Our workplaces can seem like a completely reactive world: the inbox becomes a to-do list, the calendar is other people blocking your time, meetings are mostly a way to disseminate information…yeesh.
Stop and consider for a moment how much time you spend actually making an impact. Why should your to-do list be tasks that other people – who don’t know what you know, who aren’t you, and who don’t share your responsibilities – drop in your inbox at random times? What are you getting out of a meeting that couldn’t have been accomplished with a voice memo or a video message?
We’re implicitly taught for most of our working lives that reacting with a fast answer (+1!) is the same as doing the best work possible (but if you’ve ever had a mediocre doctor, you know this isn’t true).
One of the takeaways I had when going to business school while I was working full time was how to let fires burn. It is amazing how much impactful work you can get done by triaging problems. Focus on the thing you must get done or the one that leverages your time the best, and the rest can…wait.
It gives you extra time to focus on something with real impact while concurrently allowing the sender a little space to potentially solve their own problem (or have it disappear entirely). It also may condense the time allotted on a given project, which can help improve focus.
I know, I know. The boss wants you in the room. You need viz on the thread. The responses to the Q&A from the CEO are interesting. You need something to do while you eat lunch. You really like presentations given by so-and-so. You’re excited to propose your idea…
If all you get out of reacting to all of these things is a feeling of busy-ness and overwhelm instead of a sense of accomplishment; if it’s easier to be busy and complain about it than it is to show up and engage; if you’d rather not challenge any assumptions and do what’s comfortable; then by all means…
…hurry up and answer that email.