I was in a meeting with a colleague yesterday. I guess you could say we are Old School military guys. We are only a few years apart in age and we’ve been down some of the same paths in life. We got to talking about recent interactions with researchers.
One thing about me is I dislike having unread emails, texts, social media replies, or unanswered phone calls in my queue. Those things add up really fast in our busy world. I don’t even like having a stack of mail. I try to wade through all of it as fast as possible. Efficiency experts talk about touching any correspondence only once. Don’t file it away to deal with later. Touch it once and be done with it. If it needs to get tossed in the trash, toss it. But don’t let it sit there. If you let it pile up, it becomes a mountain and you’ll completely demotivate yourself from climbing the mountain. It all gets to be too much.
So my colleague is going to be out of country and asked that I let him know of any changes to our projects. He said he’s having trouble with a lot of the new guys he works with. They never update him and don’t respond to emails. Wow, I know that only too well.
I wonder if it is that I was in an era where if you didn’t answer the phone (a landline, not cell phone), you missed the call. We didn’t even have answering machines for the longest time. And there wasn’t caller ID. Those are things I come to depend on today. But I learned long ago to be responsive and efficient.
I wonder if the newer generations are overloaded. They were raised in an era where the firehose of information has always been on full blast. So their way of coping is to just not think about it. The result is, I don’t get responses to emails or texts. I don’t get a response from yoga teachers who I offered to sub for them. So I don’t know if I’m subbing for them or not. I don’t get responses the days before a business trip where we are to fly out of town. So I just run with the plan I offered and hope they read it. If they would just respond to communications, all would be a lot less stressful.
In CrossFit, we have workouts called Chippers. A chipper is a list of exercises that are done for however many reps. You do the first exercise, then move to the next. One example is the Filthy Fifty. Its like 8 or 10 exercises done for 50 reps each. If you try to wrap your ahead around the entire WOD and how long its going to take, you freak out. So you don’t think about it. Instead, you "Chip" away at it one exercise at a time. Finish that exercise and go to the next. In the end, you’ve chipped away at the mountain.
Dave Ramsey is a financial adviser who uses a similar concept for debt reduction. You chip away at debt until it becomes more manageable and then goes away. The idea is the opposite of what most people do. If I have 10 debts, then work on the smallest first. Pay it off completely. Then take the money you were putting into that smallest debt into the next smallest. This accelerates the rate at which you get rid of debt. In the end, you just have one larger debt to get rid of. But you use all that new capital to eat quickly away at the big debt. When you get rid of debt, then you put that money that you’ve been using for the debt into savings. Then don’t touch it. Eventually when your car breaks down, your furnace goes out, whatever, you can pay with cash and not credit. Never get into debt again. And by all means, don’t turn your savings into a vacation fund. That’s not why its there.
This is true with communications as well. If you list of all the contacts you need to make, then quickly make the easy ones first. Do it and get it off your list. But once you’ve completed all those contacts, then stay on top of them. Only touch them once. Don’t wait to respond. Just contact them right away. Answer the email. Answer the text. Then you won’t have a "debt" of responses. You are free and clear of anything hanging over your head. It is so mentally releasing to know that nothing is outstanding.
Communicate effectively and efficiently. Only touch your mail once. That’s the key.