Relentless reminders render us unproductive

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Dec 22

Relentless reminders — about our calendar, appointments, tasks — will overwhelm our productivity. Not just in our jobs but in our life.

I have a great dentist. I’m going pay him and his firm a lot of money for work that really needs doing. But I have this issue about his service: he has relentless reminders. With an appointment, I get a text message 3 days before to confirm the appointment. I get an e-mail that does the same. If I don’t respond to the e-mail or the text message, I get a phone call reminding me of the appointment. Three reminders for something already on my calendar. And I’ve never missed an appointment.

It’s not just the dentist. It is where I have my hair cut. Where I have my doctor’s appointments. Where I have my personal calendar with events posted. It is with Outlook at my consulting gig. I can get a pop up for every time I have a new e-mail (W00T! — one hundred reminders a day just from e-mail!!!). I can get dinged when I have a text message – not just from people, but from reminders about storm warnings, snow plowing and, if I wanted, breaking news. And don’t even talk to me about Twitter or some other social media outlet.

Seriously — count how many times you get a reminder message in a day. Ten? Forty? A hundred? The truth, now — no fudging. How many are you getting?

It’s the distraction

Here’s where every blog post on the Internet will tell you that all these distractions are taking you away from being productive. And they will give you fifty suggestions for reducing the number of distractions — everything from taking that pop-up window off in Outlook for every time you get an e-mail message (done…) to taking two hours of uninterrupted time to work solely on your tasks (and Facebook).

All of that is true.

It’s the distractions — but it is not

Sure, you should get rid of all the distractions that default in the time management systems of your life. But getting rid of the distractions is really not the problem.

The problem is that we fail in our commitments so often that businesses and systems have to build in reminders — because they lose too much revenue from our poor commitment habit.

I’ll give you a perfect example: a person needed to deliver a commitment to me last week on Thursday — it was a promise made in e-mail. Failed on Thursday. Failed on Friday. I reminded on Monday with an answer of delivery on Tuesday. On Tuesday, too much going on, so a delivery on Wednesday — Wednesday the person is on vacation. Hey, it’s just a week late — but if I didn’t have a system in place to remind me of these commitments, I never would have gotten it by Wednesday (assuming that I get it on Wednesday…).

Think about it: I have to have a system set up so that I track the commitments made to me (a “waiting for” category in GTD), review them consistently to make sure they happen or remind me to remind them when they don’t, all because I can’t trust people to deliver what they say they will deliver when they say they will deliver it.

Sure, get rid of all those reminders because they are distractions. They really are distractions. But when you are getting all those reminder distractions, think about what your delivery to your commitments is compared to what you promised. Did you really deliver them so you should get rid of the reminder distractions?

Or do you really need all those reminders so that the most urgent thing on the planet drives you to deliver what you promised so you can get rid of all those damn distracting reminders?

Do you deliver on your commitments (and I have issues as well…), or do you really need the 5,000 reminders to get your work done?

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.