puts work out of your mind.
But hold on there … This is all well and good (very good, actually), but there’s a problem. The "Just do it" tagline is a glib response to the "How do I do it?” conundrum – and we all know that.
So I got to thinking about the how-to part of the focus-and-filter equation. And that’s when I thought of yesteryear’s "executive secretarial" function. Hear me out.
This vital -- albeit old-fashioned corporate function -- got thrown out with word processors and the downsizing rampage of the 80s. Capitol Hill still has it, though, up there, they call it the “administrative assistant.” I’m sure this power-position exists elsewhere as a tweaked version of the executive secretary, but I’m looking at this a bit differently. I'm thinking that what senior executives need this time around, is an "executive content manager." To do what? To focus and filter so that senior executives can stop multi-tasking and forget.
What are the qualifications of the 21st Century Executive Content Manager?
1. Absolute integrity... a person you can trust NOT to discuss your business with anyone except you... a person to whom you grant open access to your email accounts, who can capably sift through, route, and abstract what you need to know, turning a useless mountain into a focused molehill.
2. Intelligence ... somebody smart and intuitive, who can navigate the swift political waters and who actually understands what is important, both intellectually and functionally.
3. Superior communications and interpersonal skills... somebody who can read, write, condense, perceive, abstract, and – perhaps most important of all – schmooze.
Sound good? It does to me!
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