My New Year’s Resolution for 2012 is to become a First Responder.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to train to be a police officer, fire fighter, or EMT – the people equipped to be the first ones on the scene of an accident or other emergency. Instead it means I’m going to train myself to get in the habit of responding immediately when I get an invitation, request, or a question from someone in person, by mail, or by email.

What it really means is that I’m going to work at transforming two habits that have crept into my life, and that are keeping me from being as efficient, effective, reliable and credible as I want to be. Those two habits are procrastination and indecision. And it’s not the “active” forms of those habits that cause the most trouble – as in deliberately putting off things I don’t want to do, or spending so much time weighing all possible options in a situation that I never get around to actually choosing one. The greater damage comes from those I simply set aside until I can give them the time and attention they need and deserve. The problem is that in many cases, that time never comes.

I think part of the problem – and I’m willing to bet I’m not the only person for whom this is true – is due to the speed and ease of reaching large numbers of people with very little cost or effort. Technology and a mass marketing mindset have left many of us drowning in a sea of offers, opportunities, invitations and information to which we need to respond or react. Every day it gets more and more difficult to figure out what’s relevant, important, or legitimate, and it gets more and more tempting to just toss or delete the whole stack.

And that’s what I do with a lot of the mail and email I receive – the junk mail and unsolicited offers that keep coming in no matter how many times I try to stop them. Still, that leaves a lot of things that I truly am interested in, that I want to know more about, or that I would like to take part in or attend if they don’t conflict with anything else on my schedule. These are the things that often get lost in the shuffle, and that I want to start dealing with in a more timely and efficient manner.

There are a lot of benefits for doing so. I know I miss out on some valuable and enjoyable opportunities by waiting too long to reserve a spot or to accept an invitation. I also know that it damages my credibility and inconveniences others when they’re forced to wait longer than they should for an action or answer from me. And I know that I create additional work and stress for myself, as well as physical, mental, and emotional clutter, when things like this pile up or are left unattended.

So that’s what I’m planning to fix. I’m aware that it will take time and effort to retrain myself, to tweak my tactics, and to transform a bad habit into a good one. This is really a lifestyle change, and I need to incorporate it carefully and consistently or it will simply be another of the running jokes of New Year’s Resolutions that we jump into enthusiastically on January 1st and abandon by the 10th, because we were unprepared or unrealistic about what we could do, how to go about it, or how long it would take.

So my first step is to concentrate on mail and email. As soon as I get the mail every day, I will toss what I don’t need or want, set aside what I want or need to read later, and respond immediately – or schedule the time when I will respond – to whatever needs an answer. I will do the same with email, after first determining how many times a day – and precisely when – I will check it, rather than doing this every time an email comes in. Once I get this habit firmly established, I’ll figure out what to do next.

Feel free to join me if this is something you’d find useful, too. Also, please let me know if you have any suggestions on making it work even better. If you do and you’re the first to respond, we’ll both know that it’s already working.

Happy New Year!

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on December 29, 2011.
© Betty Liedtke, 2011