If you’re like me, it’s not unusual to have a pile of emails, documents and other information each day that need to be translated into tasks that you can actually move forward on. Learning to manage communications for any entrepreneur, freelancer, or self-employed person is becoming more and more important for maintaining a reasonable level of productivity. But before you can address anything coming your way the trick is identifying tasks first.
Who Wants What?
More often than not people will slip their requests in with polite communications. Often you’ll find a “I need you to…” or “Could you…” or “Please take care of…” sandwiched in between questions about you and the family or the status of a project. These phrases are like tags, noting what part of a particular voicemail or email is actually the task you need to complete. Focuson those first and deal with the extraneous stuff later.
Who Sent This?
It’s great to think that we can just scan our list of email messages and pick out all the tasks simply and easily. The real story is you have to at least read who sent you each message to figure out the context of what each message means. Comprehending just what someone’s asking you to do is an issue of context. For instance, as I read my email, I take note of what I need to do to take care of whatever question, problem or specific task and put it into context. A friend asking you to help with her blog is something very different than a client asking you for assistance with their blog.
One of the things you do while processing new tasks is to get any necessary clarification. If there’s a question about what’s being asked of you send an email right away requesting any necessary details or a clarification. This way you can be sure that you have all the right information when you add a new task to your list. If you’re not sure that you’re correctly interpreting a message, go ahead and confirm you’re on the right track. Simply shoot back an email or a voicemail message restating the task and ask for a little confirmation.
For big projects that get dropped in your inbox, don’t bother fleshing out a whole time line immediately. That, in and of itself, is almost always a large task. Instead, identify the first step you need to take and make a note that planning out the smaller tasks and details is also on your to-do list. It isn’t always simple to identify what’s first but if you routinely work on similar projects, you can probably guess what the first step will be on your next project.
Yes. Having one inbox where you can sort through everything can makes it easier to pull information from all the emails, documents and requests that get passed your way. Even if you have to move files around yourself, you can help speed up the time it takes to process this sort of information, just by having it all in one place.
Skipping an email or message and promising yourself you’ll come back to it later is good way to make sure something slips between the cracks. Instead of avoiding complicated requests or tasks, get them out of your inbox now. You can even turn down the request if that’s a better option. Either way, don’t put it off until a later that will never come.
Lastly, make the emails and memos you send to others easy to translate into tasks, for them and for you. While it may not help you complete your own tasks, making the effort to streamline your messages that you can minimize time-consuming back-and-forths about what a client or colleague really needs to accomplish. It really will save you more time than you might expect and just might help someone else to communicate tasks more clearly for you.
*Originally posted on Active Grey Matter Blog