When looking for information most people want an easy fix or quick answer so they can move on with what’s next on their to-do list for the day.
If you have ever been out of the office for a day sick or on leave, you may have returned to emails from colleagues asking questions. As you scroll up the list of emails, it is possible you may find an email back from them to say they found the answer they needed.
For many if you can’t find the answers immediately, the approach has become, do one of three things:
- Physically ask someone else. Easy if you work in an open plan office and are OK walking over to a colleague and interrupting their work with your question.
- Call a colleague to ask. Also easy unless your colleague doesn’t answer, in which case your question sits in a voicemail box until they listen and act on it.
- Electronically ask someone else. Easy as well but like a telephone call the answer is not likely be immediate. Afterall, the receiver of your email is busy with their own work.
Until you receive a response, the item is “parked” on the pile of items dependant on someone else’s response. In some instances, this slows moving work forward. A need to remember to follow up is now required. An extra task. This is OK if it is only one thing you are waiting on, but if you have multiple items waiting on responses from others, you can fall into the dependency trap.
To minimise the dependency trap, when you need an answer to a question there are a variety of more productive alternatives worth considering:
1 Ask yourself how important or urgent is the answer?
2 Can you find the answer by looking somewhere yourself? Could there be a help desk support document, a Teams or Slack “chat” where you can look for the answer?
3 Can you Google or search YouTube for a response?
4 Can you post your question in an organization wide Team or Slack “chat” for anyone from your organization to respond to?
5 Can you document your question, or questions during the morning or day and then arrange a time to catch up with your colleague to discuss at a time that suits you both?
A 2005 (before collaboration software such as Teams and Slack came into daily use in organizations) Basex report suggested that 2.1 hours of productivity is lost per knowledge worker per day from interruptions, distractions and recovery time.
Human nature is to over estimate the importance of one thing we need an answer to at the expense of interrupting someone else’s workflow. Yet when someone does the same to us, breaking into our work flow we wonder why we feel frustrated. If you don’t’ want your workflow to be interrupted, don’t interrupt others unnecessarily.
Next time you have something relying on the input of others, consider the alternatives.
You just may find it wasn’t as important as you thought it was and the side benefit is you will increase your own productivity.
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