I’ve been working on Charlie (Oi Software’s latest email productivity tool) for some time now… so it’s safe to say I’m the choir. I’ve heard the preaching. I’m on board. I agree. Email is evil.
It sucks way too much of my time, contributes very little in the way of “meaning” to my work and yet, consistently imposes itself on my day. Frankly, I’d rather be flossing, or ironing pleated, silk shirts, or working on my fine motor skills than face my inbox every morning.
Wading through research studies and stats and figures has only made my evangelism worse.
We spend 28% of our working lives on email; that’s 11.2 hours per week, or over 12 working weeks each year. On average, we handle 130 emails per day, which contributes to “traffic of roughly 33,000 messages per user per year.” And these figures are rising steadily, with daily email traffic growing at 5% annually.
That’s all to say, the problem of email is not going away any time soon…
So how do we stop it from chewing up so much of our precious time? How do we get back to what really matters at work?
That’s where we come in. Over the coming weeks, we’re going to share pro-tips for making email more productive. Read on to get your inbox working as hard for you, as you do for it.
Clearing your email is not progress. So, establish your priorities before opening your inbox.
Don’t get me wrong… I love a good checklist – better yet, checking things off a good checklist – so in my little lab-rat brain, for some reason, a clear inbox equals success.
But I’ve also been reading Dr Jason Fox’s book How to Lead a Quest, and his concept of the ‘delusion of progress’ has really resonated with me. This is the state where we prioritise tasks that give us a rich, immediate sense of progress, yet do not contribute to our overarching strategic objectives. We get swamped in being efficient, but not at all effective, and ultimately, we fail to deliver on what really matters.
Uhh hello, Email? This is Annie calling. I just wanted to let you know that I now realise your shifty ways are really messing with my pursuit of meaningful progress.
One of the easiest ways to break this (very common and natural) habit is to schedule your key priorities for the day, before opening your email. Yup. It’s that simple.
Each morning, jot down and then diarise the top three things that will allow you to create meaningful progress for the day, in your own work. Doing this at the start of the day will mean that the contents of your inbox won’t get an opportunity to derail your priorities before you’ve even finished your coffee.
Schedule dedicated email time.
Once your priorities are set, and you’ve scheduled time to work on the things that actually drive meaningful progress, you can lock down some time for email management.
Diarise a block, once or maybe twice a day, to give some focus to processing your email. The trick is to stick to your schedule and do only what you can in the time allotted. It’s easy to burn an hour or two, working through a backlog of messages – but that doesn’t mean you should.
Scheduling dedicated email time will allow you to respond to the most important messages, without crowding out truly meaningful work.
Don’t “check” your email… Process it.
Cut down on double and triple-handling your email by scheduling time to process (as opposed to check) messages in your inbox.
Filter each email you receive through the “4Ds” to effectively manage your time and process your messages with as few ‘touches’ as possible:
Quickly scan through your emails and delete all messages from overzealous cc’ers, shopping sites, spammers and those half-dozen messages from your long-lost Nigerian Uncle who has $50,000,000 USD to give you, if only you’d reply.
Be brutal – it’s okay… particularly if you use an auto-filing and archiving tool like Oi Software’s product, Charlie, which allows you to go back and retrieve deleted emails, in real-time, in case you need them again.
Does the email actually require YOUR attention? Could it be handled by someone else in your team who is equally capable or has more time to respond? If so – great. Forward it along for their attention. This will free you up to focus on the messages that absolutely require a reply from you.
If the email will take 2 minutes or less, just do what needs to be done now in your scheduled email time. That’ll likely be faster and more efficient than flagging the email, diarising a time to respond, and remembering where you left off in the future. So just do it in the moment, and get it off your radar.
If the email will take more than 2 minutes, defer it. To make your life even easier, you can further group deferred messages into 2 categories:
These messages require you to take some form of action in order to respond.
This might include messages which require:
- Careful review, deep thinking or analysis prior to crafting your response (e.g. messages with long/dense text or attachments, or sensitive matters which need to be carefully positioned).
- Help or involvement from others before you’re able to respond (e.g. where you need a meeting to discuss a matter or require approval / manager feedback).
For these types of messages, schedule time to deal with the email. Drag and drop the email message into the calendar appointment for easy recall and reply.
These messages need only be reviewed (i.e. they do not require a response), but review will take more than 2 minutes of your time.
Messages like this might include:
- Technical updates, industry announcements and important newsletters.
- Any emails where you are copied or blind copied into the message (i.e. you are not the primary/direct recipient – so it’s FYI only).
For these types of messages, schedule time to review the emails, advisably at your least productive time of the day. If you’re not great on Friday afternoon, this could be a great window for processing “Review Only” messages. Again – dragging and dropping the email into the set calendar appointment helps cut down the time it takes to find or recall the message in the future.
For More Tips
Check back soon for our next lot of email productivity pro-tips.
To learn more about auto-filing for your email and real-time archiving, Say Hi to Charlie.
Published - August 18, 2016