the tyranny of the urgent and not so urgent

In the past several weeks, life has been rather hectic.  We have been enthralled in the most polar-vortexed, snowmaggedon, bitter-cold-whipping-winds-pelting-snow winter in my memory.

We are beyond tired of winter; it’s March and yet again this week, regular temps will fall below zero. This kind of weather takes a toll even on those of us who love winter.

And I had the cone debacle that as of yesterday seems to be a groundhog day experience of last year.  Like some kind of cruel joke.

Work is busy.  So busy that I started wondering about efficiencies.  As someone who enjoys the LEAN process, there are so many areas that I can work to clean up my work.  But email is a tough one.  As I worked on thoughts for streamlining email, it occurred to me that where it will be the most challenging is in helping redefine the protocols for email.  In my job, we have this notion of “15 minutes or less”  (thanks Geico) – as in if I don’t hear from you in 15 minutes or less, I will follow up.  By phone. In person.  And now (gasp!) by text.

I am guilty of this too.

I spent some time researching email overload.  There are some great articles from HBR, Lifehacker, and a host to tech sites.

One of the funniest recommendations was (from my spouse) who just decided on day to delete everything and start over.  If it’s important, people will follow up.  Totally cleaned out his email box.  

One of the most astute perspectives came in the Amy Gallo’s article in HBR.  She writes about the larger issues around communication;  quoting David Allen,  she wrote, email overload is only a symptom of a larger issue: a lack of clear and effective protocols. If your organization has ambiguous decision-making processes and people don’t get what they need from their colleagues, they’ll flood the system with email and meeting requests.

I need to pay attention to this.  Often it’s the question behind the question. Looking for more than just the words.

Several writers commented limiting email checking during the day.  Many of my colleagues do this; they check there email at specific times during the day.  My schedule can be so fluid that I don’t know if this is the answer for me but it’s one several of my colleagues could consider.  If we can shift the expectations of 15 minutes or less.   That will take some time.

I need to transition from using email as a task list to reading, responding, deleting or archiving.  I love a zero inbox and this will be a big step for me.

The largest hurdle I perceive is culture change.  When I send (or receive) an email, I have no sense of just how much work the recipient has at the current moment.  It’s easy for me to mentally prioritize the importance of my request but really, I have no business prioritizing my colleague’s work.  I need to trust that she can prioritize her workload far better than can I.   I need to let her.

If it’s urgent, I need to communicate it.  And it has to be more than I just sat on this and now my poor planning is your crisis.   That won’t fly.

So here is to March and perhaps someday, some sun, as well as a more efficient communication strategy!
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