Last week as I was talking with one of my clients she mentioned her email was completely out of control. The problem for her is she works in Seoul. Her Asia Pacific head office is in Singapore which is one hour in front of Seoul, and her head office is on the West coast of America, which is 16 hours behind. This means her inbox is collecting emails almost twenty-four hours a day, six days per week (the US office is a day behind). As the technology advancement in communication shrinks the world, and borders and boundaries are removed, this problem is becoming increasingly difficult for a lot of people to manage, even among the most organised black belt GTDers.
In addition to the constant stream of email, my client has three or four meetings to attend and her own work to do — the work she was employed to do. It’s a never ending cycle. There are occasional respites, but each working day follows a similar pattern.
In Korea there is also a concept locally known as “GabEul” (갑을) which could generally be translated as the God / Slave relationship. The customer is God and the supplier is the slave. It is not unheard of, over here, for a customer to telephone a supplier at 2am in the morning and ask for a report or a poster to be ready for 9:00am and the supplier would be expected to do it. Unlike in other societies where the supplier would either fire the client or tell them where to go, this GabEul concept is deeply ingrained and to suggest firing a client or telling them where to go would result in an employee being fired themselves .
Trying to be productive in this environment is difficult, and coming up with a system to better manage commitments and work is often just given managerial platitudes such as “be more productive” “go beyond the limits” and “you can do it!” So it is from this background I give the following advice.
Take Some Time Out To Look At Your Work
In such a working environment taking some time out to stop and think about where automation can be used is more important than ever. Nobody can manage 200 + emails a day, just like being expected to do eights hours work and attend four one hour meetings per day is not possible. Taking one or two days to get your stuff together and to think carefully about how you communicate with your colleagues and clients is essential. Look for ways where you can utilise technology to do some of the hard work for you. Applications like Todoist, Evernote and TypeIt4Me can really help you here.
Learn How To Set Up Smart Inboxes
For email you could set up some smart mailboxes for email that has no urgency or importance. Emails such as project updates, company newsletters and internal job opportunities should not be in your main inbox. Yes, I am sure they are important in their own way, but they should be read when you have less important things to complete. You need to learn how to set these smart inboxes up and to take the time to go through your email to see which mails can go in to separate inboxes. This is not a five minute task. This can take a whole day, depending on how busy you are. But that time out setting these things up can ultimately save you a huge amount of time.
Establish Some Hard Edges
I would recommend you set up some hard edges in your work schedule. For example, try to come to an agreement with your bosses that there will be no meetings between 11:00am and 12:00pm as well as no meetings after 4:00pm. This will then allow employees the chance to actually schedule quiet work time, uninterrupted by other people and meetings. It’s amazing how much work can be done when there are no interruptions and staff can plan their work day with confidence.
Use Your Calendar To Set Periods Of Focussed Work.
Whenever I have multiple projects approaching their deadlines I begin using my calendar to schedule focussed work time on these individual projects. It is the only way I can see them being completed and so I would schedule an hour or two on a Monday for one project, an hour or two for another on Tuesday and so on. When I do this the projects get completed on time and without causing me any undue stress. Leaving this to chance is just a recipe for missed deadlines and milestones and a lot of unnecessary stress.
Look For, and Learn About, Technology That Can Help You
To take control in these situations it really is up to you to figure out how best you can complete the required work. Technology is a huge help, yet so few people even attempt to find software that can do much of the work for them. Virtually the same emails are written every day, yet no attempt at creating a template is made. Recurring meetings are put on a calendar and retyped in every week instead of a regular repeating event being set up in their calendar. There are so many ways you can automate tasks that can save not just a few minutes, but, cumulatively, a few hours each week. YouTube channels such as Steve Dotto’s DottoTech and Francesco D’Alessio’s are a great place to find new technology.
Set Clear Boundaries For When at Work and When At Play
Finally you need to set a hard time for when you will not work. For me, that is between 10:00pm and 7am. I think that is reasonable and any client expecting me to work past 10:00pm and before 7:00am I will fire. I need some time to recharge, refresh and spend time with family and friends. So for me that is between 10:00pm and 7:00am and I have set my default “do not disturb” time at those times. The only people who can contact me between those times are my wife, immediate family and close friends. Clients — “sorry, I’ll call you back in the morning after 7:00am”. For you, you may enjoy an active social life and prefer to set the “Do Not Disturb” time at 8:00pm — that’s fine too. You need to set a time you are happy with and make sure you strictly apply it.
If you feel your work is out of control because of the sheer volume of what you are required to attend to, then it really is important to stop making the excuse you are too busy and take a step back and really investigate where you can make changes to regain control, because if you do not, not only will the quality of what you do be damaged, but your health and relationships too. No job is worth that kind of sacrifice.
Carl Pullein is the author of Your Digital Life: Everything you need to know to get your life organised and put technology to work for you, a book about how to get yourself organised in the twenty-first century