Increase Productivity By Training People To Use Your Inboxes

Productivity doesn't occur in a bubble. No matter how meticulous you might be with the flow of your organisational system, if nobody plays along it wreaks havoc on your output. Train people to play along!

Photo by computershy.com.

At the productivity blog Lifehack.org they've highlighted three people you need to train to use your inbox: yourself, your coworkers, and your boss. We'll assume that you've already managed to reign in your own urge to throw projects around willy nilly and that your inbox is your new best friend. What about when your coworkers and boss aren't on board though? A personal example:

In a past life I was responsible for the IT operations in a cluster of offices. With a high degree of frequency I would arrive at one of the locations in my cluster only to have someone say with exasperation "The print server has been down for a week! Why haven't you fixed it?" or some variation of "X is broke, I need Y." Inevitably when I would ask them if they had sent me an email (my favourite way of getting notifications) or written it down in the log I kept in the server room (a serviceable, but less favoured way of doing it) the response would be some variation of "I called the office I thought you were at and left a message with the secretary.", "I stuck a Post-It note on the server room door", or my favourite "I talked to the guy on 3rd shift and he left a note for you." I saw the guy on the graveyard shift as frequently as I saw my dentist.

What can you do in such a situation? While your initial response might be justified frustration, it is important to keep in mind that just as you scramble to meet the demands of your work so do your coworkers and superiors. You need to provide them with a tangible and gentle motivation to communicate and distribute information to you in the most effective way possible. Be prepared to repeat yourself a few times and to emphasise how making sure things are properly placed in your inbox and ready for your attention is the best way to get quick results. Explain the part of your system that is relevant and important to them getting better results:

  • "I empty my inbox and revise my task list every evening before I go home. If the item that needs my attention is sitting in that box, it is guaranteed to get my direct attention by the end of the day.
  • "I commute between several offices in our district, because I'm not always here to see physical notes you leave me the best way to ensure I respond to your problem quickly is to email me.
  • "I appreciate you taking the time to bring the documents you wanted me to sign to my office, but I'm concerned they might get lost in the mountains of other stuff in there. I have a silver tray right on the corner of the desk just for important documents like yours.

Remember to frame your requests in such a way that fulfilling them appears—or in fact is!—a win-win situation for the person you're talking to. Nobody will adjust their behaviour if they perceive you as being anal retentive and asking them to do something that has no benefit to them. Even if your request is polite and non-confrontational if your coworker sees no benefit for themselves in complying they'll simply forget about your request.

You're on a productivity blog, reading about ways to be more productive and make the most of your time. It might sound completely absurd to explain something like using an inbox in such an elementary way but the reality is your coworkers and bosses are most likely just furiously running through their day trying to get it all done in time. It seems painfully obvious that the tray on your desk is your inbox and where important things should go or that because you're not in the office every day it's silly to leave a Post-It note stuck to your door, but to your busy office mates it probably isn't so obvious. A few minutes gently coaching them can save you enormous amounts of time and lost productivity over the course of the year. While you're in the mood to coach and prod your office mates into helping your productivity flow, don't forget to help them hone their email skills. If you have yoru own success—or horror—stories about getting people onboard with your workflow, be sure to share them in the comments below!

Three People You Need to Train to Use the Inbox [Lifehacker.org]


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