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  • Dealing with the unproductive people in your life

    I'm a multi-year adherent of GTD. I see real benefits in personal productivity, stress reduction, etc. I fall off the path from time to time, but it's easy to get back on. Overall, I'm very focused and productive. Not perfect, but getting better all the time.

    As I improve my ability to employ GTD in my life, I've discovered a new source of stress in dealing with people in my personal and professional life who are completely unproductive (often to the point of being paralyzed).

    My interactions with this lack of productivity often manifests itself in unanswered emails that require an answer, but there are other examples. Usually, these interactions wind up as "waiting on" items for me and I generally have the uncomfortable task of "nagging".

    I have one particular associate who will now simply not read any email that's longer than a single sentence. His replies to me, often after a couple nags, are something like "Something happened to your email. It's either lost in my inbox or in the trash. I can't find it. I'm too busy. What was your question again?" I usually give him a shot along the lines of "If you're too busy to read and answer an email, you're really doing something wrong!" So, now I've learned to tailor my communication with him to his completely hectic lifestyle.

    This is frustrating for me for a number of reasons. Not relying on these people is often not an option. Helping them isn't a great option either (I'm not keen on offering productivity advice unless the person is looking for it).

    I often feel like I'm moving in the fast lane and a number of important people around me haven't even found the on-ramp yet.

    I guess I'm looking for tips, coping mechanisms, or even just sympathy. How do you deal with the "unproductives" in your life?

  • #2
    My sympathy to you.

    Nowadays I usually delegate or ask questions by phone. (I think David succested email, but I use it only few people whom I can trust to reply within reasonable time.) Or I email and call, asking "I just send you message asking.... When can you deliver the information I requested (or do the task if I delegated)?"

    Get it done guys podcast episode 170 might give you some ideas. Transcript here: http://getitdone.quickanddirtytips.c...e-at-work.aspx

    Also I think he has touched the subject on some other episode.

    You might also hint people "I have so much spare time now I'm using GTD method." or "Thanks to GTD I have so little stress". They might get the clue. Don't offer to help them getting more productive, make them ponder why you are so pproductive.

    Anyway, take care.

    Best regards, Jukka

    Comment


    • #3
      Thanks Jukka,

      Telephone is definitely one way I've tailored my communication with certain people. If they're going to operate in a chaotic manner, I've learned to use the most intrusive methods possible to get a response. It's not ideal, but it's effective at times.

      I'll check out the podcast episode.

      Best,
      Michael

      Comment


      • #4
        patience, lead by example,

        Make yourself admirable. Offer a sample, nothing too complex, of how your own process would go if you were charged with the task, ("Can you please check your calendar for me, I know you are busy, but if I know you can have it on Mon, then I will plan accordingly" or "Is there anything you need need from me to get this outlined?). Be as positive as possible toward the person because he or she is feeling a lot of negative feelings of guilt, stupidity (unless you are dealing with a dodging and avoidant sociopath, a drug addicted person,etc.)

        These people may be leaving something out in their response to you but it is also possible you are leaving something out in how you respond to them from their perspective. Maybe they see you as too task oriented.Maybe they expect you ask about the health of the family, the weather, etc.

        When I have been stuck or unproductive (or seemingly to ignore requests of others) a simple "Is there anything I can do to help you with this?" has made a huge difference. Or,"lets check in tomorrow, it would help if you could read me the aims and goals of the first part".

        A specific statement such as "If you can do X by Wednesday, I can look it over on Friday", can be helpful. But, give them at least an extra day.

        If it is written work or a graphic, often sending them an example is really helpful, or a template--they may not know where to begin or what you are expecting.

        John Gray has a great example of how wife can avoid nagging the husband, something like, ask nice 1 x, , ask nice 2nd time, the 3rd time you mention it and say, I am going to put that on the list.Maybe somebody can find a clip of this.


        You could run a cool experiment on this. Tally your baseline. They do one thing different and see what happens.
        Last edited by Jamie Elis; 04-20-2011, 12:28 PM. Reason: spelling and bad typing

        Comment


        • #5
          As a last resort, you could call GPD ( Getting People Done ).

          Comment


          • #6
            People are selectively unproductive.

            Originally posted by mmorowitz View Post
            How do you deal with the "unproductives" in your life?
            What's your objective?

            (1) Fix the world (ie. make unproductive people productive)?

            or

            (2) Get Things Done?

            For me option (1) is unproductive so I choose option (2) and use my GTD system to create the environment where it is better for people to help me Get my Things Done than to receive my polite reminders.

            I've learned that people are selectively unproductive - they procrastinate when they believe that you will forget to remind them to do what they are supposed to do.

            Comment


            • #7
              TesTeq reminded me about one thing.

