Email is a double-edged sword – its both a wonderful communication tool, connecting people inside and outside of businesses and home across the world yet it can be the single biggest factor in why you fail to be as productive as you could be during the working day, or in fact in the entire day. Having been created to provide almost immediate communication with anyone anywhere on the planet, hours could easily drift away whilst you are lost, deep down inside your inbox.
Using email effectively requires discipline and self control. In pursuit of optimsing the working day I would strongly advise checking email only three times per day and for no more than 30 mins at a time (less if possible). Personally I check at 8am, midday and 4pm. If anything is really urgent outside of those hours someone invariably will find another way of updating me (and it better be for good reason!). Sticking to these windows ensures I avoid the trap of responding to every little question or conversation that appears innocent (more often than not unrelated to my purpose or goal) yet dangerous as they distract my attention and focus on my priority. Once the email window has closed then I log out completely from the email session such that no notifications will appear on either my computer, phone or any other mobile device.
Email is having an increasingly pernicious effect. Not only is it having a perceptible effect on productivity, it’s skewing what it is we focus on. The immediate increasingly crowds out the important. Noreena Hertz
The second key factor during the ‘open’ window is to filter and then prioritise everything in front of me in the first five minutes. I use the triple D approach, Do, Delegate or Delete. That way I’ve immediately removed the noise, the Delete, I then identify emails that others can attend to, the Delegate (another session on delegation will follow as a future blog post) and finally those items that I am directly required to either read or action (sub folders) sit in my Do folder.
Depending on your email client I would set up rules based on specific criteria to easily identify priorities and individuals – like it or not there are a certain group of individuals in an organisation you want to be aware of i.e. senior management, peer group, key business stakeholders etc… those that you should be tuned into and lets face it, if you want to progress you need to be on top of these messages and respond accordingly – these are opportunities to impress (where possible). I suggest colour coding the name of the individual or group using the rules in the email client (fairly easy to setup). This will help with prioritisation when you come to the Do list.
Additionally if you take some time to wander around your office and observe most people when working through emails you may see them staring at what appears to be the same email for hours, reading, scrolling, composing, deleting….others of course rattle through them and pat themselves on the back for clearing their inbox but still may be unnecessary, however through effective organisation or delegation many are wasting your time or require a single line response rather than writing an essay – be clear, to the point, identify the problem and reply with a concise response.
For now try this three window approach to dealing with emails and see how you get on. Clear your inbox of the clutter – move everything in there to a new folder (if you need to refer back at some later point) and then create three new folders – DO (create two sub folders – ACTION & READ), DELEGATE and DELETE. Then when the first next window opens up filter accordingly. Once complete delete the DELETE folder. Run through the DELEGATE folder forwarding or requesting others to take appropriate action and then focus your attentions on the DO folder – Prioritise the ACTION folder immediately based on either importance or sender and work top to bottom. Then move to the READ folder and work through this determining what action is required (if at all). The DO folder may result in actions or reading outside of the window however the intention is to at least run through initially to determine if an immediate response is required until the next window opens up. If you run through the entire 30mins so be it and leave what remains to the next window a few hours later.
This simple technique will ensure you are, at the very least, more organised, more productive as your time, energy and focus is not wasted on random emails, only this really important ones. It does require discipline to switch off email and the temptation will be there to just ‘check’ but don’t! – simply wait till the window opens up again and then filter and review, when the time is up log out and focus on the next most important activity aligned to your goal. After a week or so reflect on your productivity and adjust and adapt accordingly in line with the way you manage your inbox.