“I dropped by to remind you about the voicemail I left three days ago reminding you about the message I left with the receptionist last week to remind you about the email I sent 10 days ago to remind you of the other five emails over the last two weeks from which I have heard no response.”
Does the recipient remind you of someone you know? You’re trying to plan, but you can’t move forward without a response from [fill in the name]. You follow-up again and again. Soon you begin to wonder if this person’s email is a miniature version of the Bermuda Triangle.
So who are these people?
The notoriously unresponsive person comes in a couple of varieties. The first is “Miss-Always-Busy.” The only way you catch her is to camp out on the hood of her car until she emerges from the office. Yes, she saw your first email, and second, and listened to all six of your voicemail messages. She’s so apologetic that she hasn’t responded. After all, she’s so busy.
She’s so busy putting out fires, three-quarters of which are caused by her failure to respond. She spends more time apologizing for not responding than it would have taken her to reply to any one of the numerous attempts.
Next is “Mr. I-Don’t-Care.” If your communication is really important, you’ll continue to try, right? After all, his time is so much more valuable than yours. You are the one to blame for even thinking this joker is going to take the time to click “reply.” You should know better than to expect that return call because, “Now is a bad time of year.” For Mr. I-Don’t-Care, every time of year is a bad time.
Finally, we have “Mrs. Techno-Challenged.” She would have responded to your email if she hadn’t deleted it by accident. She would have responded to your voicemails if she could figure out how the voicemail system works.
How many times do you want to deal with it?
You just met three overwhelmed and probably ineffective people. They will tell you they are busy, and they are. They are not only doing the work they should have done weeks ago, they are being asked for “status reports” from anxious people who have been kept waiting far too long.
Would you rather read four emails, all asking for a piece of information? Or, would you rather deal with it the first time. That’s the choice we face every single day.
Work ahead of deadlines
If you want a sense of freedom and a reduction in level, get ahead of deadlines. If something takes longer than expected, you will still be OK. You spend more of your day working on projects that pay dividends down the road. You spend less of your time responding to whoever or whatever is breathing down your neck. You build a reputation as being someone who doesn’t need the reminders and the follow-up.
How many emails in your inbox represent commitments you owe to other people? How many voicemails have been hiding behind that blinking red light, each one needing just a little action on your part before someone else can move ahead?
How easy would it be to determine exactly what your to-do is on each one? How long would it take to hammer through that backlog one-by-one until you feel the weight of the world being lifted off your shoulders?
Deal with it once. Work ahead of deadlines. Set the example.
Frank Buck is the author of Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders. "Global Gurus Top 30" named him #1 in the Time Management category for 2019 and 2020. Dr. Buck speaks throughout the United States and internationally about organization and time management. You can reach him through his website: FrankBuck.org. Follow him on Twitter @DrFrankBuck.