How we fool ourselves into thinking we use our time wisely

We tend to see the Internet in general, and email in particular, as a massive productivity boon for knowledge workers. However, a set of interesting studies shows that email leads people to feel “cognitively overloaded.” It turns out, the cost of switching tasks (aka multitasking) far exceeds any possible productivity gain, and email is one of the primary culprits.

And yet, our actions don’t change. We scan multiple communications channels when we should be deeply focused on, say, our three year financial plan. We dip into social media to respond to a customer while writing. As we’re reading through the latest team updates, we shoot out an email, to follow up on a meeting request that remains stubbornly impossible to schedule.

We’re particularly bad at understanding and managing the tedious tasks that have devolved on to knowledge workers over the past twenty years, like travel planning, expense accounting, and meeting scheduling.

And I think, except in extreme cases, it’s far too easy to discount, the 3 minutes here and 5 minutes there you spend doing such things, whether it’s consulting your calendar for yet another possible available slot next week to meet with that Product Manager candidate or filling out a seemingly simple expense report. Humans are uniquely skilled at self-deception when it comes to understanding themselves and their (bad) habits!

At the same time, we also know there’s a better way to tackle such tasks because for those very lucky (and very few) who do have assistants, meeting scheduling, travel booking, and expense reporting are among the first tasks they hand over. The problem is, most of us don’t have access to this solution, and so we muddle through, convinced that in our specific case, we’re not doing so badly, we don’t waste too much time on these chores in any given day completing expense reports or scheduling meetings.

But managers have a different view.

Managers see behavior in aggregate. And they can see how the 17 minutes it takes on average to set up a single meeting (all those minutes scanning your calendar, sending emails, and confirming with the invite add up!) becomes more than a full week of lost productivity per month for a team of 5 who each set up about 8 meetings a week. Let me repeat that, a team of 5 loses a full week of productivity every month on meeting scheduling alone! This math, which seems easy to explain away at the level of the individual, is both more obvious and more alarming from the vantage point of a manager at a company of 100 or 1,000.

And good managers are always eager to give their employees leverage when they can.

No Manager would let her VP of Finance do her work without MS Excel. No CMO would insist that his lead designer use paper, scissors, glue, and markers instead of Photoshop. Once tools become available to make team members more efficient and better at their jobs, managers are highly motivated to implement them. The most fearless do so ahead of their peers and often win because of it.

We believe managers across sectors will soon see vertical AI agents as critical tools in their organization’s tool box. (Vertical AI agents are focused a single task that they complete extraordinarily well.) In the future, we’ll likely see both agents that work across industries to accomplish mundane tasks all knowledge workers face, and agents that come with deep domain knowledge for specific industries and/or roles. The less specific agents will, like email, become part of the standard business infrastructure; team leads will curate the domain or role specific agents. But every team member may bring one or two favorite AI agents of their own.

We’ve built an AI personal assistant who schedules meetings for you, and because of overwhelming demand from enterprises small and large, we recently launched our Business edition for teams.

From our earliest beta days, managers somehow found us, asking to sign up their teams or entire companies. We heard from executives at Fortune 100 companies, CEOs of 10-person startups, and from middle managers at mid-market companies that they wanted to give their employees back time. They had done the math and could see that having an AI agent take over meeting scheduling could unlock huge opportunities for their companies.

Sometimes the nifty ROI calculations of your boss actually help you be a better you. 😉