The joke runs like this: When you have something you need done, give it to a busy person.
It’s very true, and for several reasons. Busy people have multiple projects, demands on their time, and responsibilities. They are trusted with increasing responsibility because they’ve proven themselves capable of handling tasks efficiently and competently. Part of being busy involves a deliberate strategy for time management. If you know how to manage your time, you accomplish more and better than those who do not.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve had a couple of (to me) strange responses to my emails concerning two different issues. The responses looked like this: “I’m sorry I took so long getting back to you; I am BURIED in email and my inbox keeps growing!” They’re not people I work with closely or may even need to talk to again, and I would have serious qualms about bringing them aboard any project I develop or manage in the future. It
also tells me that in whatever priority system they’re using, I fell off the radar.
Having an unmanageable inbox is a sign that you can’t manage multiple projects. I do not say an empty inbox: I said unmanageable. There are a lot of different strategies for coping with inbox overflow; go read every twentieth post at Lifehacker. People may choose to manage their inbox with tagging, folders, auto-reply…whatever your choice, being incapable of dealing with the mess is the same to me as if I’d walked into your office to assign you greater responsibility on a project, saw giant piles of paperwork everywhere, and decided that you obviously had enough to do without me adding more on top of your too-heavy burden.
If you reflect on that for a minute, you’ll ask yourself how many times you’ve given that excuse for not responding to an email rapidly or with the correct information. Has it cost you the
added responsibility that might have led to a promotion or better position?
I keep an utterly empty inbox. I counted when I started writing this post, and yesterday, May 24th, I had 89 email threads to deal with. That’s THREADS, not individual emails; they range from no-reply-needed all the way to one thread that required 22 responses from me yesterday. I use Remember The Milk; most people are familiar with that cloud service for GTD. One of my daily repeating tasks is ‘Zero the inbox.” At least once per day, I look at a totally empty inbox; this means that no one waits longer than 24 hours for a response of some kind from me. Some emails get archived and turned into tasks in RTM, some get archived and turned into Google Calendar events, some get trashed, and Mom’s emails that start with “FW:” get round-filed via Gmail filters. [Sorry, ma, but I warned you about the kittens and chain letters.
Love, your busy, heartless daughter.]
As someone who manages several projects, applications, servers, Scrum teams, and networks, I can’t think of any other way to stay busy that would ever work besides zeroing my inbox no less than once a day and more if I can. Do you have any ideas I can also implement?