              Make people accountable. Ask: "When can you deliver this?" And return to them when time comes. If they failed to deliver, ask "why didn't you manage to deliver? Could I have done something to help you?" Don't blame or judge, it just forces other to defensive stance.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by mmorowitz View Post
                My interactions with this lack of productivity often manifests itself in unanswered emails that require an answer, but there are other examples. Usually, these interactions wind up as "waiting on" items for me and I generally have the uncomfortable task of "nagging".
                What helps me in similar situation is a two-fold approach. The first part is the plain old meeting. Instead of writing emails, I have a face-to-face, everything printed out twice and new points we come up with during the meeting written with pen on the print-outs. At the end of the meeting I xerox the updated copy so we both have the 'meeting-approved' 'perfect' version. The second part is what I call 'brain-blogging'. Whenever I meet the person, I say something that must remind them without being nagging. I also send out 'fun' emails that remind them. (For example a photo of a nice café in Venice can help remind to get the office's coffee-corner in shape. But you didn't nag, you just told the story of where you'd like to sit now or something. Photos work wonders, think 'advertising.)This constant flow of reminders plus the 'written contract' from the meeting works. Normally they, after a while, they will come up with the real obstacles and you can help them with those. Also, like others already said, in communication always be nice and understanding. Passive-agressive undertones destroy everything. Always be sunshine. One day of rain and the patient crawls back to bed again.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by TesTeq View Post
                  What's your objective?

                  (1) Fix the world (ie. make unproductive people productive)?

                  or

                  (2) Get Things Done?

                  For me option (1) is unproductive so I choose option (2) and use my GTD system to create the environment where it is better for people to help me Get my Things Done than to receive my polite reminders.

                  I've learned that people are selectively unproductive - they procrastinate when they believe that you will forget to remind them to do what they are supposed to do.
                  That's the reply which nailed it for me! I have some associates (I liked that term whoever used it!) who will never change, and:

                  Originally posted by mmorowitz
                  Not relying on these people is often not an option.
                  In several instances both myself and Mrs Dodger are suffering difficulties in both our personal and professional lives as a result.

                  Just returning from a family driving vacation, conversation had turned to how we are going to have to deal with these people all over again once we're back, and how we fully expect the majority of the "Fires we have to put out" to be due to the broken commitments of these few associates. They're not sufficiently problematic that we'd move jobs or break friendships, but these probably represent the 20% of people who cause 80% of our work.

                  Thanks for the tips all who replied!

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                  • #10
                    TesTeq's reply was very useful to me too, thank you. Changing people is NEVER my goal. Ultimately, if I know what to expect from them, I can tailor my behavior accordingly.

                    Ultimately, it will always come down to the approach of tailoring my communication to the individual. I simply have to learn to not be frustrated by using a "slower" mode of communication. Instinctively, I feel as though an email is always fast and efficient, but if it has a 10% response rate for some people then it's an efficiency black hole.

                    I have to learn that a communication mode with a 100% response rate (face-to-face, phone) requires a tiny bit more work for me, but the payoff is huge.

                    Thank you for the perspective.

                    Best,
                    Michael

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Thankful for GTD

                      I would just add, be thankful for the GTD system that allows you to capture these situations in the @waiting for file.

                      Before I learned GTD I was well organized with a calender and a notebook, but the problems you described were always stressful and caused me too much work. Now they are still a nuisance but much more manageable.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by DeferIt View Post
                        I would just add, be thankful for the GTD system that allows you to capture these situations in the @waiting for file.

                        Before I learned GTD I was well organized with a calender and a notebook, but the problems you described were always stressful and caused me too much work. Now they are still a nuisance but much more manageable.
                        Good perspective, thank you.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Acceptance, and influence

                          I don't mean to bring religion into it, but I think the Serenity Prayer says it well.

                          Either there are methods available for you to influence these people to do
                          differently; or there's nothing you can do to change their behaviour; or
                          something in between, you may have a certain amount of influence but
                          not be able to get them to make all the changes you would like.

                          For the things you can't change: I suggest not wasting any time, thought
                          or emotion on them. You can't change the law of gravity. You take it
                          into account unconsciously as an assumption whenever you make plans
                          (for example, you assume papers you put on the table won't float around
                          the room) but you don't waste energy feeling frustrated and wishing heavy
                          objects didn't tend to fall. If you're working with bricks, wood and clay you
                          don't keep bemoaning the fact that the clay doesn't hold its shape better,
                          the wood isn't heavier or the bricks softer; you just think of ways to use
                          them that are suitable to their characteristics.

                          Lots of people read only the first sentence of emails, or the first half-sentence;
                          or they may read more but not really absorb it. (Email-reading can be an activity
                          associated with deletion of spam and trying to get through things as fast as possible.)
                          They might read and understand an email but not remember it because they
                          immediately went on to read another email about something completely different,
                          maybe a spam, (which got them into the mode of trying to forget
                          whatever they'd just read), or something more urgent (which distracted them).

                          I often put the person's name at the beginning of the subject line, again
                          their name at the beginning of the body of the email, and then try to get
                          the gist of my message expressed within the first half of the first sentence.

                          I think it's good to assume you have some influence over people but not
                          a lot. That way you'll make positive efforts to influence but not be
                          overly disappointed.

                          To encourage people to do things for you: I suggest trying to arrange
                          things so that they feel happy when they think about you, happy
                          when they're doing work for you, and very happy when they're
                          delivering completed work to you. To do this, you need to develop
                          good working relations.

