Dirty Dishes

I’m Sorry I Didn’t Get Back to You

Dear Courageous Leaders,

I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve gotten back to you. I’m finding there are many tasks that I just don’t have the energy to keep up with right now and relationships I’ve left on a back burner hoping they haven’t grown cold. I have spent a lot of time developing and deploying strategies to simultaneously manage the increasing volume of the “to-dos” that come at me along with a greater need for self-care. And yet, every day, whether weekday or weekend, I still end up feeling there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Every morning I go through my routine of managing the unrelenting emails that populate my inbox–immediately deleting any junk emails and skimming the content of those that are informational before deleting, filing, or forwarding. Any emails that remain in my inbox require action by me. Some require composing a quick response that once I send can also be deleted. Others, related to projects I am working on or tasks I need to do for the sender, might need more time and stay in my inbox until I have completed the action needed.

At the bottom of my email inbox sit 3 messages that I have, for months, failed to follow-up on. In fact, it has been so long that any action at this point is probably irrelevant but still, these emails stare at me. I’ve thought about deleting them, as all they do is remind me of my failure to deliver to others on the promises I’ve made with my ideal self. As a leader I value my work relationships and have prioritized them through nurturing and being consistently responsive. But in these days that seem shorter than ever, I find myself not meeting those standards.

Many who are close to me might share that I am somewhat (compulsively) obsessive about staying on top of my emails. I am quick to reply to emails, in part because of the high value I’ve placed on being responsive to my colleagues. But I must also confess that for me having unanswered emails sitting in my inbox is like having dirty dishes piled up in the kitchen sink—a visible reminder of the chores I need to keep up with.

I’m proud to say that over the past several years, there have been a few days, even weeks, when I’ve gotten my inbox down to just a handful of emails that require action. I usually feel like doing a gleeful little happy dance when that happens. However sadly, there have not been any happy-dance days for quite some time. Just when I get a batch of my dirty dishes cleaned and put away, another batch has piled up.

The ongoing battle with my email inbox is certainly a sign of the times with the digital communication overload, relentless workloads that have been steadily rising for many “knowledge professionals,” and a transition for many to remote and hybrid work environments. And of course, it has been exacerbated by the crisis of the pandemic. But the demands of our time in the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) era we have moved into, will likely not end with the pandemic. Neither will my battle with email.

And that’s just the way it is.

So what do I do with those 3 damn emails at the bottom of my inbox? Maybe by not dwelling too long on my inability to keep up with all that life is throwing at me and going down the rabbit hole of shame, I could simply reply to those 3 this week, starting with, “Hey, I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you.” And then I could revel in the sink being empty for just a little while.

Still walking my learning journey,


A Question I’m Reflecting On:

What can I stop doing so I can keep doing well what’s important to me?

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