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Are You a Productive Person? Look at the Number of People Who Are Waiting On You to Get Back to Them

Are You a Productive Person?  Look at the Number of People Who Are Waiting On You to Get Back to Them

    During the course of the average working day, we make a number of promises to get back to people. We make some of them verbally or in writing directly. At other times, we quietly make a personal promise to ourselves.

    Many of us are resigned to what we believe is God’s cruel trick – not giving us enough hours in the day to respond to everyone. Others complain that they can never find the time.

    The problem is that almost no-one tells the truth – their time management system isn’t doing the job that they need it to do.

    What does time management have to do with getting back to people? Isn’t that a matter of simple courtesy?

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    Well, it used to be, but it no longer is.

    In the good old days, we simply didn’t interact with as many people as we do now. In the past year or two, consider how quickly your Facebook network has grown. I had no idea that I knew 1,000 people, yet my list will top that number this year.

    With the click of a few keys, I can send each of them a message, pulling them into my life in numbers and with a frequency that was unthinkable twenty years ago. As a result, on any given day, a bunch of them expect me to get back to them about one thing or another.

    Many of us fail to respond to this increased expectation.

    We are convinced that our memories are just not good enough. We believe that the older we get, the harder it is to remember, and there is a measure of truth in this assertion, according to the scientists. Above a certain age, we are losing brain cells each day, and with them goes our ability to respond.

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    We also live in the age of distractions – I just read an article in the New York Times that noted that the number of people who are reporting themselves as “injured while walking and texting” has risen dramatically. It’s tough to get back to people when we are pulled in other directions by 200 channels, sexy apps on our phones, IM’s, tweets and the like.

    The flood of information coming our way has also been selectively blamed for blocking our attempts to get back in touch. There’s too much information coming at us to process and we can’t possibly find the time to reply to that snail-mail from Aunt Martha, who doesn’t even have a computer.

    Fortunately, a real solution doesn’t have anything to do with better memory, less distractions or an escape from information. Instead, it has to do with how we manage our time.

    Consider the habit that many have developed when an email arrives in their inbox.

    If it requires a few minutes of either reading or thinking, most professionals will leave it for later once they have completed a quick glance. This particular habit isn’t a problem when applied to a single email. However, when it’s done a few hundred or thousand times, it creates a mountain of half-promises that we have made to ourselves, each saying “I’ll return to it when I have time.”

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    In other words, we are promising ourselves to get back in touch with the sender of the email when we get over our memory challenges, distraction and information overload!

    It’s like smoking. Done once in a while, it’s not a problem to our health. Done to excess and it kills.

    In the case of unreturned email, it kills not just our confidence in our abilities to stay on top of our game, but it seeps into our relationships, until we become one of those people who “never stays in touch.” All this because of a simple habit that almost all of us practice.

    What we don’t see clearly is that we do damage to our reputations and to our time management systems when we don’t manage individual habits. A bad habit that becomes a ritual can drag down our productivity, without our knowing it.

    The key is to make the connection: weak time management systems are made up by people who don’t manage their habits. For that reason, it’s a good idea to engage in what the consultants call “kaizen” – a Japanese word for continuous improvement. In other words, in order to prevent a time management system from becoming stale, it’s better to keep looking for habits to make it better.

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    After all, we are always upgrading our computers — why not something that’s even more critical to our effectiveness?

    At the highest levels of performance, the most productive people have upgraded their time management systems to the point where getting back to people is not a problem.

    In fact, if you ask them to tell you who is on their list of people to get back to, they give you a quizzical look. It’s not something they try to remember.

    Instead, they rely on their time management systems to tell them when they need to get in touch with someone, and they just don’t need to remember who they are.

    For them, the problem of getting back to people has disappeared.

    For most of us, and especially those of us who have long lists of people who expect us to be back in touch with them, we need “kaizen” programs of our own.

    More by this author

    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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