Productivity is about more than getting things done. It is also about positioning, branding or marketing (whichever term you choose) yourself not only as a productive person, but as a dependable, responsible and hard-working professional. You really want to build a reputation as a person or business who gets things done, who can be counted on and who is respectful of others efforts and time. You may not think about your demeanor, your communication or your business practices as being markers of productivity, but in the eyes of prospective customers, clients and colleagues they increase your competitive advantage. I may not be the most experienced in my field or arguably the most talented, but I certainly try to be the most reliable. That is one of my major differentiators along with my honesty which you are about to get a dose of.
I have to warn you, if you aren’t prepared for some professional coaching tough love, then stop reading now!
I have assembled a short list of those “best practices” that help me to determine whether I want to do business with a professional or their company. They are compiled from years of dealing with professionals who I have witnessed or interacted with in professional, personal and volunteer situations.
- If someone leaves you a voicemail, return it – It really doesn’t matter what form of communication you use to reply; what matters is that you do reply and in a timely manner (within 24 hours is dependable, 2 – 3 days is adequate and 1 week is poor, but better than nothing.) I once had a volunteer committee member tell me that she got my VM the week before, but did not call back because she didn’t know the answer to my question – I no longer work with her on my committee.
- Leave a detailed message – This may be a subset of the prior practice, but phone tag drives me so nuts that I’m making it separate. Don’t just say “Call me,” say what you are calling about and what you need. This way the other person can be prepared with the necessary information for the return call and if a return voicemail is necessary, then the answer can be relayed in a message. (Hint: I try to also leave in the message when the best time to reach me is.)
- Finish your projects on time – Be reasonable in your estimated due dates and let the other party know if you cannot meet the deadline and the reason for the delay. Remember, under-promise and over-deliver.
- Stay on top of your email – Clear your inbox every day (preferably by noon, though my goal is much earlier.) I get approx. 80 emails per day through several email accounts. About half of those are waiting for me when I open my inbox in the morning with a few being spam. I allow myself an hour to process those 35 – 40 emails and then the rest of the day I check my inbox every hour or two. Your volume or work schedule may be different, but you need to find a way to make it work. It is a terrible thing to have missed an opportunity or to be known as the person who never responds to their email. The time frame is the same or shorter than voicemail. Don’t make people send reminder emails; it is waste of time for both of you. If you have trouble with this; either you are getting too much email – unsubscribe to some newsletters (not this one of course) or delegate more (you probably don’t need to be copied on everything) or you don’t have an efficient way to process your inbox. (Hint: it is not meant to be storage.) If you need a refresher read, Get Control of Your Inbox.
- Be very good at follow-up – When you have finished a project or completed follow – up actions, let the person who requested the work know that it’s done and if possible provide a brief summary. This may be as simple as a quick email just saying “This task is done” or it may be paragraph or bullet points describing what actions were taken and what was the end result.
I would be glad to hear your comments on these practices of mine. Agree or disagree! One thing I know is that having a reputation for being Miss Reliable has paid off for me and may help you be more successful as well.