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The Anatomy Of A Long Ignored Message Or Task.

I’ve been trying for awhile now to improve my digital personal communication skills. I’ve tried organizing and flagging my inbox or leaving messages unread. I’ve tried a lot of things but basically – what it all boils down to is that there are a LOT of messages I get from people in a LOT of forms that I never respond to and forget about forever.

I’ve decided recently that I need to figure out the cause and maybe that will help with the solution.

Too Much Crap In My Head Fighting For Attention

First and foremost? It’s the same thing that caused me to constantly lose important stuff growing up. I lost sunglasses and jewelry, I lost wallets and purses, I lost jackets and uniforms…it drove my Dad CRAZY. He would get SO MAD that I would actually try to hide that I had lost something until I could save up money to replace it. (I did this with a pair of Ray-Bans he bought me for a birthday present in 8th grade. He never knew I lost the original pair.) However, as angry as it made him, he would calm down later and say, “It’s because you always have too many things on your mind. So where you put your [insert lost item here] gets lost in the shuffle.”

My adult manifestation of a similar problem is Not Responding To Your Message/Email/Text/Tweet.

Most of the time if I’m at the computer, I’m working. So, if I see a personal message come through somewhere, I read it to make sure it’s not something that needs immediate attention – and then I put it aside “until later” because – obviously, work gets top priority. And then this is where Dad’s theory comes into play. I assume I’ll get to that email “later” when I’m not working, but there are so many things going in my head that the Message That Needs A Response just falls to the wayside. If you are a high-stress, high-anxiety person you have stupid crap floating around your head all the time that is trying to get you into FULL PANIC MODE! So, things that don’t make you panic? Like emails or Facebook messages? Sometimes get pushed back and ignored to deal with the things that are pushing you to CODE RED! mode. Sometimes it’s work but if I’m at the computer it could also be things like File Taxes or FASFA forms, or maybe getting in my daily blog post (THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD) or watching the latest Vlogbrother’s video (Yes. Not important to you. VERY IMPORTANT TO ME.) Either way – there are things I’m tending to at the computer that my brain says: PRIORITY! PRIORITY! PRIORITY! in the panicked voice that my brain has.

(I really wish my brain had the calm Mary Poppins voice, my life would be so much easier then.)

Other times I’m on my phone looking at messages, on my personal time with no anxious tasks looming before me. I’ll scroll through social media or read emails and I think I just don’t feel like responding to this on this tiny keypad, I’ll do it later when I’m at the computer. This is very valid! No one likes typing long responses on their phone! But then, of course, I’m at the computer and I’m working and…well…we’re back to the paragraph above and the anxious voices in my head and little things like personal messages in any format get pushed back behind whatever I’m doing for work and then they just get forgotten.

Inevitably what happens on things like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram is that my current feed pushes these messages I forgot to respond to out of the top of my list so I simply forget about them forever and they’re lost in the ether. Once in awhile something will trigger a reminder of the message and I’ll panic and think: OH SHIT, I NEVER REPLIED TO THAT!

There Is Never Enough Time

Another part of the underlying problem is my need to allow myself time for things. And this is why a LOT of things don’t get done in my personal life. I haven’t painted E’s bathroom yet because I haven’t had a block of uninterrupted time to do it. I was supposed to do it when he left for college LAST YEAR. I feel like if I can’t give something the time it deserves to complete the entire task, I shouldn’t even start. So, if the message or email requires thought I’ll put it off until I can really give it the time it needs.

SPOILER ALERT: There is never enough time.

I’ve got a task I was supposed to complete for some extended family back in DECEMBER. I did the first draft a few months late because I COULDN’T FIND THE CHUNK OF TIME! I may have 30 minutes free here, or an hour there, but this task would take several hours. And instead of doing it piece by piece and maybe having problems caused by stopping and staring repeatedly, I just never started. After I finally got the late first draft sent out, I’m back to the SAME PROBLEM AGAIN. I can’t find a big enough chunk of time! And now my entire extended family probably has crowned me the Queen of all Slackdome.

Just like anyone with any email or message I never responded too. They see me writing blog posts or Facebook statuses or watching videos and sharing them on Twitter…But I don’t have time to respond to that email? Or finish that family task?

Well…there’s time…but not enough time in that one sitting!!!

A concept that only makes sense to me, I know.

So, now what?

I’ve done a good job lately trying to figure out WHY I suck at personal communications and tasks, but how do I fix it? Here are some of my ideas I just need to figure out how to implement.

  • Set aside PERSONAL computer time. Time where I’m deliberately NOT working. Where I’m sitting down to respond to personal messages or handle personal business that requires the computer. When you work from home it’s hard not to switch to WORK MODE when you sit at the computer. So, instead of surfing social media on my phone before bed, I should sit at the computer and do the same thing. Then I have the full keyboard to respond to those messages I ignore because I hate typing on my phone.
  • Accept that there’s not going to be a large enough window of time to start/complete an entire personal task or respond to a very lengthy message. Accept I’ll have to break things up into smaller chunks.

Now, HOW do I teach myself to accept using smaller chunks of time. And HOW do I keep messages/tasks fresh in inboxes and feeds until I sit down for personal computer time? That’s the bigger issue.

How do you do it? How do you respond to messages/emails etc LATER, and not forget about them or lose them to the digital ether? Do you write them on your To Do list? Do you “Mark As Unread” until you can respond? What about tasks that require large chunks of time? Are you like me and put them off forever until you find the time? Or have you figured out how to do it piece by piece?

16 thoughts on “The Anatomy Of A Long Ignored Message Or Task.”

