Cross-posted from The Goal Keeping DBA blog.
I'm making an earnest effort to work through Getting Things Done in an effort to being more productive. The harsh reminder that every moment counts means I want to be as productive with my time as possible. I had an pastor, the man who licensed me into the Gospel ministry, who had a favorite saying (I know it wasn't his, but he said it all the time), "Children spell love T-I-M-E." I believe that. And I've heard the arguments of quality time versus quantity of time and the fact of the matter is you can endeavor to do your best with respect to time with your children, but there are moments that come about unexpectedly, that catch you by surprise, and that make you glad you are a father or mother. You can't plan for those moments. And the only way you get those moments is to have enough time. So that means the time away from my wife and my children I need to be as productive as possible. Hence, GTD. Which reminds me, a SQL Server friend, Marlon Ribunal, started a blog on being more productive, called Productivity Bits. It's definitely worth checking out.
Okay, so what's this emergency scanning versus processing thing? It's actually quite simple. I carry a Blackberry. Actually, I now carry two. One is for work and one is for personal/ministry/professional. I have carried a Blackberry since August 1999 with only a few months interruption. It has become an integral part of my toolset. But one of the bad habits I got into with respect to my BB is emergency scanning. This is when you quickly look through your emails looking for the ones that you know you need to take care of RIGHT NOW. The problem is when you get caught up in doing a lot of emergency scanning, you never actually process the other ones and they sit there, lonely and forlorn. And so eventually they get to critical mass (some large number of unread messages) and you end up either asking for more storage space from your mail server administrators or deleting en masse a large number of unread messages. When you work operations for as long as I did, you tend to do this a lot. Actually, it becomes the way you operate and handle e-mail. And it's a terrible habit because it means you are constantly reactive and only rarely proactive.
Processing, on the other hand, is when you look at the inbox as a list of things to make decisions on. OK, I've read what's in the canteen for lunch. What do I with this? Well, I don't need it anymore, so in the trash it goes. The next email needs a short response, so I'll reply back, being concise and to the point. The other one requires me to wait on someone else. Okay, I need to put that email somewhere so I'll check back up on said person. And the last one is about something I need to do tomorrow, because I can't do it today. Ok, on my calendar (or actually, in my tasks with a reminder) it goes. You get the idea. And you do this with everything in the inbox. No exceptions. And you don't skip around, because then the tendency is to go back to emergency scanning.
This is going to be a major habit to overcome. I've spent close to 10 years being in this mode it's going to take time to undo. I can look at my different mailboxes, though, as proof that it's time to act. Some amount of emergency scanning is expected. But when it's the primary way one handles email, or tasks, or any sort of work queues, it's a problem that needs to be fixed.