At work, I run a department, and recently one of my employees, Emily, left the company. Whenever someone leaves, they have an exit interview with HR where they are asked a variety of questions designed to gather feedback and ultimately improve retention. In the question about what things your manager could do better, Emily mentioned that it sometimes takes me a long time to respond to emails.
My response to this was (I hope) typical — What? Me? Whatever, I don’t take any longer than anyone else. I do my best. Besides, people send too many emails these days. How am I possibly supposed to keep up?
I am certainly not to blame here.
Those thoughts are normal and understandable. People do send too many emails. It is hard to keep up. And it’s hard to accept responsibility when things feel out of your control. But you have to accept responsibility, especially when you know other people are impacted by your behavior (as I now know because of Emily). And when things seem out of control, you simply have to get them under control.
I didn’t know how to do that, but I knew I had to. Get it under control and accept responsibility.
When you’re not sure how to do something, but you know you want to do it, one option is to find someone else that seems to be doing it well and ask for their help. So I went to my colleague Peter, who is always very responsive over email and always meets his commitments (if he says he will get something to me by Friday, he does it, no exceptions), and I asked him to give me some insight into how he keeps everything so organized. Peter said he follows the “Getting Things Done” philosophy as well as “Inbox Zero.” I had recently heard of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (usually abbreviated GTD) from Leo Babauta, who said he uses that methodology as well as Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.
I’ll share more about GTD and 7 Habits later, but for now I just wanted to say that GTD has turned my life around. It’s a system and methodology that enables you to get things out of your head, to collect everything in one place and ensure it’s properly processed, and it promises to virtually eliminate mental clutter.
We all have things to do. Most of us have many things to do, many roles to play, and at times it can seem overwhelming. Without a system, a consistent system so that you always know where things are, what’s coming up, what you need to do, you’ll forget things, and the mental clutter will build up (not to mention the physical clutter and the email clutter!!!).
I’ll be sharing a lot more about my expereiences with GTD and 7 Habits, but if you are interested in picking up either, there are links to my Amazon store below. I read GTD very quickly and am now reading it again slower to absorb more of the specifics. Personally I found 7 Habits an exhausting read and ended up getting the audiobook instead, which I listen to during my commute.
If you use GTD or 7 Habits, or if you suffer from mental clutter and have been accused of not replying to emails quickly enough, I’d really love to hear about your experiences.