Reading Instructions

If at first you don't succeed, read the instructions!
There's an old story about instructions given on an examination question and answer paper. Just before the start of the examination students were told to read carefully the instructions on the front of the booklet and then turn it over and begin.  After a series of DOs and DONTs, the very last instruction on the page said, "Do not write anything on this answer booklet."  It turned out that very few students adhered to that instruction and spent the next hour or so filling in their responses to questions that were not needed.  Sometimes in a rush to get things done, we can be a bit like those students and provide answers to questions that are not required.  The speed of email and the expectation of a quick return may lead us into a hasty response where we provide too much or irrelevant material. Often what is needed, if at all, is something more considered.
Workplace squeeze:
I've learnt to recognise email messaging as a potential workplace squeeze and check first to see if I am the sender's intended first recipient or just simply cc'd for information. If the message is principally for me then I scan quickly for any actions and requests.  If these can be provided in a few minutes, in a turn of my trusty sand timer, then I'll deal with them then and there. That's a tip from David Allen's Getting Things Done although he sets the limit at two minutes. If I cannot deal with it in 2 to 3 minutes, then I'll slide the message into an action box in my email system and fix an appropriate time to deal with it.  When I get to it, I'll double check that I've covered the inputs required leaving out any additional, not immediately relevant, material. In examination terms, this is similar to advice given to students to answer the question as set, which may not be the one they had been expecting and had prepared earlier.  Of course that takes time and that's a commodity in short supply these days.  However investing a little time to communicate effectively saves time in the long run. This reminds me of an anecdote attributed to  Blaise Pascal.  He reportedly apologised for writing a long letter as he didn't have the time to write a short one.
Now, what was that question?

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