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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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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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