Streamlining Requests

Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog.

Photo by cliff1066

We’ve talked about streamlining inputs (Increase Productivity By Streamlining Inputs) and Streamlining Inputs: Paper). I chose requests next because this is an input you might not be aware of, but still impacts your productivity.

Requests are those things that get flung at you in passing. A coworker passes you in the hall and says, “Hey, can you send me the template of the Jones file? I want to reuse it.” Or a child yells from the far corner of the house, “Hey, we’re out of toilet paper.” Or the dreaded “I need you to head up the fundraising dinner this spring.”

Why Requests Count As An Input

Requests are things that are asked of you, and even if they are small, they are still things that need to be dealt with.

Whether it is a request to do something small fairly soon (the template) or later (get toilet paper at the store) or reiterating your response (fundraiser), it is still something you need to take care of.

Why Requests Often Get Lost

The problem with requests made face to face is that most of us are thinking of or doing other things at the time. The probability that you are going to remember is small.

This can lead to lost regard, missed deadlines, accidents or getting dragged into something you don’t have time for.

Convert To Streamline Requests

The best way to get past this is to have the person convert the request into another type of input – preferably one that is written.

Using Email To Get Written Requests

For those people who use email frequently, it is good to have people email requests. Having a request in email (and processing email all the way through every day) will mean that you are reminded and will consider the request. On the flip side, it also gives the requestor a record of having asked for something.

When someone asks for something in the hallway at work, you can say, “Can you shoot me a quick email so I don’t forget?” Most people will be more than willing to do that.

If the person is particularly trustworthy, you could give them access to your task list. My husband has the email address to add things directly to my Remember The Milk lists. I also have access to his task list, but this still mystifies him when things show up there.

Using The Inbox for Paper

For a request made with a physical piece of paper, you can ask that all information be put in your inbox. This prevents the 7 am cry of “but I left out the permission slip for you to sign on the counter and now it’s gone!”

It might be hard to enforce at first, but a few missed requests, and people will get the idea. My husband and daughter know that if I have to deal with paper, it has to go in my inbox folder. Otherwise I can’t guarantee that it will get where it needs to go. The hardest lesson was with the report card envelope…it disappeared into my husband’s piles and I couldn’t find it. I promptly resolved myself of responsibility. It wasn’t where it needed to be, and it wasn’t my job to see that it got there.

This can also work in a job environment. Having papers that need to be signed and returned in one basket allow you to process through everything quickly. You can request that papers handed to you in passing be put in the basket. After all, the person wants something from you. It isn’t your responsibility to make it no trouble for them; it is only your responsibility to process it.

For Those That Don’t Email, Phone or Write

Some of the people who request things of me don’t have email. Such as my daughter. Or one of the members of my singing quartet. If the person has access to my inbox at home, I ask that they write it down and put it in there. Otherwise I ask for a phone call.

By having the request on voice mail, I will process those directly into my system when I get home. I don’t have to try and remember something (especially details) because it will be waiting for me.

If the quartet needs me to check availability for a gig, they will leave me a voice mail and I will get back to them right away. It saves having to call them and ask for the details again, especially with our differing schedules.

Events on the Calendar

In our house, if it’s not on the calendar, it’s not going to happen. That has been our rule since day one, and we stick to it. It prevents overscheduling, and it also helps us figure out where we need to be when. Our electronic calendars, linked together through my Google calendar, is the “master”, but I update the one on the back of the kitchen door so that we don’t have to go online to find out what is going on that day.

Other Places For Requests

There is one other place that I ask for requests to go. These are the shopping items. A white board on the back of our kitchen door holds the shopping lists. When someone needs something, it gets written on the board. This saves the “well, I told you we were out of milk this morning…” If it isn’t on the list, it doesn’t make my shopping lists, and it doesn’t get purchased.

The trick to streamlining requests is to get them into another form of input that is not likely to be forgotten. Whether it is by email, paper or another form of communication, you can get these requests into a form that you can deal with easily.

Photo by cliff1066



  1. Jorge Blanco says

    Wonderful tips, LJ. If you want everything to go smoothly, organize is one of the things that you should definitely cover.