For years, time management experts have recommended that we first focus on the big, important things, and then squeeze the smaller tasks in between. It’s not a bad theory, but it’s not always the best approach to be more productive while also managing your relationships.
Let’s say that someone asks me to do something quite simple, perhaps to answer a question that will take me 30 seconds. But because I’m focusing on the Big Important Task, I’m going to let that slide until I have time – maybe next week.
The person who sent me the request knows that it’s straightforward. So when I take a number of days to respond, they’re either annoyed by my unresponsiveness, or puzzled about what message I might be trying to send them. In either case, I’ve done a disservice to our relationship.
And in careers, relationships are everything.
The other problem with delaying this small amount of work is that I have to spend some mental energy to remember it. When you’re trying to remember a large number of tasks, that energy isn’t trivial. If you write them on your to-do list, it’s possible that you’ll spend more time writing and reviewing the list than it takes to actually do small tasks.
Here’s my rule: If you can take care of it in 2 minutes, do it now. Don’t bother to track it or think about it further, just do it.
If you can do it in 5 minutes, then do it now if it doesn’t disrupt what else you’re doing. But if it does, put it on a list where you’ll see it again fairly soon. Sometimes that can just be leaving a message in your email inbox, but you don’t want to leave it there for more than a day because it distracts your attention from the other things coming in.
Remember, if the person on the other end expects that you can handle it with very little work, then annoying them with an extra delay can give them subtle messages that get in the way of a great working relationship.
And if they think it’s small but you find out it’s big, then tell them that in a timely manner. There’s a good chance then that they’ll be patient with the extra delay.
by Carl Dierschow