I’m a big fan of dogs. Love ’em. I’m not convinced that there is anything of unconditional love in the response of “Man’s Best Friend” (there is the small matter of MBF having identified a light touch for free food…), but they are an absolute delight to watch at play. My dog for instance, was a glutton for play. Sticks balls, rats, cats–if it moved, she’d chase it with unbridled glee.
One day in the park, it came to me that, while she was clearly having a good time chasing the ball I was throwing over and over, there wasn’t a lot of thought going into whether she would chase the ball. I’d throw, she would chase, run back and drop the ball at my feet (NB. this was a small feat of dog training in and of itself, her being a terrier and all…), and we’d repeat until my shoulder got sore. I chose the direction, speed, height and bounce; she chased it as fast as her little legs would carry her, every time. No questions, no hesitation; just chase, chase, chase.
In the weird way that our brains work, it was only one step from there to thinking that this is what many of us are doing in our e-mail inbox (stay with me…). The e-mail comes in, we get a little ping, and–like PBF (Pavlov’s Best Friends) we open it and go to work. And as long as we have stuff coming in we’ll stay there, chasing balls that other people have thrown. Most people never see an empty inbox, so they can stay there all day, chasing balls as fast as their little fingers will allow them to. It is exhilarating in its own way (“look at how busy I am!”), but is it what you think is important to do?
So, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the real game doesn’t even start until your inbox is empty. Until then you are just chasing balls that someone else has thrown. Once it is empty–and remember you don’t have to do everything to get it empty, just think about what it means for you–you can then compare it to all of the other stuff you have thought about doing and decide if the response to that e-mail is more important / urgent than some of the outgoing calls, e-mails or conversations that you have decided would be good to get the ball rolling on.
If you are still with me on this, then here is the question: who is throwing your ball? You, or the last person to send you an e-mail? You, or your boss? As a food source, they probably have some limited throwing rights, but every single time? As soon as it is thrown?
Our suggestion, get your ins to empty once every 24-48 hours, get an overview of everything you have on and then decide what is next. Maybe even start throwing some balls of your own.