I was talking to a friend recently and he made the comment to something we were talking about,
“You always answer your emails quickly.”
And it’s true, I do. I said. “I’m usually sitting at my desk, and I always end the day with an empty inbox.”
“Really?” he said.
Yes. Ending the day with an empty inbox has been a habit I’ve had for a very long time. It really is just a matter of doing it at this point in my life. Somedays I have to go back to an email, or I have to set it aside. But I have folders for that. I organize myself the best I can. Here’s the reason: When I sit down to write fiction or index a book I can focus as intently as I can on what I’m doing. I’m not thinking ahead or behind. I’m looking straight ahead at what I’m doing. Indexing one page at time, or writing one word at a time. I’m there, as present as I can possibly be.
I also told my friend, “I make quick decisions. And sometimes, I get it wrong.” Which ultimately means, to me at least, is that I’m willing to make mistakes. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t answer everything off the hip and there are times I have to get up from my desk and walk away or delete an answer and start all over, but most of the time, I keep my answers short and concise. Or try to. But some interpretation takes time. There have been emails I’ve sent that I regret sending to this day.
The process is really just the old office directive for efficiency, “Touch a piece of paper once.” Solve it, file it, or throw it away. Touch it once. Move on to the next thing.
Touch It Once works for me most of the time, but I know it doesn’t work for everyone. I don’t expect answers to my questions in the same amount of time that I give them. Maybe it would be better to linger on some things a little longer and maybe not. When it comes to indexing, a job offer will come in and the answer is demanded right away, or at least is expected promptly. My intent is to solve the problem for the editor so they can know who the indexer is as soon as possible. If there’s a problem in production, then an editor always needs an answer right away, because production editors always have more than one problem at one time to solve. I’d rather be the one who gets right back with a solution instead of making someone wait an hour or two. It’s part of the deal when I get hired either by an indexing client or get a contract with a book publisher. I really think the simple act of answering an email promptly partially explains why I have been freelancing for almost twenty years. Publishing moves slow as a snail at times and fast as a supersonic jet at other times. If I’m still stuck on yesterday’s email, then I’m part of the problem and not part of the solution…and it makes the next day a lot easier if I start with a blank page.