Monday, April 2, 2007

Anticipation Is Worse Than Confrontation

I have a confession: I have a messy in box. I had an ugly confrontation with it this week. It was really bad -- more than 170 messages sitting there, thinking they were important enough to be at the top of my attention. Awful. I realized this weekend that just wondering what was above or below the fold (depending on the sort order) was really stressing me out. So I did something about it.

I went through every single message in my in box, and either added a task to my to do list, responded to the person, or trashed it.

It turns out that email clutter is much like regular clutter. Very rarely do you find that winning lottery ticket or original printing of the Declaration of Independence in your clutter; likewise it is rare that you find a hand grenade with the pin pulled. Mostly it's stuff that you should have gotten rid of a long time ago -- receipts for meals that don't need to go on the expense report, directions to places you where you don't need to return, scraps with random numbers written on them that no longer have meaning.

In my email I found about thirty actionable items. The rest was either disposable (like, I'd already dealt with it or I wasn't going to deal with it because I was just the zillionth copy on the message) or so quick to deal with that I didn't even bother making a task of it.

In looking at the stuff that was in there, I tried to be analytical about why it ended up sitting there in the first place. Many of the messages were about difficult issues that I'd dealt with almost completely at the time, but maybe I felt there was more that needed to be addressed. But if no one has required more follow up since November of last year, then it's okay for me to consider the issue dealt with, I think. Some malingerers were messages where I was one of several recipients -- maybe at the time I thought I should do something about the issue, but obviously I hadn't and wasn't going to. There were many messages that I was clearly hoping the six-month automatic clean up would just do the tidying for me.

I've determined that every six months is not frequent enough for me and my tenuous grip on sanity, so I'm committing to getting everything dealt with every week.

Now I just have to work through my thirty tasks -- some are pretty big, others are little, and naturally they join a non-trivial backlog of other tasks on two other lists. But hey, we're IT professionals.

"Backlog" is just another word for employment security.

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