Overcoming the inertia of backlogs

I was away from my work laptop for most of yesterday. So I knew that there would be a bunch of e-mails to tackle. Sure enough, by late afternoon there was a daunting stack of stuff waiting for me. My first reaction was… to leave it until tomorrow, or later in the week. But I resisted that temptation.

Instead, applied my simple technique for dealing with backlogs.

  1. Set a timer for 45 minutes.backlogs
  2. Sort the e-mail by sender. This gives me an indication of each items’ likely significance.
  3. Strictly apply a one-touch processing rule. Each e-mail gets deleted, dealt with, or sent to my triage folder. This generates enough momentum to overcome the daunting prospect of the backlog. I find that this stage deals with about 75% of whatever has accumulated.
  4. Prioritise (triage) the residue into one of 3 categories – now, next, sometime. This assessment takes account of the importance of the topic, any deadlines that are attached and my appetite for dealing with the specific task.

After these four steps, I had enough time to eliminate the ‘now’ pile. I’ll deal with ‘next’ tomorrow and ‘sometime’ will be cleared by the end of the week.

And the next time I’m out of the office (or a backlog occurs for another reason), I’ll repeat this exercise.

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