If your job places a great emphasis on communication (especially email), you will sooner or later realize that you can get more things done if you set your priorities correctly.
Below is a strategy I devised after many moons of intensive social labour. It is fine-tuned for my company and my job, so it will probably have to be reviewed before you say "great, I'm going to do this too!".
Each entry is highlighted with a keyword, so that you can remember it easier; if you see the keyword or think about it, you'll have enough clues to remember the other related details.
If you are careful enough, you might find some points very similar to the principle of "cover-your-ass security" described by Bruce Schneier. In one way or another - this is true, but in the long run things are different. This is done to keep processes as fast as possible, and eliminate bottlenecks in the workflow (i.e. it is done for the sake of optimization, not for the sake of shifting the blame on someone else).
Once again, this is just a set of recommendations that helped me, but your mileage may vary.
- Time-critical tasks that must be dealt with now, otherwise it will be too late
- Resend undelivered emails
- Redo any action the completion of which was not acknowledged, if the cost of redoing it is insignificant (in terms of time, money, etc)
- Resend an inquiry if the timeout period was exceeded (the receipt was not acknowledged, perhaps the message was not delivered, try an alternative form of contact)
Other people: handle the tasks which involve other people (ex: forward an email to a colleague or reply to their inquiry, so that the bottleneck is not in you)
- Knowing what other things they have to do, they can manage their schedule better
- They'll try to handle that issue quicker, because it involves other people (you), see #3 ;-)
- Since the pipeline consists of multiple people, quickly passing the task to the next person in the line will make the entire workflow smoother
- Public image: tasks that have an impact on the public image of the company: reply to messages on the forum or the blog, to avoid potential hate-speeches, flame wars and other things that can decrease the company's rating
Apply voice feedback: if you discussed something with a colleague in order to find out some details that are needed to solve a problem, and there is no 'paper trail' for the discussion:
- Either note everything down for future use
- Or apply the information right away, to keep the workflow going (in a few days you'll forget everything and the invested effort will be literally lost)
Minor tasks that don't require a lot of intellectual effort or time
- When Yes/No answers are expected
- When all you need to do is acknowledge that you've read/seen the new stuff
- Finalize the little sub-tasks that are the final step of a complex problem, which is 99% done;
- Quick reply to a chat-like email conversation (if you are unlucky enough to have colleagues that use email as if it were an instant messaging system)
- Use the keystroke conservation principle whenever you write anything
- Mini-tasks, make a list of them and then handle the whole chunk in one move, with as few context-switches as possible. Multi-tasking is good, but it is also bad.
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