                          I suggest getting in the habit of having positive thoughts and feelings
                          about the people. That way, these feelings will likely be apparent from
                          time to time in subliminal body language or things you say on the spur
                          of the moment when the opportunities arise. You can look for things
                          you admire about the people. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.
                          You can think about their strengths, and look for opportunities to
                          express respect, admiration and appreciation, whether about work
                          or hobbies. You can ask them for their opinion about something
                          while explicitly (and respectfully) acknowledging that they know
                          more than you about it.

                          When they hand in work to you, try to make them very happy about it
                          by using it immediately, showing them you've used it, and giving them
                          credit in front of others. "Thanks a lot! I can use that right now! ...
                          Look, everybody, what I was able to accomplish based on the data
                          Cindy gave me!"

                          I suggest avoiding negative thoughts such as thinking of them as
                          "unproductive". I suspect that's an exaggeration anyway: if they
                          were completely unproductive, you'd probably just ignore them.
                          Think of the half-full part of the cup.

                          I also suggest avoiding saying negative things to them. You can
                          remind them in a diplomatic way, without seeming critical, so they
                          won't feel tempted to try to forget all about you when you
                          leave the room.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            effective vs. efficient

                            Hi Michael,
                            I can definitely sympathize with your situation, as I have unproductives in my work and home environments as well, and I work on this as well.

                            I would just echo the conclusion you seem to be coming to already by recalling Stephen Covey's idea that when dealing with people it's not efficiency that's the key, but effectiveness.

                            And I think that the key thing we have to switch when transitioning from efficiency to effectiveness with people is injecting more humanity into the equation - like you were saying - the good morning / good afternoon, or the genuine attempt to seek first to understand and then to be understood. If appropriate, you might even have a conversation with the person about the whole situation. They may have a lot of negative feelings about themselves (like someone said earlier), or they may have their own frustrations with you or at work in general, and these might be very easily addressable. Or they may have a difficult situation at home they might share with you, wherein a little sympathy and leeway can go a long way in earning their trust and desire to deliver.

                            I think you have a very good shot at improving your relationships with unproductives if you use (1) the injection of more humanity and communication, and (2) coupled with agreeing with them on timelines, or who is going to call who when, and then keeping up your end of the bargains and getting back to them at the times they said they'll deliver (as someone else said before)

                            There was a nice summation I heard a few months ago on the radio of these keys to effectiveness with people - "kindness, frankness and constant communication".

                            Best,
                            a

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by mmorowitz View Post
                              As I improve my ability to employ GTD in my life, I've discovered a new source of stress in dealing with people in my personal and professional life who are completely unproductive (often to the point of being paralyzed).
                              In our human nature we mistakenly think that what we are doing if it working for us, others are doing it too. When we start thinking "they should do it too", then we get into judgments.

                              Originally posted by mmorowitz View Post
                              My interactions with this lack of productivity often manifests itself in unanswered emails that require an answer, but there are other examples. Usually, these interactions wind up as "waiting on" items for me and I generally have the uncomfortable task of "nagging".
                              Well is that nagging really "due by" then or is it optional and hurting your relationships?
                              Lots of folks around me tend to work at the last minute and at this period of time I have had to really reflect on the highly productive person I have been a few months ago to last minute, 5 hour sleep days to get things done.

                              Originally posted by mmorowitz View Post
                              I have one particular associate who will now simply not read any email that's longer than a single sentence. His replies to me, often after a couple nags, are something like "Something happened to your email. It's either lost in my inbox or in the trash. I can't find it. I'm too busy. What was your question again?" I usually give him a shot along the lines of "If you're too busy to read and answer an email, you're really doing something wrong!" So, now I've learned to tailor my communication with him to his completely hectic lifestyle.
                              You learned

                              Originally posted by mmorowitz View Post
                              This is frustrating for me for a number of reasons. Not relying on these people is often not an option. Helping them isn't a great option either (I'm not keen on offering productivity advice unless the person is looking for it).
                              Do keep that to yourself but offer and say if you need help organizing your work emails a little bit, feel free to talk to me (but do not get preachy and do not believe one thing i.e. GTD is the answer going to be embraced by everybody). Btw, in those emails, are you sending out emails with next actions with deliverable due dates or discussions?

                              Originally posted by mmorowitz View Post
                              I often feel like I'm moving in the fast lane and a number of important people around me haven't even found the on-ramp yet.

                              I guess I'm looking for tips, coping mechanisms, or even just sympathy. How do you deal with the "unproductives" in your life?
                              Acceptance is hard thing to happen but it is a process of other folks' way of doing things. What is most important is that the organization move at your pace? (that can happen if you are the boss)
                              or
                              is it most important that you meet your responsibilities?

                              Maybe a chat on action based methodology, such as action based talk about meetings with your sub-ordinates or team members or perhaps a lead by example approach where after every meeting you step up and summarize "Alright, so what is the next step and who is taking responsibility for it and when should we have it ready by?" Also perhaps consider is it seemingly urgent because it is exciting and new ? or is it actually urgent to the point where it impacts survivability immediately?

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