Presence versus contribution

Why you should not be responsible of answering every email immediately

Imagine a situation where you are putting a small stool next to your post box. Rather than doing anything useful, you just sit there, trying to get things done while stopping every five minutes to open the post box, just to make sure nothing has been dropped into it. That would surely be the action of a mad man.

Or imagine your fixed phone line. Imagine you are sitting in your office chair, not willing to go away because someone might be trying to reach you. You try to get things done, but every five minutes you glance up to see whether the bright LCD display does not show a number of missed calls. That would be quite unhealthy situation, right?

Or imagine your email and your phone would all of a sudden become portable. Oh, but they already are, aren’t they? Now, as anything else changed?

Satisfaction is a formula

Fundamentally, nothing has changed, other than the expectations of those around you. Which is where my good old formula comes into play again.

There are productivity consultants out there that will tell you you are not responsible for other people’s expectations. This may be true, but their satisfaction will have a significant impact on you and your life. Especially if they pay you. That is why it is extremely important that you are able to manage their expectations.

Our old friend, the formula

Which is where my formula comes in, again. If S is the satisfaction of the people around you, you will find it is determined by both your delivery, or B and their expectations, or E. In other words, the better your delivery holds up against their expectations, the higher their satisfaction will be. Now, knowing this does not make it easier. Understanding and playing with the available time difference will.

The time difference

What you need to understand is that barring extreme cases, expectations always come first. People engage with you because they believe you can bring something that has a certain value to them. They, in other words, expect something from you. Now, prior to delivery, you are in the engagement process and you have a responsibility to manage those expectations. We know that few people do this correctly. They feel so happy that someone, anyone will engage with them, that they fail to clarify and subsequantly manage the expectations. And that is a problem.


Another problem occurs if the person managing the initial engagement is not responsible for the delivery. If he or she will not be held accountable for delivery and is not intent on building a longer-term relationship with this client, they tend to overpromise. Even if you would manage to deliver to the anticipated specifications, which will be quite a challenge, your client will just feel you met his expectations.

Okay Ben, quite interesting, but what does that have to do with email?

The people you work for are your clients

Imagine the people you work with and for are your clients. Because, let’s be clear, they pretty much are. They pay you for the performance of services. Prior to starting your engagement with them, you need to take the time to understand their expectations and manage them.

Availability is not a deliverable

You need to make them understand that “availability” and “reachability” are not a deliverable and will not contribute value in the longer term. You need to make them understand that by not being available all the time, you are actually protecting their valuable resource – you – from abuse and loss of focus, allowing yourself to do better work and enhancing the actual deliverable.

Presence versus contribution

If you manage to disconnect availability from the expectations that govern your relationship, I believe you will have gained an important victory that will directly enhance your productivity and your personal quality of life. In a world where being available appears to have taken precedence over being accountable for high quality delivery, you will have carved out a foothold that, in term, can lead to a solid basis for delivering value for money.

Because your work – and your life – will no longer be measured in presence but in contribution.