The subject of the December 1 #ALedchat was “Organization Made Easy.” One of the questions we discussed was: “What do other people do that negatively impacts your productivity? How do you deal with it?” I enjoyed this particular response:

And now my commentary:

Great things happen when good people collaborate. An important cog in that wheel is communication. When one party cannot, or will not, uphold his or her end, effectiveness suffers. Things take longer than necessary. Patience becomes short. The desire to work with the offender may even be compromised.

We often cannot move forward on a project without the input or approval of a particular person. It’s not that we have waited until the last minute to initiate communication. It’s not that we are expecting a reply instantly. Today turns into tomorrow. Tomorrow comes and goes. We begin to wonder if the other person even got the message.

As if we didn’t have enough to do already, we follow up with another email or a phone call, which invariably turns into leaving a voice mail. My experience has been that those who are bad with email are equally as bad with voice mail.

Consider this response I received to an email:

“…I am on my way to technology for a meeting at 8:30.  I will get back with you this afternoon or tomorrow morning, depending on when I return.”

Not bad. Only… today came and went, as did tomorrow, and the next day. When I sent a follow-up email the following week, here is the response I got:

I was at technology all day on Wednesday (my b’day by the way), Fall Festival Thursday, sick kids on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Had meetings scheduled all day on Monday as well as trying to move things from xxx to xxx, and yesterday Mrs. xxx was at PLU session so I was involved in all IEP meetings, eligibility meetings, and PST meetings throughout the day.  Today, I am just getting to my desk after three back to back meetings since 7:45 a.m.    In other words, I haven’t had a chance to get back with you.  Whew!!!

“Whew,” indeed. Just reading that laundry list of excuses made me tired.

My first thought was, “If you knew you were going to be tied up with a Fall Festival on Thursday, why would you promise a response on that day in the first place?”

My next thought was, “With all of your busyness, could you not have taken 15 seconds to let me know you needed to reschedule?” Or, was time really the problem? The more likely explanation is that once the email had disappeared from the first page, it was both out of sight and out of mind.

There is an easy solution

Much of the email we get becomes a “to-do” for us. If the email is a to-do, we have two options:

Do it now.

Do it later.

If the choice is the first one, handle it and delete or archive the email. Respond to it, pick up the phone, write the report…whatever. Do it and be done with it.

If you are going to do it later, the email inbox is the wrong place for it. If it is a to-do, it goes on the to-do list. My tool of choice is Remember The Milk. It offers an easy way to send an email to the to-do list. You can specify a date on which you want to see the email. The entire body of that email will appear in the note section of the task.

And a more difficult solution

The other approach is to let email pile up. Put the burden on the other person to follow-up with another email and phone call. Let this happen repeatedly, to the point that other people circumvent you because it’s simply easier that way. You spend more time talking about the stress of the job, why you didn’t keep your commitments, and how overworked you are than you spend doing the job.

Or, do something about it. A ridiculously high percentage of doctor visits are due to stress-related ailments. So much of the unneeded stress is nothing more than the failure to adopt simple systems to manage the workflow.

We hate confrontation

It’s hard to confront the person who is “just too busy” to respond, and so they continue along the same path. Since nobody has said anything [to them], they think everybody is OK with it. They’re not. Do you work with someone like this? Maybe you could pass along the URL to this post.

Do you see yourself in this post? If so, take the next step. Go through those emails with an eye for who is waiting on a response from you. Even if you can’t provide the information, complete the task, or whatever is being asked right now, at least respond. Let them know you haven’t ignored the message. Make a commitment for when you will come through. Then, follow through and do what you said you would do.

Do you want other people to feel they can count on you? You can make it happen, and it’s easier than you think.

Stay tuned for more tips based on the #ALedchat. If you would like to join in the fun, #ALedchat happens every Monday at 9:00PM CST.