Translate Vague Emails Into Actionable Tasks

Last Updated Feb 25, 2009 11:19 PM EST

Recently, my boss told me, "You know Dave, you don't have to say yes to everything that lands in your inbox." (After Catwoman and X-Men 3, I suspect that Halle Berry needs to hear this advice as well.) Unfortunately, even saying no sometimes requires a lot of work, since it's often not clear what your e-mail wants you to do. That's why I was pleased to see Lifehack's 8 Ways to Translate Tasks.

The highlights:

  • Scan for subtle requests. Trying to be polite, people sometimes make it hard to find the "ask."
  • Consider the context. The same request coming from a co-worker or your boss can mean two very different things.
  • Find the first step. If you get an email asking you to take on a project, the request in the e-mail may still be far away. You need to map out what initial problems you need to solve to be able to satisfy the actual request.
  • Don't skip the complicated questions. Everyone's first instinct is to skip the hard stuff in favor of making progress on the easy tasks. But that just makes everything take longer. Deal with your e-mail as it comes in, and if it's too big, ask for clarification, ask to break it into smaller pieces, or just say no. But do it now, not later.
Photo by dampeebe