3.2 Managing Communications

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And these mistakes resulted in her overbooking herself and annoying her family, by committing to work or church activities when she was supposed to be with them. But what it really means is that if you are not a morning person, you should consider arranging your work so that you can perform your simpler, more routine tasks during this time. You might even occasionally have someone act as a reviewer, especially if you're called upon to complete something critical during the time of day that is difficult for you.

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Now let’s consider communications. There’s no doubt about it, communications take time. It’s time well spent. It also could be an area where maybe you could improve your effectiveness and productivity. Maybe you have days where you feel like all you did was answer correspondence, especially email. It pays to have an approach for handling your communications. Right now, we’re gonna focus on emails and texts, but the approach we’re talking about, you could use it for your inbox, whether you have a virtual inbox or an actual space somewhere, where people physically put things. If you can, try not to look at your emails or your texts every time a new one arrives. Try to set up a specific time, or times, to handle these communications each day during your work. And if your work environment doesn’t allow you to do this, at least do not look every time a new one arrives. Wait until you have several of them stacked up, then review them, and then go back to your other work. An approach for you to consider is recommended by David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, and he is a productivity guru. So his first thing is, delete it or file it. If this is informational, and nothing is required from you, but you think it should be saved, then file it, but don’t keep everything jumbled together in one folder. This is really important. When you have a one-folder inbox with everything in it, it’s confusing to process and you have to look through everything. We have clearly marked folders, like for actions versus pending versus information. It’s so much easier for your mind to process all of these things. And the other category is, Do it. If it’s gonna take you less than two minutes, take care of it, be done. Don’t keep it and save the work for later. Another area, action. If it will take more than two minutes, put it in an action folder and make sure that you put it into your task list, or on your work plan, or your calendar, so that you don’t forget it. Waiting or pending, this is another category. If there’s a item that doesn’t require you to take action, but you’re waiting for someone or something, put it in a special folder. And again, if there’s an element of timeliness for this, put a follow-up reminder, probably on your calendar, or in your work plan, so that it doesn’t get overlooked. Now you see why this isn’t just for emails and texts. It applies to other items that come your way, whether your inbox is real or virtual. Let’s give it a try. You have four messages, so we’re gonna take a look at each one and see what you’re gonna do about it. A request comes in, it’s for a document. You have a copy of the document on your computer, great. So this document, again, it’s on your computer, this is a big hint, which means, in less than two minutes, you can reply and send the documents. So definitely do it. Second one, an announcement about a new payroll policy. You don’t need to do anything about it. The announcement is informational. So file this in case you want to refer to it later in an information folder. Okay, message three. A request for a special report that’s due in one week. It’s gonna take you about 30 minutes to complete this report. You can’t do it in less than 2 minutes and it is actionable, that’s a hint, so place it in an action folder and make sure you add it to you work plan and your calendar, so you don’t forget it. Fourth message, a reply from a co-worker about your request for information, he or she says that they’ll respond to you by Friday. Place this one in your pending or follow-up folder, and place a reminder on your calendar for Friday, because you really do want this information. So remember, we’re discussing emails and texts, but this approach is very effective for any other type of inbox you might use. When you organize communications as they come to you, you take control of your time and your effectiveness. This gives us a good opportunity to discuss some other ways to make your life easier. Keep similar information together. I once knew someone who preferred to use a paper calendar, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The paper calendar, many of us have transitioned to online calendars, but the paper calendar is still a good tool. Her challenge was that she had a calendar for work, she had a home calendar for family activities, and she had a church calendar because she was very active at her church. And you can probably guess what happened. Because she had to look at all of these different calendars every time she made a commitment, she made a few mistakes. And these mistakes resulted in her overbooking herself and annoying her family, by committing to work or church activities when she was supposed to be with them. The good news is they wanted her to be with them. The truth is, her problem wasn’t because she used paper calendars. Her problem was because she used multiple calendars. You could create the same problem for yourself right now, electronically, if you use multiple calendars and you don’t sync them up. So don’t do that. Keep similar data together. Make it easy to read and understand. Color code your calendars, perhaps, so that you know which one is work and which one is home, and which one is some of your volunteer work. And your life is gonna be so much easier. Keep your contact information in one easy to find and access location too. You’re gonna think this is crazy. Put your glasses or your sunglasses or your keys in the same place too, your purse and your wallet too. Why should you spend your precious time and energy looking for the same things over and over again, when they could always be in the same corner of your desk? Whenever possible, plan your work, so that you perform similar tasks together. So, imagine this. You’re writing a document, and then you send an unrelated document to the printer. Then, you walk to the printer, then you answer three emails, and then you resume writing your document. I’m getting confused already. You’re probably fine. But wouldn’t you try to do this? Write your document, when you’re finished, close it, save it. If you have not completed the document, leave yourself a note on the first page as to where to start next time you open the document. Now send your other document to the printer and pick it up. Now answer your emails. You don’t wanna finish our time together on this module until we think about the impact of time of day on our productivity. A colleague of mine once worked at an Internet startup. Most of the team came to work at one or two in the afternoon and worked until 10 or 11 at night. Then they probably went out together, and then they’d start the same cycle over again the next day. And that was perfect for them, but my colleague, he didn’t like that. He wasn’t really a morning person, but he was used to, I’ll say, a more traditional corporate schedule with maybe some flex time in it. So, it drove him nuts when his co-workers would call him at 10 o’clock at night with a question. And you know what? He drove them nuts when he would call them at 10 AM and wake them up with a question. You might be a morning person or you might be a night owl or you might be somewhere in between, but it’s good to know your most productive time of day. And this doesn’t mean that you can refuse to work during your least productive time of day. Perhaps, you can take advantage of flex time, if your company offers it. But what it really means is that if you are not a morning person, you should consider arranging your work so that you can perform your simpler, more routine tasks during this time. Whenever possible, schedule your most challenging tasks for the time of day when you are at your best. If this is not possible, then try to minimize distractions and try to work at a slower pace, and check and recheck your work during your difficult time. You might even occasionally have someone act as a reviewer, especially if you’re called upon to complete something critical during the time of day that is difficult for you.

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