Leaders Save the “Future You” Work

There are people who take to-do item emails and file them into different folders, depending on their urgency or the area of control of their work. Later, they have to remember where they put those emails and reorganize the work. By this time, they’ve spent a lot of time organizing their system, and they think it works for them. But what they’ve really done is create more work for their future self

Now, compare the person above with the one who simply ignores email until they have time to act on it. They drag them to their calendar to plan a time to deal with all the emails at once. Of course, you can do make this plan on paper or electronically, but either way you’ve eliminated the need to re-think or re-process your system.

The second person has saved the “future them” work.

Another common task that can make more work for the “future you” is avoiding small issues because they’re uncomfortable now. I have a colleague in higher education who shared this example: 

“An example would be having a slightly uncomfortable talk with an education student about her body odor or his inappropriate clothing during the first week of class. That will not be fun, and it doesn’t really require an immediate action on my part. However, if I address it then, it saves the problems that arise when those students go into a classroom field experience the next month, when the problem gets much worse.”

Here’s another example, along the lines of being more effective with people long-term:

You get an email from a teammate asking for a favor. Technically, it isn’t your responsibility to do what they’ve requested. But it will only take 30 seconds of your time, and it will be done. On the other hand, responding that you can’t to the email would take at least 30 seconds, may be longer. It will also make you look less cooperative. Plus, it’s not like agreeing to this particular request sets a precedent that will result in more future work; it’s just an insignificant, one-time thing. In agreeing, you look cooperative to the requester and save your future self some work.

Also, if you have an email correspondent who’s impatient and will follow-up with a text an hour later saying, “Did you read my email yet?” And a phone call 10 minutes after that with a voice mail asking, “Did you get my text and my email yet?” Well, you might as well get that email answered first and save your future self some time down the road.

Consider the time of day and your physical location.

The amount of time it takes you to do something at one point might be different than at another. I’m hearkening back to the book When by Dan Pink to remind us that our efficiency and effectiveness ebbs and flows due to the time of day and/or the location conducive to our work. I’ll give you two examples:

  • Time of day: I do creative work best early in the day and routine work better late in the day. Before 8 or 9AM, it takes me about 15-20 minutes to complete a rough draft of a blog post; however, the same blog post takes me an hour if I wait until the afternoon. One of my routine projects is to handwrite a dozen or so addresses on envelopes for future correspondence. In the afternoons, when I have the inevitable energy drop, I can whip those out quickly and mindlessly, along with paying bills, doing payroll, quick email responses, or organizing my office. Doing the creative stuff in the morning saves the future me time.
  • Physical location: Sometimes I work on the road in a coffee shop or a hotel room. In my home office, I have an external monitor, resulting in two screens. I call this my “mega-desk.” I can have multiple documents up at one time. On the road, however, if I’m doing a project requiring a document reference, session edits, handout edits, and slide deck edits concurrently, I have to switch between the windows on my little laptop screen. This takes significantly more of my time than when I’m able to do the same work at home.

Thanks to my friend Steve for helping with this week’s post.

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

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