22 Jun 2015 21:44 IST

How to deal with the lack of bandwidth

A guide to recognising the symptoms of ‘limited bandwidth’

Bandwidth drops with age — it is at its peak when you leave B-School. At the time, you are adept at switching from an assignment in supply chain management to human chain management in the institute’s canteen; you can flip a mammoth spreadsheet and compose your SOP effortlessly; you dazzle yourself and others with easy navigation of tasks in your job. But this doesn’t last long. You need to be aware of what happens with limited bandwidth.

What are the symptoms of limited bandwidth?

Very short span of attention: Typically, the attention lasts for roughly the same amount of time that an elevator takes to reach the seventh floor from the ground floor. In more serious cases, it lasts for as long as it takes to have two sips of tea.

A fixed stare: Or a fixed smile or scowl; or someone who looks right through you.

Unexpected praise-words: You hear phrases like ‘awesome’, ‘brilliant’ and ‘you nailed it’.

You hear: ‘Why not run this by XXX?’

Many organisations and their top managers face ‘limited bandwidth’ situations — they have even learned to live with it. You go up to your seniors with an idea for cutting down the ‘to market time’ and expect them to say ‘Brilliant’. Which they do. But they add, “But we don’t have the bandwidth to handle it now”. And you’re left wondering ‘What’s the big deal? We can surely discuss it for 15 minutes”. On some occasions, you may even get an uneasy feeling that what you said was met with just a pass-through response.

The half-life rule

You may not remain an exception to the rule of bandwidth-half-life forever, though. Your bandwidth starts dropping exponentially and will reach its half-life within a year of your joining the corporate world. Or at the time you get your first promotion, whichever is earlier.

You start getting copies of emails that are marked to everyone; you are present at many meetings; you coordinate with two dozen people. When the day ends, you don’t have much to show for your labour, but you are pretty sure of the hard work you put in. Welcome to the club of ‘bandwidth-deficit’ managers.

Your organisation too finds itself in ‘bandwidth deficit’. It doesn’t have the time to look at the signals from its markets. It has less time for its customers; and even less for its employees. It continues to optimise what it was doing well, and a capable manager or a specialist joins in with a lot of promise. But after an early flourish, they too get sucked into the bandwidth squeezing funnel.

Better workflow

However, if you join a start-up or found one, the funnel is bigger because you work for over 16 hours every day. The half-life rule for a start-up begins when you start selling successfully.

So can you defy the half-life rule of bandwidth? Yes, but you will have to be on high alert. You will need to reserve your quality time to gather information, process it, and think though your options and actions. You will have to learn to separate work from non-work. You will need to invest time in acquiring more knowledge and in learning new skills.

You may get opportunities to take up activities, like drastically improving work flows or processes — seize them with both hands. Improved workflows lead to a broader bandwidth. If you work in a start-up, you will need to formalise your workflows and give up the freedom to deviate from them, unless you wish to redesign them based on what your people have learned.

To wrap up, ‘limited bandwidth’ is a serious issue. It is smarter to prevent it than to succumb to it.