The sprinkler guy just left my house, after teaching me the nuances of how sprinklers work for TWO hours. I don’t want the details about how the sprinklers function. I don’t care. I just want them to work. And I told the sprinkler guy this. But he insisted on teaching me –a.k.a. dragging me to each broken sprinkler head and having me observe as he repaired it. Exasperating! Then he billed me for his time. Without the lesson the visit would have been 30 minutes and $45. With the lesson, it was two hours and $130.
Read your audience. Are you putting in too much work?
Where are you over communicating? Who’s reading all of those PowerPoint presentations and reports? Just because you’ve created that report for the past five years doesn’t mean it’s still necessary or desired.
Ask your internal and external customers (everyone you work closely with) how they want to receive information, in what format, and how frequently.
Ask internal and external customers:
- Do they prefer to receive information in bullets or narrative form? Detailed or big picture? Graphs and/or charts?
- What information is important and what is unnecessary?
- Who needs to receive the information? People have enough to read. Most people won’t be insulted to receive one fewer email.
- How often do they want to receive the information?
I am hesitant to change processes when I begin working with an organization, assuming there is a good reason they exist. But when I ask why we do certain things as we do, invariably no one can tell me. I am often told, “We’ve just always done it that way.”
Don’t change things just to change them. And before you make a change, consult those who are impacted. Ask what people want and what they don’t. Then make changes. You may just pick up 10 extra hours each week and reduce your and others’ frustration 20 fold.
Most professionals spend their work day constantly checking email. An email comes in, and we feel compelled to reply. We put aside the project we were working on and promise ourselves we’ll get right back to it. But then we receive five more emails, and so most days go. As a result, many people start doing their actual jobs at 5:00 p.m.
When was the last time you did an hour and a half of actual work without being drawn into your inbox? My hunch is, not in years.
Email has become a noose and an albatross.
I too have fallen into the constantly checking email, time-sucking trap. Every email must be returned immediately. Or worse, I open emails, read them and say I will reply later, but never do. I promise myself I’ll go back to the old, unanswered messages only to get distracted by the many more emails that have piled on top of the existing emails. Older messages get buried, never to be returned. And I, in turn, become a seemingly unresponsive flake.
The days that I discipline myself to read my email only after working on a project for a good chunk of time, are the days I get the most done and feel the most in control of my day. We have all started our work day with a well-intentioned list of things to do, only to find that at the end of the day we did none of them. This lack of control feels terrible and is unbelievably stressful.
Most time management books and training programs recommend checking email at certain intervals during the day –once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once at the end of the day. Read an email once and resolve it. Reply, delete, or forward the message to a more appropriate person. But this is hard to do. What happens if we don’t reply immediately? Will we look bad? What will we miss?
One of the keys to having a balanced life and true down time is to be disciplined about how you spend your working hours.
What if we made July, check-your-email-every-three-hours month? How much more would we get done? How much more relaxed and free would we feel?
I’m going to try it, and I’m expecting you to keep me true to my word. If you send me an email and I reply immediately, you’ll know I have failed and have been sucked into the Outlook vortex of lost time. But if you read my reply, I’ll know you’ve been sucked in too.