If you find yourself getting bogged down with daily communications at your job and unable to actually accomplish your work, one idea that has worked for me is taking a page from governments.

Most government offices have a standard response time. They might aim to respond to a telephone call within 2 hours, an email within 1 business day, or some pattern like that. While this fact has caused many of us frustration as we waited to hear back, it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are three general levels of importance for communication in the office:

1. Items that require immediate action.
2. Items that require action but it doesn’t need to be immediate.
3. Information items requiring no action on your part.

While the first level of importance needs to be answered immediately, it’s surprising how much time many of us spend working in the other two levels. Setting aside time during the day for these lower two categories lets us still resolve them, but by keeping to that set time, we don’t let those two categories eliminate our ability to work on other projects.

While this approach doesn’t work in all jobs, it’s one that can be easily adapted. If you can’t finish all of your communications in an hour or two, instead try to set aside an hour or two without communications in which you can accomplish work without interruption.

A colleague of mine refuses to check her email or voicemail for the first hour of every day. She uses this time to start the day with a burst of productivity on bigger projects. After that hour has passed, she gets back into communication with the rest of the world, but for that one hour, she guarantees herself productive time. This ensures that even in the most hectic days for communications, she’ll still get some of her longer-term work done.

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