The Outlook paradox: Are you helping others at the cost of your own work?

This article assumes that you are using Outlook (and Exchange server) for managing mails. However, the concepts explained here are applicable to any mail / messaging system. However, the remedies mentioned are specific to Outlook-Exchange only and may not work with other products.

Here are some (obvious) facts

  1. We spend a lot of time handling mails (replying to mails)
  2. We also spend a lot of time attending meetings
  3. Most of us are running against time – there is always significant backlog of pending work
  4. Even though we are capable of doing all the pending work, we simply do not seem to have enough time to execute it
  5. Due to this, our capability is not fully actualized – it hinders your growth

Here are some – not so obvious – facts

    1. Everything in Outlook requires at least two parties (sender and recipient)
    2. It is an interaction between YOU and OTHERS (everyone else who can interact with you including all your staff as well as external people like customers, vendors, etc.)
    3. You send mails and others send mails to you. Naturally, the number of mails you mails you RECEIVE are going to be more than mails you SEND.

When you send a mail you are trying to do YOUR WORK. When you reply to someone else’s mail, you are helping OTHERS do their work.

  1. Similarly, the number of meeting requests you SEND are bound to be much lesser than the number of meeting requests you RECEIVE.When you arrange a meeting, you are trying to get YOUR WORK done. When you attend a meeting called by someone else, you are helping OTHERS get their work done!
  2. When you say I spend so much time cleaning inbox, do you realize that you are spending that time helping helping OTHERS ?

Question: When do you do your work?

Very important question. The answer is surprisingly depressing.. the answer is…

Whenever I get time!

And whatever time you have you are literally WASTING in helping others!

Of course, I am not against you helping others. Everything we do is teamwork. But this is a highly skewed version of teamwork.

You are helping others at the cost of your own work!

This is what I call Outlook Paradox

Now let us try to pin down the root cause.

Root cause: false sense of “free” time

When you or others look at your calendar, the time which is not blocked for formal meetings is considered as FREE.

Others are free to request a meeting with you during the FREE time!

The question is – are you really FREE during that time? Is it not the time you get to do your own work?

But somehow, your actual work is never visible in the calendar. That is the root cause of Outlook paradox.

It is surprising that this simple and obvious fact is ignored by billions of people every day.

Solution to the Outlook Paradox

The solution is simple. Stop using Outlook the way you currently are.

Turn the tables. Be focused.

Do your work first and then help others!

That is the concept. In reality we have to follow more specific steps. We will cover these steps in detail in upcoming articles. Here are the steps:

  1. Realize that TASK folder is the most important one!
  2. Focus on your work
    1. List down all the work (personal as well as professional)
    2. Specify the estimated time you will need for each work item
  3. Even if others ask you to do some work, monitor it in Task folder (not in Inbox)
  4. Find time to do your work
    1. Allocate time for your work in the calendar
  5. Delegate work in an efficient and effective manner
    1. Use Task delegation features of Outlook
    2. Use SharePoint Task list
    3. Use Microsoft Project for complex projects
    4. Use OneNote to capture and delegate tasks DURING meetings rather than AFTER meetings
  6. Prioritize mails which you respond to – don’t read and respond to every mail which arrives
  7. Learn to manage mails and tasks across multiple devices

Next article

In the next few articles, we will learn these steps in detail.

For now, just go to your task folder, create a new task and see all the options! Get ready for action…

10 thoughts on “The Outlook paradox: Are you helping others at the cost of your own work?”

  1. Dr Nitin , collaboration is part of our work. The concept of free time in the calendar is not to help others in their work but make ourselves available to do our work
    Your article gives a hint that people tend to work in isolation but that’s not the case. When a financial controllers time is available, it doesn’t mean that he is free and has no work but it means that the time is available for any other high priority work.

    I make it a point to keep my calendar upto date and my Lync status accurate. But I do decline meeting request that are either not relevant or does not hold priority in my to do list.

    1. Hi Ravi
      Thanks for your views on the subject. I am saying that we are unknowingly spending time helping others at the cost of our own work. Own work is as important as working with others. Everyone knows that. But in reality, we just get carried away. I use exaggeration and sarcasm in order to force people come out of their comfort zone. That’s all.
      This article is not an isolated thought. It is the beginning of a series of articles – 2nd Feb to 9th Feb. This article covers how to manage tasks and calendar in detail. These articles provide a clear, logical and practical approach to mail, task and time management. Do have a look and let me know your feedback.

      Dr Nitin

Comments? Suggestions? Wish list?