Want to cut your email in half? Like to do the same with your voicemail? At the same time, how about cutting down on the text messages? Let’s also include the random sticky notes left on your chair.
It boils down to four words: Respond the first time.
Meet Zeke. His email inbox is littered with messages that start with, “I haven’t heard back from you about…” and “Did you get my message about…”
His inbox is also full of the original requests. He’s read them. He just hasn’t acted on them. He’s the bottleneck. So now he has the originals and the follow-ups.
When he finally does respond, he spends a paragraph apologizing for “not getting back with you sooner.” After all, “things have been busy.” As if the rest of us aren’t busy! And part of why we are busy is having to follow up with people like Zeke who always require two or three nudges.
Zeke’s voicemail isn’t any better. Sure, he listens to the voicemail. But he doesn’t have pen and paper in hand. He winds up relistening to his messages and generally can’t remember which ones he has handled and which he hasn’t. Many of his voicemails are from people asking if he got their email.
Zeke often returns to his office to find sticky notes on his chair. People stick the notes to the chair because the desk is so cluttered the note would be lost. What’s on the sticky note? A reminder about the voicemail that was reminding Zeke about the follow-up email for the first email…sent two weeks ago.
Zeke complains he can’t get anything done because of all the interruptions. People have found the only way they can get an answer from him is to walk in the door, sit down, and not leave until Zeke makes a decision. So that’s what they do. Zeke’s days are fragmented, and it’s his own fault.
Watch Zeke Become Irrelevant
When a person continues to be a bottleneck, I quit trying. I stop asking for that person’s input. I find another contact person in that organization who can be counted on to handle simple correspondence. You likely do the same with the bottlenecks in your organization.
After a while, Zeke notices he gets less communication. He also has less influence at work. People find ways around him and start to wonder what he actually does to earn his paycheck.
From “Irrelevant” to “In Control”
Start by getting control of email. Every message falls into one of the following categories:
- Information about a place to be
- Information about a thing to do
- Reference material
In this post, I talk about how to handle each one.
Once you’ve identified what it is, put it in the right place. Put calendar stuff on the calendar and then delete or archive the email. If it’s something to do, do it right then or put it on your to-do list. Then, delete or archive the email.
If it’s good reference information, move it to Evernote, OneNote, Google Drive, OneDrive, or wherever you keep reference material. If you are saving it “just in case” you ever need it, archive it. This post shows you how.
For voicemail, always have a pen and your paper journal in hand. Trap the details on paper and delete the voice message.
Keep It Moving
Projects die because they sit around on somebody’s desk. Don’t let that somebody be you. Handle your part so the project can move forward to the next person. Turn those emails and voicemails around within a day. People come to realize that you handle things the first time. It just may cut your email in half as you watch the “reminders” go away. Watch your influence go up.
Dan HaleyNovember 22, 2019 8:45 am
Hi Frank, what, in your mind, is the difference between reference material and documentation? Or how do you think about those two things? I see them as being very similar so wanted to hear your take.