A Shared Location Does Not Mean A Shared Approach

August 22, 2011

Just because tasks are happening in the same place doesn’t mean they’re best done at the same time in the same way.

Email is a prime example.

All sorts of stuff ends up in our inboxes. Communications with customers, clients and colleagues. Financial information. Newsletters subscriptions and announcements from service providers. Forum and blog comment notifications. Learning opportunities. Personal messages.

But what ends up on our to-do lists is usually a task vaguely labeled “email.” Maybe we get more specific and move beyond reminding ourselves not just to check it, but schedule time to actually process it. Maybe we label the task “inbox zero” with the idea of processing all of it.

But that’s still not specific enough. There’s just too much variety under the umbrella of “email.” Each kind of message needs its own approach.

They may share a location – your inbox – but they share little else.

The time of day, your environment, your mindset – how you go about processing a group of messages – will be different for different categories. Answering client questions is very different from bookkeeping or reviewing newsletters or replying to that note from your mom. They each require their own specific energy and approach.

What shows up on my to-do list or schedule is not “process email, ” but “bookkeeping” and bookkeeping includes the step of checking for and processing any financial information that’s in my inbox. Or another example – “answer client questions” – which includes the step of checking for and processing any related messages or notices I’ve received via email. See the difference?

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Other examples of  same location/different approach that have come up recently in conversations with clients are…

Social media. You might be using Facebook to connect with friends and family, and promote your business, and have private conversations with clients. While it seem more efficient at first glance to do all those things at once – since you’re already there – again, these things are best handled in different ways.

Some areas are higher priority than others and each needs a different preparation and mindset. Chances are, your teaching, marketing and socializing modes aren’t the same – and you may not be able to shift quickly and smoothly between them. (If you’ve crashed and burned trying to do everything that happens to be in one place at the same time, this is why.)

Again, what ends up on your to-do list shouldn’t be “Facebook,”, but something more specific related to the type of work you need to do there. To continue with our previous example, a task like “answer client questions” would not only include the step of checking for and processing any related messages or notices, but also the step of hopping onto the appropriate area of Facebook to do the same.

What unifies a group of tasks is not where they are, but what they require you to do.

Projects. This same location/different approach problem doesn’t usually get us in trouble during large projects. In those instances, the different phases of the thing are more obvious. It’s the small projects where we tend to forget about it.

Preparing this newsletter is a good example of that. To note it on my calendar as “write and send newsletter” overlooks all the different elements of this small project, and that each of those elements require me to bring different skills and thinking to the forefront.

Writing this article is different from updating sales pages – and both of those things are very different from back-end tasks like updating my shopping cart or formatting the newsletter and uploading it to be mailed. Moving between more creative and technical/linear tasks requires conscious transitions [http://thirdhandworks.com/2010/01/transitions/] in order for this newsletter to come together in an efficient and effective way.

It’s not just a matter of grouping like tasks together, it’s giving yourself spaces between them to shift gears.

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The next time you feel yourself losing momentum within a project or feeling overwhelmed by a task – ask yourself if you are getting bogged down by trying to do everything that happens to be in one location at the same time and in the same way.

How might grouping them differently, and giving yourself space for transitions, allow you to complete your work with greater ease?

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