Inbox Difficulties

inbox1.gifBack in the old days it was easy.

The unproductive guy was the one who still had a bunch of bricks sitting in a pile waiting to be assembled into a wall, while the productive guy was finished long before, and was onto the next task of digging the trench.

Productivity was easily measured by throughput per hour, per day, or per week.

By contrast, one of my clients in the car insurance industry remarked to me the other day that his company has a backlog in the claims area. The company, in its attempts to increase productivity, had started to measure the number of cases disposed of per day by a claims processor. Unfortunately, this way of “measuring” the relative productivity of each person was running into problems.

First of all, each case was unique. Second, they were assigned randomly. Third, they required critical thinking skills and concentration, and their inattention to detail could cost the company millions. Trying too hard to rush a claims processor to hit an artificial target was simply begging for trouble.

To put it differently, someone who is applying for a job as a claims processor at this company may figure out that the way to get hired would be to emphasize their throughput. They might say, “In my old job, I did 40 claims per day!” The interviewer would probably ask, “What does that mean?” They wouldn’t hire them just because of the claim, and in fact they might be suspicious that the person was cutting corners and costing the company more money down the line.

Yet, there must be a way to determine whether or not a prospective employee is productive, and not foolhardy, and also not someone who just spends more hours at the office than anyone else.

Here is one easy indicator – their email in-box.

Email in-boxes are a great indicator of professional productivity. They are infinitely large, and can be “filled” in a matter of minutes. They can only be effectively managed with a fairly high skill-set, or in 2Time terms, with the habits of someone who is probably a Green Belt.

Why so? In-box management is the result of a combination of several essential habits; in 2Time language, these include Capturing, Tossing, plus more.

The instant and electronic nature of email in-boxes means that poor habits turn them into messy, chaotic dumps quickly.

Here, by way of a comparison, is what makes in-boxes hard to manage:

  • Email Inboxes Are Limitless: Both paper and voice-mail in-boxes have limits. A paper in-box becomes filled, reminding the user to empty it. There is a physical limit to what it can hold. A voice-mail in-box gives error messages, telling the world that you are at the limit. They, in turn, tell the user that their inefficiency is showing…Most email Inboxes have no practical limits. Any limits that exist are not set by the number of messages, but instead by the size of the attachments, making the limit meaningless for time management purposes. When a limit is reached, a manager is more likely to call IT to increase the size of their allocated space on the server, than they are to change their habits.
  • An Email Inbox is Secret: An abused in-box is hidden from view. No-one knows the dirty secret that there are 4000 unread emails lurking in Outlook. This keeps away the social pressure to clean things up.
  • No Standard Operating Practices (Individual): There is no course on how to develop the right habits to manage email. Everyone does their own thing, and most do what they do very, very badly. Many are forced to dump their entire in-box at the end of each year, and hope that they don’t get into trouble as a result. This rear-guard action probably wouldn’t make it into a set of best practices… LOL
  • No Standard Operating Policies (Groups): In some corporations, the Cc: function is like a machine gun spraying bullets all over. In no time, the entire company is watching a war of words between two people complaining about”the McTaggart file that was lost between one department and another”. The lack of policies only allows the situation to get worse.

These factors make the Email Inbox particularly vulnerable, and difficult to manage.

Advertisements

2 Responses to “Inbox Difficulties”

  1. Summy Says:

    I like the idea of having a clean inbox- and practice it.

    Unfortunately it’s difficult to require people to keep an empty inbox because everyone has their own system. some people can keep on top of their lists and be productive with an “messy” desk and a full inbox (the people I know that do this use flags to track their lists). Further if someone has a high inbox it could be because they have the most responsibility.

    To measure the above I recommend setting standards. If there are hard and easy claims then have 2 buckets (i would have buckets for each type of workflow if they are different), then allow for exceptions- the exceptions don’t count. Here’s how it would work. each type of work is accounted for and assigned to the right bucket. each bucket has an expectation. People know what they need to do (the buckets should be visible to management so they can monitor that issues are properly handled). There will be some issues that dont fall into a bucket or it has to take a unique workflow so longer times are acceptable for them. dont let people make everything an exception. even some “exceptions” can become routine if they are thought through and accounted for.

    Of course you’ll need to strengthen your quality assurance procedure to make sure that it is working. with million dollar claims that’s essential.

    I successfully implemented a similar procedure in my organization. The results were remarkable. Best practices were shared. productivity increased. fire drills decreased. the environment was more relaxed. For me i got an award and a promotion.

    Don’t get me wrong I’d recommend everyone keep an empty inbox but that’s just a symptom.

  2. Professional Un-productivity « The 2Time Mgt Blog Says:

    […] 2Time Mgt Blog Tools for Designing Your Own Time Management System « Inbox Difficulties The Essentials of GTD […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: