There’s a huge presentation that is due in two weeks; you’ve done quite a bit of research, gathered the materials that you have to read in order to begin working on the presentation slides. Then there’s 15 unread emails in your mailbox. 5 of them are just ‘for info’ emails, the other 5 are from the bosses where you have to chip in on some discussions going on about changes in the workplace or some projects that your firm is running. They are not that urgent but requires a bit more thinking to reply. And another 5 are slightly more urgent – but your colleagues who are CC-ed can reply to some of those queries as well.
What do you do?
I’d expect you to reply the 5 urgent emails first; and in order to avoid starting work on the longer emails, you might even reply ‘thanks’ to some of the ‘for info’ emails. And then in-between writing the longer emails you might fire up Microsoft Powerpoint, start doing the cover slide and the outline slides without even bothering with reading any of the materials you have gathered, just crafting out the slides based on your preconceived ideas about the topic or the light readings you have already done. This slows you down and you ended the day finishing all of that 5 long emails, satisfied with yourself. The workday ends, you’ve accomplished writing about 2 briefs and 3 updates to your bosses. But meanwhile there was no progress on the presentation – oh well, it shall go to another day.
In fact, you didn’t even think about prioritizing your ‘to-dos’ but whimsically did whatever your mood tells you to. And that is the result.
Since I started work, I find myself so happy with these small quick wins each day I really lose sight of the more strategic tasks on hand and the deep thinking I could have done each day with the mental capacity I have. Instead, my job seem to stretch more of my attention capacity making it difficult for me to focus and deliver on any single thing to the best of my abilities. We are so addicted to this quick wins it makes us addicted to our emails and checking inbox without actually spending time or attention on the more important things that might be in the pipeline.
I’m still working out how to deal with this – I would highly recommend the Podomoro Technique if you have sufficient control of how you spend your time at work each day. But if you are like me, with meetings randomly scattered throughout the week, try to identify pockets of time where you can do deep thinking and apply the technique. Having a workflow to properly deal with the various different types of emails that lands in your inbox is very important as well. This will be my next personal work project.