  1. I agree with so much of this. So much so that I don’t really have any good advice because I am still figuring things out myself. So far I’ve done the best with a) making an @computer flag on my daily list so I can mark those personal online things and b) accepting that I need to get things done on my phone. I added an email signature that says “Sent from my iPhone, please excuse typos and brevity.” The best part is that it actually frees me to leave out much of the annoying cruft of an email and just get to the point. If it’s something I could theoretically answer or say in a tweet? The email just gets sent right then because I type tweets on my phone all the time. Also, and I’m not sure if you’re an iPhone person, but I’ve been using this great email app called Mailbox. One feature is that it lets you “snooze” an email. So it gets out of my inbox and just comes back in like it’s a new message when I designate. (You can snooze until “tonight,” “this weekend,” etc.) I like this better than keeping as unread because eventually my brain can filter out the unread messages if I have too many. Sorry for this super-long comment! (Which I actually got out of bed to type on my big computer instead of the phone, so it must be important. ;))

  2. ACK! The “snooze” email thing sounds GENIUS. I need to check that out!!!!

  3. I could have written this post. It describes me to a T. You know what changed things for me? Reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. He specifically talks about and teaches one how to implement a system to stay on top of your email so that you can finish each day with 0 items in your inbox (along with other time management skills). I don’t end my days with 0 items in my in box, but I typically have a dozen or fewer and it is pretty darn liberating.

  4. Oh, don’t tell me that. *sigh* I have avoided the GTD concept forever simply because the first person who recommended it to me many, MANY years ago annoyed me so I ignored the recommendation out of spite. (They were very condescending about it, like I was stupid for not ever using the GTD method of life.) I’ve actually heard several people recommend it but MAN…I am SOOOO STUBBORN. 😉

  5. Could you make a list in your Bullet Journal of the messages you want to answer each day? Then you could cross them off as you answer them (which always gives me sense of accomplishment).

  6. Oh, man, I suffer from the same thing when I’m in Work Mode. I feel, for some reason, like a quick scroll of Facebook is an OK break, but writing a long, personal email is just too much slacking.

    And then I feel guilty over long-delayed messaged, and I couldn’t just write a two-line answers, once it’s been sitting around for so long… and just, ugh.

  7. I also maintain a constant list in my phone/tablet so even if I can’t get to it now, I at least don’t totally forget to do it. It doesn’t help me when it’s three weeks later and now I feel like an idiot for not saying “great job” when something happened, but I know exactly where my failings are. On second thought that GTD thing might be something to look into. 🙂

  8. Hahahaha! I totally get it. I ignored GTD / David Allen for a while but once I met him in person and listened to him at a conference it was a total game changer. I love the system. It works so well and it would dovetail nicely with your bullet journal / calendar system. I hate to say it, but you should check it out. AND, best of all, the book is a very quick, easy read.

  9. Hugs! Another post I could have written, except that now instead of working from home (which I did from 1997-2011), I go to school from home — as you might guess, very similar…..

  10. I’m going to jump in (hi!) and say that while I read the book, I could never quite go “full-on” GTD. It can seem completely overwhelming, especially when he’s describing taking executives with offices and secretaries through the system. It was so far out of my “work from home with cat hair stuck in my keyboard” life that I had a hard time believing it could work for me. So I definitely recommend rolling your eyes through some of those parts and don’t feel bad about not loving the system as a whole. That said, there are definitely a lot of tips that are worth exploring and adapting to your Bullet Journal, for example, to use your own tools in different ways.

    (GTD is great for some people! Not discounting Amanda H’s comment or the millions who love it! Definitely worth reading! Just wanted to add encouragement not to feel overwhelmed by the whole system and just pick and choose the pieces that work for you.)

  11. GTD can be overwhelming! I think the best parts of the book can be summarized on one sheet of paper that I hang in my home office – it deals only with handling email. Even if you never read the book, the one pager (which I got from D. Allen when I saw home speak) is enough to manage email and nothing more. But, yes, the stuff on training executives and secretaries IS over the top and totally overkill for list of us. Happy to share the one-pager, if you’d like.

  12. I was going to suggest the same thing – it’s helped me. I have a separate column for emails/phone calls on each day’s page in the bullet journal, so that I can take care of one or two. Makes it a lot less overwhelming. Also, makes it easy to transfer things to the next day if they don’t get done!

  13. How about instead of attempting to respond to the daily tidbits seen on social media and the like, let them slip into the ether. Instead, set aside a few minutes a day in your bullet journal to send your lovelies a personal little note letting them know that you are thinking of them and enjoying the glimpse into their daily world even when you don’t respond and remind them that they mean the world to you even in your silence? I’ve read your blog for years and I am sure I will not be the first to advise you to cut yourself a wee bit of slack–you are a super star, no one expects perfection from you. You are the bees knees just as you are.

  14. I have to agree with giving GTD a chance. Even a quick read through for some of the tips might help. I ignored a lot of his executive and higher-level 10 year goal stuff because, let’s face it, in 10 years I will still be working my job solely for the paycheck and health insurance, not because it fits my “life goals”. Although technically I guess my life goals include having a roof over my head and being able to feed my family so maybe I’m achieving after all 🙂

    When I’m at work in the middle of a project and an email comes in that needs a response I either respond immediately if it will take less than a minute or open up the email and leave it open so I have to deal with it before I turn off my computer. On days when it just can’t possibly be dealt with before I leave for the day I print it out and leave it on my desk for first thing the next morning. Not the most elegant or money saving process, but it works. Flagging it in my email or marking it unread just leads to it getting buried by the next day. If it’s a personal email that needs time while I’m at work I’ll write it down in my to-do list in my bullet journal to deal with later. Lastly, if there’s a blog I want to respond to that I don’t have time for when I’m reading, I mark it unread in my feeder (I use feedly) to come back to later – even if it’s days later.

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