Nicky's Blog

Catch Up Day - Work Edition

All good things come to an end, and my recent time off is no exception.

Once upon a time, this used to be a nightmare, to the point where I got into the habit of logging onto my work laptop for a few hours on the last Sunday evening of my time off in order to properly catch up. My record was a little over a thousand emails to sort through. Not ideal, but it did mean I could join the morning calls the next day fully caught up and not spend any more of my time or my team's going through email threads and discussions.

Nowadays, I have a much smaller inbox and a much smaller variance in topics, but still enough that it took me half the day to be fully caught up across my workstreams. All in all I had four Teams chats, and 132 emails.

Let's go through how I got through to zero.

First things first, Teams.

Despite the out of office and the offline status, I always end up with a few Teams chats. Some of them are unavoidable from groups that I'm part with. Some, if I'm lucky, are people who don't have my personal details and just wanted to send over a tip or two (like things to consider for my Obsidian workflow). If I'm really lucky though, one or two people will try calling me through it. It's always good to start the week off with a laugh.

No fires were raised on Teams. Couple of tips, a little bit of spicy group discussion, and a generic shout for help into the Teams void. All good there then, and easy four ticks down.

Next, emails. Outlook does a half decent job of separating this now versus how it used to. The Focused and Other tabs learn as you work which types of emails and which senders you really care about and which you might want to see but not in any real urgency. You can also set rules for each for any that you know always belongs in a certain tab.

So, first things first, delete the chaff. I run through the Other tab quickly, scanning for anything that might actually be important (like password reset reminders that I really should move to Focused). Thankfully Outlook did it's job pretty well, so that was a simple case of select all and delete.

Moving to the Focused tab. Sorting by sender which help me cut out any emails that snuck their way past the Other tab sort. Facebook Workplace, Teams notification, LinkedIn Learning, and internal mailing lists. All sent to trash.

That leaves 62, or just under half. Next is sort by subject, and another scan, this time for quick wins (I really hate that phrase, but a better one just escapes me). Any system notifications about still open referrals I'm waiting on? Gone. Any notification about already done testing and changes? Quickly read and gone. New process map for a process I don't currently do but may end up doing in the future? Filed.

That leaves 47, and now we're left with the actual work to do. Again, I look for the quicker ones first. I know the popular way of dealing with these scenarios is to deal with the biggest one first, but I'm a bigger believe in the snowball approach; start small, build momentum, and carry that on with the bigger problems.

This cleared another 19 emails. Problems raised and resolved already, a couple of questions raised and outstanding that just needed another email to kick it along further, and updates I needed to account for on some trickier projects. All read, replied to, and filed where needed in either my project folder or in Waiting.

That leaves 28 emails to really knuckle down on, across three main categories:

Sticking with the momentum building philosophy, I deal with the training first. None of the rest were priority one, whereas I knew I could knock the training out in 10 minutes max, so I just hashed that out swiftly. Next were the referrals as items that have been waiting for an action for about a week now. Then there was the very troublesome project.

My most recent posts have focused around a change in mindset. Yesterday specifically I asked myself where or not it would be possible to me to basically give less of a crap? Instead of letting myself get stressed out over other people's actions and opinions, can I let it go and move on with my day?

This was the real test. A nightmare order that spanned eight separate cases, with two different design documents covering four different items across two overarching requests. I had spent weeks trying to get down to the specifics, and somebody else looked into it while I was gone and threw two or three spanners into the works.

And breathe.

I'd built up the momentum, which meant my head was screwed on and ready to power through. Time to go through the remains of the inbox and sort by date for easy reading.

This took me the best part of an hour. The technical aspects, questions I had and then answered myself with the next email, comparing everything to my notes and other notes on the various cases and tickets to get through. All with Apple Music's Pearl Jam Essentials playlist in the background.

But then it was done. Inbox Zero achieved. Only it wasn't totally done. There was still one more task.

The Waiting folder.

I try to follow the Getting Things Done methodology in all areas of my life, with my work emails being no exception. This meants I have four main sub-folders - @Action, @Read, @Waiting, @Reference.

Of course, that's a nice idea, but doesn't always get followed. Things often get actioned from the inbox. Somethings get put in waiting, only for the task in question to be completed off a separate email later, meaning it should realistically be moved to reference now. Then some emails get filed in @Read, only to be never seen again.

But @Waiting is the one that gets abused and ignored the most. There's a lot of extra steps. Using categories to deal with the problem of multiple email threads with different subject lines covering the same topic. Going back to the folder later to move finished tasks to @Reference. Checking everything there is all current and present.

All that adds up to a thing I resent doing, made worse by burnout, and leavinng my @Waiting folder out of date and horiffically messy. Getting back to work off the back of a great week off is as good a time as any to fix that as ever.

A similar process, then. Sort by subject, check for quick wins (ugh), then deal withe more awkward stuff and categorise along the way.

Quick wins in the @Waiting folder is stuff already actioned. A quick check on each ticket per thread to confirm if it was still actually waiting on stuff or if it's done and buried, reading to be filed away. Then it's renaming category labels to get rid of old references, re-reading old threads for further actions and prompts ('Hey, it's been over a week, what's the plan?'), and my trash can of @Waiting folder is now neatly organised and fully functional.

Finally, half past one. Lunch time, and catching up on some playtime I promised the dog.

Of course, email never ends.

By the time I finished, I had several new emails, some replying to queries I'd sent whilst processing. My manager called me to give me a separate task. A new guy sent another query for me to delve into. Another nightmare project I've been arguing about since February, and was a signifant contributor to my stresses, has just done a complete 180 and gone down a separate path than what's been discussed full stop.

On and on the rabbit hole goes.

Yet, as I'm typing this, I'm still in control. I came close, feeling the familiar heat in my face as I'm reading more and more things that just press all the right buttons, just begging for it to be over so I can go do some actual work instead of rehashing the same old points again. But like it or not, this was actual work, and it actually needed doing.

There's a scene in the Steve Jobs biopic with Michael Fassbender where he's arguing with John Scully, the then CEO of Apple, played by Jeff Daniels. They're arguing over Jobs' stubborn refusal to back down over his position on the failing Macintosh and how it forced the board to oust him, and Jobs says 'I forced the vote because I believed I was right, and I still believe I'm right, and I'm right'.

That's me at my worst. I'm right, I have the answer. I've proven it time and time again in the past, and I'm proving it now. I don't care how many emails I have to send and to high up the ladder I have to make myself hear. I believe I'm right, and I'm right.

And that's exhausting. Not to mention time consuming. If I spend half hour creafting the perfect email to make my case in the face of a losing battle, is it worth it? Is it worth the after effects, just to show the world how right I am?

Today, I took that different approach. I'm still tired. I'm worn out, and I still have a little nagging voice saying 'you should really let it rip on that guy'. But I won't. I'll breathe, and I'll let it go.

It's only work, and I'm not always right.

Time to move on.

Words - 1,679
Running Total - 29,286 (58.6%, 947 words ahead of target)

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