There is a very entertaining article in the May issue of Business 2.0 magazine about the "joy´ of corporate retreats. It starts out with the slightly, but not entirely, surprising stat that only 10 percent of executives consider corporate retreats, or offsites, truly valuable. Fully half of the people asked said that they were not worth the time and money involved in having them. From there it moves into some great anecdotal accounts of the nightmares that can arise. My favorite is from the male employee who found himself sharing a hotel room at a retreat with his female boss who was 30 years older than him. In front of a room full of their co-workers, she asked him if he would need to be tucked in later on. When bed time did come, she emerged from the bathroom wearing a completely see-through nightgown.
Though it´s an interesting article, the point that it raises is, to me, the bigger point. Whether it´s a retreat or something else, we spend a lot of time as individuals or organizations doing things because they are supposed to make us more productive. The problem we face is that we often don´t have a good plan or strategy for what we are doing, so it ends up essentially being a waste of time. Spending a few days together as a group of employees working on issues and priorities can be great if it is planned and effective. Sitting around in a room doing activities that makes everyone´s eyes roll because someone read somewhere that retreats were important will do more to harm productivity in the long run than they do to help.
The same idea applies in the personal realm. I had a conversation with someone who, after finding out what I do, wanted to know what kind of PDA or mobile organization solution I use. The answer I gave him surprised him — I don´t use one. I spend most of my time working in a home office, so I use Outlook´s combination of calendar and task lists to keep my life in order. If I am going to be out and about, the notebook which is always in my pocket keeps me up to date and connected as much as I need, and want, to be. My point isn´t that PDAs are bad and a waste of time. My point is that I have spent the time looking at my needs and priorities and designed a system that works for me. Just because I read and write about the latest and greatest new organization technology every day doesn´t mean that I need to get one for myself.
Do yourself a favor — next time someone tries to tell you what next-great-thing you absolutely have to have, take the time to consider if it is really right for you. Just because something is great it isn’t necessarily great for you.