How To Get My Attention
Wrote this for work to explain and make easier the process of grabbing my focus when needed. Thought it’d be fun to preserve it here, too. All the contact info has been X’d out; you’ve got it if you need it. ;]
How To Get My Attention
I’ve been asked several times in the last week for the best ways to find me and/or get my attention. Seemed worthy of a wiki page (and a blog entry).
- For very urgent issues, call my cell phone at XXX/XXX-XXXX.
- To give me quick short info, by SMS at email@example.com. I can also send short responses.
- If you want my soonest attention to an email, send it to me
directly (not through an alias) and put the word “URGENT” in the title.
Know that I don’t often get to read email until very late in the day.
- If you want my immediate attention to an email, call or text
me after you send it. I’ll do what I can if I’m in a place where I can
read your email.
- If you want me to act on an email, tell me what action you want me to take.
Why Are You So Hard To Find?
Generally, I’m either walking around talking to folks or in a meeting. This means I’m not usually at my desk to answer my phone or read my email, which in turn means it can be hard to find me. The busier the day, the harder it is to find me.
But I All-Paged You!
I mostly don’t answer all-pages. Usually it’s because I’m in the middle of a meeting or conversation that is moving something along and don’t want to stop to find out whether or not the reason for the all-page is urgency or convenience.
The problem with all-paging is that it’s so cheap and painless for the person paging that we casually all-page because it would be more convenient to talk to them right now than to send them email or leave them voicemail1 without regard to whether the matter at hand is really urgent, not to mention whether or not we’ll inconvenience the person being paged. And, since every time there’s a page you’ve got to listen to see if it’s for you, we’re interrupting every person in the studio multiple times per hour in order for two people to connect. If it takes each person just 10 seconds to listen, process, ignore the page, and get their head back into their work, can you imagine how much time we waste every day2 … and how much we fragment people’s ability to concentrate?3
I’ve been in a conversation at my desk when my phone rang twice and, as I reached for it, stopped ringing … and then I was immediately all-paged. When I called back, it was to see if I had lunch plans. Well intentioned, but not urgent in any way, and not worth interrupting the business conversation I was having. I used to get all-paged for similarly non-urgent-but-convenient-to-the-paging-party things three or four times daily.
So now I mostly don’t answer all-pages. I’ll answer if I’m not in a meeting or working against a deadline, but those two cover most of my time.
1 Don’t even get me started on the fact that our voicemail doesn’t pick up after 4 rings. If I can ever get mildly caught up, that’s gonna change.
2 Here’s my guess: we’re 186 people, so that’s roughly 30 minutes per all page (180 * 10 secs = 1800 secs = 30 min). I’d conservatively estimate we average 5 pages per hour during the 8.5 working hours we have. That’s roughly 21.25 person hours we sacrifice daily to the all-paging system. Ugh.
3 I could quote endless literature and scientific studies but it turns out it’s easier just to google it
But how can I get you if I need you immediately?
My cell phone is XXX-XXX-XXXX. Use it for “I need an answer right now” kinds of things. If I think I’m not interruptable, I won’t answer. If you think I need to interrupt whatever I’m doing, call back immediately and I’ll answer. Bonus points for calling me from your cell phone so I have an opportunity to know it’s you (yes, I’ll add your name to my phone after the first time =).
You can push text (~120 chars) to my phone at firstname.lastname@example.org. Use that to give me important FYIs and to get very short responses. I have unlimited text messaging; please use this as often as you need.
Do you ever read email?
As of this writing (7 Feb 2007), I get roughly 1100 emails per day, of which roughly two-thirds are machine-generated and only about a quarter (~300) are safe for me to ignore. The rest I must process4 if I’m to stay current. Most days I manage to do okay; others I fall behind.
I process email up to five times daily:
- Between 6-7a (sometimes) for about 30-40 minutes to deal with all the automated messages from the night and know what I’m in for when I arrive. This is mostly read-only time; replying takes too long.
- Between 9-9:30a (almost always) for 15-20 minutes to reply to anything I put off the first time as well as to send out queries and action items to others.
- Between 12:30-2p (always) for about 5 minutes to skim the morning’s mail for anything that seems urgent.
- Between 6-7p (usually) for about 30-40 minutes to handle anything that needs an answer by the end of the day.
- Between 10p-midnight (always) to read anything else that needs reading and respond to anything that needed a longer response than I could give earlier.l
Depending on the day, I’ll drop some of these; on the worst of days,
I’ll do the 9-9:30a, 12:30-2p, and 10p-midnight. On average, I seem to
get about an hour during the workday to process, read, and respond to
4 I say “process” because I don’t actually read all ~1100. Many I discard out of hand as uninteresting spam due to membership on the “edit” or “film” aliases, which get a notice for every published asset ever made. Some I skim titles and decide if they need reading. I do read anything sent to me specifically.
How can I get your attention in that vast sea of email?
In order to make my time effective, I have a number of tools and tricks:
- Email me at email@example.com and you fall into a special folder which is the first thing I process. It doesn’t guarantee I’ll read it right away, but it does mean it’ll get read that day, mostly.
- Put the word URGENT at the front of the subject and
you’ll get read even if I have only five minutes; you’ll usually get a
response, though it may be terse if I’m pressed for time. Please don’t
take this personally; I’m trying to be sure you know I saw your mail
and, if you need action from me, that you know what to expect.
- **If you only have one line of info, put it in the subject and end with “
"**. EOM means "end of message" and it tells me I don't need to read anything but the title.
- Tell me what to do. If you need me to act, I need you
to tell me what you want me to do; e.g. buy something, tell you when
the something will arrive, look into why it hasn’t arrived, send it
back because it’s not what we thought it was, etc. If you don’t ask me
to do something, I’m going to think you CC’d me to make sure I’m aware
of what’s going on.
If it must be long, summarize at the top. You’ll see me do this for most any email I write that’s more than one screen; it usually looks like this:
Subj: Last Weekend’s Foo CrisisThe Short Story:The foo broke last weekend. We fixed it, but it took 10 hours during whichthe farm was completely down. We’re taking steps to be sure this can’t happen again.The Epic Saga:At 8:47p last Saturday, the foo began spewing errors; by 9:14p it had failedcompletely, taking batcho with it. We began investigating …
…that way the reader can decide quickly if they want more details now or later (or never).
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