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Be Productive – Take Control of Your Inbox

THE EMAIL PROBLEM

It has happened to us all. We have a plan for the day, we check our email first and the next thing we know its mid-morning or worse still lunchtime!

Our intentions are good, “I’ll just clear my Inbox before I start and then I will feel more organised”. But of course those emails just keep arriving as every reply we send can prompt another one! And our plan for the day? Well our email processing may have cleared some items but it may not. And that’s the problem, it’s reactive and in fact we are often responding to someone else’s priorities, not ours.

So how can we take control of our email, develop some good habits and be more productive? Well it is not easy. But spending hours on email every day isn’t easy either so maybe it’s time to try something new.  Here are my 4 tips:

  1. Chose when you check in
  2. Have a process
  3. Use other ways
  4. Spread the word

CHOSE WHEN YOU CHECK

To do this you need to close your email programme or email app and proactively chose when you check in. I know it’s a scary concept isn’t it? Why, because we like to be in touch all the time and often we our job requires us to be in touch all of the time. And that’s ok. But figure out if there are times in your week when you can switch off your notifications even for an hour or a morning. Could you check first thing in the morning, after lunch and near the end of the day?  If that seems too little, add in a mid-morning and mid-afternoon check.

Most things can wait an hour or two – think about the day you are caught in a 2 hour meeting and you can’t check mail, the world doesn’t stop.  So try to go 2 hours without checking your mail, even at your desk.

Why? Because statistics show that when an email interrupts us, even only for a minute, it can take another four minutes to get back to what we were doing. So if you eliminate 15 interruptions, you could be creating about an hour of uninterrupted time. And this is time you can use to concentrate and be you’re most productive.

USE A PROCESS

We can lose a lot of time trying to decide what to do with our emails. So be focussed when you are checking. Try to quickly distinguish between the important and non-important ones. Develop a way of categorising your emails as you read them. Try the approach described below and modify it to suit your way of working as necessary.

Control Email

Control Email

The first question is whether the email requires further action or not?

No further action – you have 2 options:

  1. Delete it
  2. File it for reference

Further Action – you have 3 options:

  1. Do It now
  2. Plan It -convert to a task now
  3. Pass it on
  1. Do it now? This should only be a response that will take 2 minutes maximum

2. Plan It ? For something that will take longer don’t get caught up in it now. But make sure to schedule when you will do this – put a task in your calendar.

3. Pass it on? For something you can’t do or someone else can definitely do. Forward the message on with a covering note

For tasks you create think cleverly about when it really needs to be done.  If something is not due until next week, don’t do it this week, put a reminder in your calendar for a day before the deadline.

To make this work you firstly need to and set up folders in your Inbox to file the Email you want to keep. These folders should represent the way you work –create one per project or per client or per area of responsibility.

USE OTHER WAYS

Don’t always default to email. How about a phone call or a desk visit? Remember, every email you send can prompt a response that you will have to process later.  Email is great for facts, figures, reports, group updates and traceability but maybe the situation in hand calls for a chat or an exchange of opinions, feelings, thoughts. So challenge yourself, do I always need to send an email?

SPREAD THE WORD

So if you find some of these ideas help you be more productive then ask if others on your team will try it too. Maybe you can agree a particular morning or day where you agree not to send emails to each other. Have a brainstorm with your team and come up with ideas that will best suit the way you all need to work.

So be productive and take control of your Inbox. These tips may not suit everyone’s style or every work place. But take these ideas and modify them to suit your own environment. Let me know how it goes and of course I would love to hear any other ideas, tips or even email tools that have worked for you in the Comments.

And if you find this useful share it with your colleagues. Thanks!

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